Ayo Oyoze Baje
As far as our political gladiators are concerned, what matters most is how to position themselves for the plum offices come 2019. In so doing, they continue to scheme, strategize and employ all manner of tricks and tactics to drag most of the gullible electorate into their nets of grand deceit. As the electioneering campaigns begin in earnest fanciful promises are made with glitz and glee but few are ever delivered on the common man’s table.
So, yours truly keeps wondering when democracy would favour the good people of Nigeria. When and how will this obnoxious system of government, structured and skewed to satiate the epicurean tastes of the few but powerful rich, bridge the yawning gap between them and the masses caught in the ignoble pit of poverty? When? The million-Naira question persists.
Going by the ‘Inequality in Nigeria,’ Report published by Oxfam on May 17, 2017 ‘the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty in that country. The report exposes the large and growing gap between the rich and the poor. It reveals how the benefits of economic growth have been captured by a wealthy elite at the expense of ordinary Nigerians’.
Economic inequality is globally accepted as a key factor behind the Boko Haram insurgency that has led to severe food crisis in Nigeria’s North-eastern states. In fact, the UN estimated that five million people in North-east Nigeria suffered from severe food shortages in 2017.
Despite a rapidly growing economy, Nigeria is one of the few countries where the number of people living in poverty increased, from 69 million in 2004 to 112 million in 2010 – a rise of 69 percent. The number of millionaires increased by 44 percent during the same period. And taken according to the six geo-political zones, the level of poverty stood at 60.7% for the North-Central, 71.4% for the North-West and the North-East had 69.1%. Others showed that the South-East figure stood at 59.5%, the South-South 49.8% and the South-West 55.5% . That was the pitiable picture painted by Oxfam in 2017. The situation is not much cheering as 2018 unfolds.
The Human Development Index HDI – is a composite index which includes health, education, income, livelihood security and other indicators. Looked at critically from the (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. It paints a parlous picture of pure deprivation of the long-suffering masses. That is, by their so-called leaders, and painfully too, under a democratic dispensation!
In retrospect, as one has had cause to highlight in previous essays, Nigeria’s HDI as at July 2017 stood at 0.514 putting the country amongst the lowest global ranking of those in the low developing category. In fact, Nigeria was 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 and 0.466 respectively. Sadly, Nigeria sad and sordid social inequality spectrum was comparable to that of Ethiopia and Congo (DR) at 29.4% and 36.2 % respectively.
Between May and July, 2016 inflation rate galloped from 13.7% to 15.6%.Compared to that of South Africa of 6.3 %, Republic of Niger of 2.3 %,Zimbabwe of -1% and Mali of -0.4% there is nothing to cheer about. And all that is because of the dynamics of consumables and essential needs such as food, kerosene, transportation, housing and utilities. The reason is the close correlation which exists between fuel hike and inflation. Nigerians may have endured it all in their characteristic legendary resilience but the sudden hike in fuel price from about N97 to N145 per litre has had deleterious effects on the quality of life of the average Nigerian. As it happened in Venezuela so it did in Nigeria.
What all these translate to is that there is ‘Hunger in The Land’. Incidentally, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo last year admitted that about 110 million Nigerians were still living below poverty line despite the policies of past governments to improve their welfare. His reason was that the policies were wrongly formulated and as a result did not have direct impact on the people. Said he: “When you look at the economic and social policies, and you look at the level of illiteracy in parts of the country, some are extremely bad and some with cases of about 80% or 90% of children out of school, and other cases of unimaginable decayed infrastructure”. According to him, “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.
We had admonished Mr. President back in 2015 to assemble a team of top technocrats and seasoned economists, who know their onions; irrespective of their political or religious persuasions and be ready to listen to them. But that was never done.As usual, the tightening of monetary policies has led to devaluation of the naira. Since we do not produce or export much of home-grown products, importers would spend more naira to the dollar. The insurgency in the North-East, has led to food shortages in addition to hike in the price of farm products.
In fact, of greater significance is the crying need to critically address the obscenely high cost of accessing political power, as well as running the machinery of government in Nigeria. The governors and the legislators should come to terms with the harsh economic realities and tread the path of frugality. We have to restructure our obscene payment system.
Perhaps, a new set of more forward-looking, intelligent, younger, dynamic and resourceful leaders who are battle ready to serve the state rather than the self will finally get us out of the economic wood.
Baje writes from Lagos