The Nigeria condition is exceptionally soul-wrenching because poverty here is progressive, it does not abate, it shows no signs of receding, it graduates
Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth depicts a grim picture of excruciating poverty and the inhuman condition which prevailed in Algeria under the colonial crucible administered by French overlords. The book is a vitriolic attack on imperialism and organized degrading of humanity by the French in their bid to establish a rule of subjugation in Africa. Through mindless plunder, African resources were appropriated and repatriated to Europe for the establishment of sophisticated metropolis. To achieve this feat, the natives, the Africans were totally divested of every human worth starting from the erosion of their psyche to the disembowelling of their inner beings. Thus, the disconsolate natives were debased and forced to swim in the cesspool of harrowing penury. Given the above situation, Fanon inevitably rouses the natives from their fatalistic lethargy and spurs them to action, to demand immediate freedom even if by violence since according to him “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon”.
It is apparent that poverty was a constant element of the Algerian experience under colonial rule which turned them into the wretched of the earth, however most people do not understand the nature of the poverty which Fanon captures in his book. We are speaking of downright poverty, poverty that makes one to dress in rags, abject poverty that makes kids either beg on the streets or eat from the dustbin, poverty that can drive a man to commit suicide, poverty that can make families go to bed every night without food, poverty that relentlessly pulls at the strings of the soul, poverty that can make a man hide food items meant for dogs because his children will need it at home, poverty that forces a man to sleep without roofs, exposed to the inclement weather. Those were the kinds of poverty prevalent in Algeria during French colonial rule.
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In a sense, there is a correlation between the picture of poverty painted by Fanon in colonial Algeria and the kind of poverty that straddles the homes of over 87 million Nigerians which represent 43.5% of the country’s estimated population of 200 million. This is the cruel reality recounted by the British Prime Minister Theresa May on her recent visit to Nigeria. She had declared that 87 million Nigerians live on less than $1.90 a day making Nigeria “home to more very poor people than any nation in the world”.
Since that remark by the British Prime minister, there have been many reactions, some of them politically motivated, in which case bias and prejudice are enthroned, where attempts are made to obfuscate issues with meaningless, grandiose phrases. Other reactions have taken a clean swipe at the present administration, blaming it for all the woes and poverty in the land.
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Indeed, it is quite surprising that May’s statement should attract the kind of attention it has attracted. Perhaps, the statement has attracted such attention because it came from a foremost world leader and not because she has said anything new or made any discovery. Most of us who are committed to identifying deteriorating aspects in our country and also proffering a panacea as well have in various platforms outlined the prevailing poverty in our country and the structures that have progressively promoted it. Theresa May did not say anything new by pointing out that a whopping number of 87 million Nigerians are very poor. Some people have inferred that she was magnanimous in her assessment since to these people, over 150 million people fall within the poverty bracket. For sure poverty is a realistic phenomenon in every nation of the world. Every country has its share of the poor no matter how rich that country may be. But the Nigeria situation is despicably appalling because it is inflicted on the populace by fellow citizens who have made stealing a craft, mastered and perfected by an innate mechanism of greed and avarice. The Nigeria condition is exceptionally soul-wrenching because poverty here is progressive, it does not abate, it shows no signs of receding, it graduates, and it acquires new apparels so that the number of the poor continues to increase by the day irrespective of the government in power. The Nigeria poverty condition currently presents an apocalyptic future which gives no hope to the poor masses.
The question that naturally arises is this – who is to be blamed for our country’s monumental poverty? We can glean a quick answer to the above question if we consider the abysmal contradiction that defines our collective existence in Nigeria. While some people, especially some politicians and former political office holders have more than they need, while they wallow in bliss and are crippled by surplus, while they luxuriate in their mood, another category, the masses, is completely devastated by hunger, stripped to skeletal need to their bare bones as they despair in their mire. While many politicians live a life of obscene splendour, the people who voted for them crawl at their feet for crumbs from their rancid table. Another question to ask is this – as public servants who are meant to live on their basic salaries, how did these politicians acquire stupendous wealth so brazenly displayed around the country? Why is it that an average, almost bankrupt Nigerian, after serving a specified term either as a president, governor, senator, or a minister, becomes a multi billionaire, basking in the euphoria of wealth? The answer to the last question will give us a guide why Nigeria is caught in the strangulating throes of poverty.
Many Nigerians are impoverished because the wealth generated from their country is viciously concentrated in the hands of a privileged few who in turn transmit this wealth abroad thereby denying their fellow citizens the opportunity to enjoy this wealth through gainful employment and the provision of basic infrastructure. Many Nigerians are poor because they are not educated and therefore cannot understand the economic jargons of GDP, bilateral trade agreement, inflation, foreign exchange earnings, foreign reserves and such mystifying phrases that confuse the common man. Perhaps those who have ruled Nigeria since 1979 should be in a better position to answer the question as to why poverty in Nigeria has matriculated and now graduating to new heights. Every person who has ruled this country before, or occupied a position of authority that impacted on the lives of Nigerians should make it a point of moral duty to answer the question as to why many Nigerians are poor.
It is inconceivable that while the federal government recently shared returned Sani Abacha loot of $322 million to the poor, the same government is borrowing $328 million from China. What yardstick did the government employ in the sharing of the Abacha loot? How were recipients determined? I am sure nobody among the teeming population of the very poor in my local government got a penny of that money. These are questions that require immediate answers as 2019 elections beckon.