By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Nothing is permanent here, except suffering. No job security, no safety clothing nor gadgets. Accidents are common. Every worker here would leave if they had a choice.”
– Joyce Ugbede
“While other nations are faced/with the challenges of the 21st Century/,we are bogged down by the avarice of the elite./Every time we believe we have seen/the worst from our country,/the shameless, opportunistic power grabbers /take us back to a new low”
– Nigeria Democratic Liberty Forum, NDLF New York (June, 2010)
Looked at, over the past six decades the statistics have been simply scary, shocking and scandalous! One is talking of course, about the inexcusable social inequality and injustice that still persist between the few rotten-rich citizens and the long-suffering led majority, here in my dear fatherland, Nigeria. With the knowledge that we live in a country abundantly blessed by God with vast and varied natural resources, it is a crying shame that we are still enmeshed in the deepest pit of pitiable poverty, globally. Name the resources and we can boast about them- including high-grade crude oil and gas, solid minerals of precious types, rich agriculture resources, places of scenic splendor and eye-catching tourist attraction. What more, we have with us abundant human resources, in virtually all areas of professional calling. Yet, millions of citizens still go to bed hungry and harried; seriously afraid of what the next day portends for them. Little wonder that hundreds of thousands of enlightened citizens have been caught up in the massive wave of ‘jappaing’ to greener pastures, both near and far.
So, what has been the missing link, over the years, if not that of quality leadership that is sacrificial, patriotic and visionary enough to connect millions of Nigerians to God’s abundant treasures? As the nation celebrates 62 years of political independence from the British colonialists, it is another time for sober reflection, away from the obnoxious terrifying tornados of grand deceit. The challenges we still battle with are characterized by the pervasive poverty level, the irredeemably corrupt, conscienceless, kleptomaniac ruling elite; blindly driven by the greed for personal gains and of course, the grinding wheels of the acquiescent and ignorant led majority. Indeed, most of our current socio-economic and political crises are self-inflicted. There lies the pain! For instance, according to Oxfam Report based on the Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index 2019):“Nigeria ranked 157 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Although it possesses the resources to end extreme poverty and even up the inequalities between rich and poor, women and men, it remains the country where the government is the least committed to reducing inequality in West Africa”
It went ahead to add that: “The combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty at a national level yet 5 million face hunger. More than 112 million people are living in poverty in Nigeria, yet the country’s richest man would have to spend $1 million a day for 42 years to exhaust his fortune”. Put in specific term, the report stated that the amount of money that the richest Nigerian man can earn annually from his wealth is sufficient to lift 2 million people out of poverty for one year. Conscience-pricking, should it not? Of course, it should. Lest we forget, as at independence in 1960, the poverty rate stood at 15 per cent, but according to the official figures published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of Nigeria, the incidence of poverty in Nigeria between 1980 and 2010 rose from 27.2 percent to 69.0 percent!
In fact, according to MacroTrendshttps://www.macrotrends.net › countries › NGA on Nigeria Poverty Rate 1985-2022 |the number of poor people which stood at 89.0 million in 2020 was projected to be 95.1 million in 2022. Currently, the ordinary Nigerians who wear the tarred shoes are feeling the pains! Breaking the figures down, Oxfam Report explained that out of Nigeria’s population of nearly 200 million, more than one in four (57 million people) do not have access to safe water. Two-thirds (over 130 million people) lack adequate sanitation while over ten million children are out of school. And capping it all, it stated that 112 million groan in extreme poverty; living on less than $1.90 a day. This is worrisome, whether our political leaders admit it or not!
The million-naira question you ask yourself, as a concerned Nigerian is: “Where has our oil wealth gone?” That incidentally, was the theme of the thought-provoking lecture delivered by Prof. Ayodele Awojobi (of blessed memory) across various universities in the late ‘70s. But it does not take rocket science to proffer the valid answers. The restless run of avaricious locusts, garbed in the gabardine gowns of growing graft, struting our streets in the name of politicians have been actively engaged in the relentless pillaging of the national till dry-our common patrimony. As at 2003, Midweek Scoop Magazine reported that a few Nigerians stashed away a whopping sum of N241.6 trillion in foreign vaults, with only two per cent of Nigerians controlling the wealth of some 160 million people! Overall, the Economist Magazine of London has stated that an estimated $600bn (about N420 trillion) is believed to have been stolen from Nigeria by these politicians and their conspirators since its Independence in 1960. On its part, Chatham House, a British think-tank, estimated that $582bn. Is it any better as at this day? Not at all. The headlines have given us the steaming clues: “$3.27bn crude lost to thieves in 14 months — FG cries out”. That was in March, 2022. Next came:“ Scandalous Oil Theft: Nigeria loses N3.038 trillion in one year” That was in May, 2022. And in September, 2022 another revelation came with: “Oil Theft: Nigeria loses $700 million monthly” On 12th Sept 2022, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL) said it losses 470,000 bpd of crude oil amounting to $700 million monthly due to oil theft! With all these oil thefts, added to the billions of public fund stolen by monkeys, pythons and lately termites, under a government that came on the proud pedestal of power with the mantra of integrity to change the narrative, you can understand the pains of preventable poverty in the midst of plenty. Now you understand why Nelson Mandela, the avatar and late South African anti-apartheid activist stated this about the crop of Nigerian leaders: Said he: “Your leaders have no respect for their people./They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people./They take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth./There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable.” This is point blank.
It would be recalled that in 2016, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, while admitting that about 110 million Nigerians were still living below poverty line, with some parts of the country recording cases of about 80% or 90% of children out- of -school stated that: “governments have not been accountable to the people, otherwise policies should have roots in the real conditions of the people.” He aired his view during a courtesy visit by members of the Alumni Association of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), at the State House, Abuja. But Nigerians want their leaders to walk the talk.
The truth in all of these querulous issues is that the type of democracy we currently run in Nigeria is anti-people, pro-politicians; couched with high cost of accessing political power meant for only the rich, huge pay package to them, and of course, it fuels personalization of power, nepotistic appointments, ethno-religious sentiments and can never lead us to the promised land.
Baje writes from Lagos