Ayo Oyoze Baje
You must have read in recent weeks about the sleeplessness of our dear Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. Mind you, it has nothing to do with election matters. After all, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) won the 2019 presidential polls, according to INEC, that is. And he remains the nation’s number two citizen as far as politics is concerned. His lack of the much-needed sleep is all about that ignoble curse called poverty in the midst of plenty resources in Nigeria. Yes, poverty!
On the flip side however, was his rather dismissive take on the ever escalating rampage of the hydra-headed monster of insecurity in Nigeria, as he regaled our brothers and sisters in the United States. This is rather saddening.
It is surprising too, because of the lack of linkage of insecurity with the country becoming the poverty capital of the world. It is also a sad commentary on just how wrong many of our leaders’ perspectives of the ills of the country could be. If it was some form of image laundering, it fell flat on its face.
Perhaps, it would have done us all much good if Osinbajo had canvassed for the sustained support of our kinsmen in the Diaspora; to avail us with their immense wealth of technical expertise. One is talking about doing the needful in reining in the scourge of insurgency, killing spree by killer herdsmen, the restless run of armed bandits and of course, kidnapping for ransom that has kept many more Nigerians losing their sweet sleep at night.
Positive, purposeful and preemptive actions rather than wishful words could do the image of the country a lot better. For instance, what do we tell the world about the preventable ordeal of our internally displaced persons in Maiduguri, openly protesting their criminal negligence by the powers that be, even as some of them feed on onion leaves for survival? They have been left naked to the elements of the whipping wind of rape and the scorching sun of harrowing hunger. What about the medical youth corpers, meant to cater for their health needs now also protesting the non-payment of their allowances? Shameful, isn’t it? You cannot paper over cracks, at least not for long, That all these are happening, even as members of the 9th National Assembly are eagerly waiting to take home their share of the humungous sum of N273.64 billion in the next four years paints the painful picture of gross inequality that pervades the country.
That brings us back to the haunting spectre of persisting poverty in Nigeria. In retrospect, it was some concerned Nigerians in the same U.S. who as members of the Nigeria Democratic Liberty Forum, NDLF New York raised an alarm back in June, 2010. The group said that: “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”. Indeed, the statistics of Nigeria’s social inequality are simply scary, as reflected in my previous essay: “Do they know we are suffering?” published in August 2016. These 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.
Looked at from the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in the three basic dimensions of human development, there is nothing to write home about. The three key areas of long-term healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living reveals the pure deprivation of the long-suffering masses. That is, by their so called leaders, and painfully too, under a democratic dispensation!
What truly pains the patriots is the way and manner our leaders take well intended warnings on the situation with a pinch of salt. For instance, poverty rate rose from 15 % as at independence in 1960, to 67.1% in 1999 and 72.2% in 2014. The World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, stated in April 2014 at the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings that Nigeria, with 7% of the world’s poor ranked third in the world while India was placed at number one with 33 per cent of the world poor.
But some four years later, the same Nigeria overtook India as the world’s poverty capital, according to the World Poverty Clock. Nigeria’s HDI for 2014 stood at 0.514 putting the country amongst the lowest global ranking of those in the low developing category. In fact, Nigeria placed 152 out of the 188 countries and territories so assessed. And it was the only oil-producing country languishing in that shameful socio-economic stratum. Also, according to the 2015 HD Report Work for Human Development for 188 countries assessed by the United Nations, life expectancy index was 0.44, education index was 0.59 while the GDP index and HDI value were placed at 0.36 and0.466 respectively.
Before then, precisely in July 2004, UNIDO Report listed countries such as China, India, Singapore and Thailand amongst those with robust economies that reduced poverty rate from an average of 40% in 1981 to 21 % in 2001, while ours was escalating. In fact, the Report singled out Nigeria as the country with the worst case scenario of capital flight and advised us to borrow a new leaf from Uganda, which had a similar challenge but was able to reverse the drift.
Back then in 2004 our politicians were accused of stashing $107 billion abroad. Similarly, in April 2011 CNN MarketPlace Report stated that Nigerian politicians own 40 per cent of luxury properties in Central London, with the cost ranging from 17 million to 33 million pounds sterling. Dubai is not left out. Such barefaced robbery of our common patrimony must also come to a halt. But how? That is the million-naira question.
Another piece of warning came from Oxfam in 2018. In the second ever Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) index compiled by Development Finance International (DFI) and Oxfam, Nigeria placed bottom in a ranking of 157 nations. The CRI Index ranks the commitment of national governments to reducing the gap between rich and poor citizens by measuring three factors considered “critical” to reducing the gap: social spending, tax policies and labor rights. Nigeria ranked bottom of the index for the second consecutive year. But what is the way forward? To tread the path to prosperity, political re-engineering has becomeimperative. We must retool our concept of governance, from the primary school level to the highest office in the land; to be for the state instead of the self. The pay structure of political appointees must be drastically scaled down, in tandem with the harsh economic reality.
The undue fixation of political power at the bloated federal centre must be done away with. We should revisit and implement the well thought out recommendations of the National Conference in 2014. With true fiscal federalism in place more economic resources would be devolved to the states and local governments in this regard. An expert on economics has posited that with creative thinking and prudent management of resources the states could cumulatively generate up to 10 million jobs. But will the APC Next Level take Nigerians out of the poverty trap, as the president recently promised? Time will tell. Getting the right answers should give him and his able team sleepless nights.
Baje writes from Lagos