By MAGNUS EZE
May Ifeoma Nwoye is a notable name, especially in the literary world. A professor of Business Administration, the renowned author’s latest pre-occupation is how to curb poverty and environmental disaster in Nigeria.
She has chosen to be a creative missionary; bearing the message of poverty and environmental advocacy. Her recent book, Oil Cemetery, centres on how best to address the multiple facets of extreme poverty, which is one of the strongest drivers of social evolution, and improve the human condition.
Whereas Oil Cemetery is set in Niger Delta, poverty replicates itself in all nooks and crannies of the country.
“My poverty and environmental advocacy here has to do with listening to the soft voice of the silent majority who are peaceful, those who are ready for non-violent solution to crises, especially hapless women whose voice will never be heard because their cries cannot be projected above the slumps in their immediate environment. Since their cries are swallowed in the dump, help should be sent to meet them wherever they are trapped. Many of them die unaccounted for. They need help”, she said.
Exploring the world of poverty
The author through writing identifies with the poor, allowing them express their feelings and emotions, because nobody actually seeks to identify with them.
“Poverty is perhaps the only singular phenomenon whose presentation and consequences are patently multi-faceted. Poverty represents a ‘have not’ status or one of insufficiency. This replicates itself in several ways other than financial or material. There is moral poverty, there is emotional poverty. Illiteracy is a brand of educational poverty. There is poverty arising from lack of awareness, just as there is poverty occasioned by the non-possession of the material requirements for comfortable living.”
In Oil Cemetery, the characters are exposed to various degrees and circumstances of poverty. In the face of all these, poverty alleviation has curiously taken more political dimension than it is economic. Sometimes, leaders inadvertently create poverty. For instance, when workers are retrenched abruptly without gratuity to enable them start new lives, it creates a state of transitory poverty.
When pensioners are not given their dues, they are exposed to poverty. Corruption has also contributed to micro-economic imbalances, resulting in perpetuation of poverty. It is the culmination of these factors that restrain the poor from attaining a decent quality of life.
That aside, with all the absurdity and contradiction that follow every programme associated with poverty alleviation in Nigeria, the most common affliction in all the interventions is that the poor are not involved in planning “their” programmes.
Ironically, within the past few decades, everyone has been busily involved in solving the problem of the poor except the poor themselves.
The author strongly believes that those fighting poverty must be willing to step out of their comfort zone and visit those for whom they act. They must endeavour to listen to these voices of the poor themselves and adjust to their expectation–that is management. This calls for a paradigm shift in the mindset of those put in charge. The old ways have passed away.
Coming out of the woods
If Nigeria is to emerge from endemic poverty, hunger, disease, crime, and the attendant massive social problems, Nwoye recommends indigenous strategy. For her, the nation’s economic impasse has been a long tale of wasted opportunities. The problems did not just start today, yesterday or the day before.
Painfully, Nigeria is today witnessing the fall in oil prices, which might trigger fall back to the era of structural adjustment.
Recently, people from all sectors, including the Ministers of the Environment and Niger Delta, academics, politicians and literary enthusiasts gathered in Abuja for the public presentation of Oil Cemetery.
In very clear voice, the author insisted that development is not an imperative, but a process, where reason and patience must be applied over time.
She warned that the economy would remain unhealthily if it continued to depend on the volatile oil sector.
Her words: “The point is that we must look inwards at our country’s specific circumstances and then seek indigenous solution to our indigenous problems…We can start by reviving our traditional cash crops, exploiting our local raw materials and calling for partners, especially in areas where we have competitive advantage.”