A 2018 World Bank report stated that about half of Nigerians, roughly 90 million, live below the international poverty line of US$2 per day. The report also puts youth unemployment at 23.1 per cent. This latter figure, according to the report, is the participation rate for ages 15 to 24, which is the proportion of the population of those aged 15 to 24 who are actively engaged in the economy. What this means is that vast numbers of our youths are practically unemployed.
The $2 per day poverty line is equivalent to N728 per day. What meal can N728 buy you? Let us look at today’s cost of a ready-to-eat meal.
S/N ITEM DESCRIPTION COST(N)
1 A loaf of Agege bread 100
2 A bottle of Coca-Cola 100
3 A sachet of pure water 10
4 2 boiled eggs 100
5 A plate of rice/beans +
soup + piece of meat200
6 Roasted plantain +
handful of groundnuts150
7 Roasted piece of ham in
8 Handfuls of groundnuts
9 A plate of Eba/Amala +
soup + 1 piece of meat200
** Prices based on the mobile food hawker with no stall
A typical Nigerian family of five on this poverty line income thus has a grim choice to make. Obviously, the entire five family members cannot have three square meals a day on these prices; so, some people might only eat once a day. You might argue that these prices are commercial rates, and the family would resort to economies of scale by bulk buying and cooking to survive. However, whichever way you look at it, at today’s prices, a family of five cannot survive on N728 per day. The crux of the matter here is that this statistic is per person. Therefore, for a family of five, the budget translates to N3,640 per day, and in a 30-day month, that budget must be around N109,200. But the minimum wage is N30,000 per month. So, if both husband and wife are on minimum wage, their total income would be N60,000 per month; a far cry from what the family needs at the upper poverty line. The conditions under which Nigerians live daily are beyond comprehension. But one thing is clear; the figures of 23 per cent youth unemployment and of 90 million Nigerians living below the poverty line are no fluke. In reality, it could be worse.
How did a country with so much potential at Independence and in the 1970s become a failed state? How have Nigerians gloated and fawned over leaderships that have consistently presided over our massive state failures year in, year out? It must be because we continue to reward mediocrity, brigandage, and corruption. It must be because we continue to castigate and silence the voices of reason, which the leaders label as enemies of state in order to hang them high. It must be because we continue to hate each other as our mortal foes that must be crushed. It must be because we continue to deny justice to our fellow citizens and trod on the weak. It must be because our leaders continue to run the country as an emirate.
Everyone who has been to the market in recent times must wonder how our 90 million brothers and sisters living below the poverty index carry on with life on a daily basis. In my analyses above, I did not factor in life essentials such as house rent, school fees and supplies, clothing, medical bills, power bills, church dues, community levies, etc. Factoring all these into the family expenses, a family income of N150,000 per month will be inadequate in Nigeria. It is, therefore, not difficult to comprehend how the average individual or family man/woman can so easily become frustrated with life. If luck smiles on them one day, they might be in the market when the Vice President will come to share ‘trader money’ and will collect the pitiful N10,000, which will neither make any dent in the family’s debt profile nor ameliorate their frustrations.
The average family man does not have the luxury of throwing up his arms in the air in exasperation and walking away from it all because they have a spouse and kids to worry about; their plight would only worsen with his exit. Instead, such a person must soldier on, until the next currency devaluation shatters all hope again. With psyche now mortally wounded, we are left with bitter a citizen one who must put on a brave façade for his family’s sake, clinging on to some religious hopes for a breakthrough at some point in the future. But, unknowingly, that future is controlled by our lying and clueless politicians who are seeking and will acquire power to preside over the next phase of national bankruptcy. His conditions deteriorate further with the next cycle of inflation and currency devaluation, and he puts on more bravery and larger garments of hope. By this time, his ability to reason fairly begins to decline. He snaps at everyone and everything; he talks to himself without realising it; he hates everyone, even himself. He may seek solace in alcohol or, if he still has some discipline left, lapses into depression. Either way, he is a walking mental case, and we are unaware of it, unless you look closely. Have you ever wondered why a motorist would blare his or her horns at the traffic light when it is red? Why a pedestrian hit your car when he is trying to cross the street in a traffic gridlock? Why Nigerians are unable to render service in a hospitable manner? Why we are no longer the polite, cultured race we used to be less than 50 years ago?
It is said that a hungry man is an angry man. A poor man is equally an angry and frustrated man. Our frustrations are leading us to anger and depression, with millions of us becoming mentally incoherent without knowing it. The bad news is that, for those lucky enough to understand their problems, millions are not in a position to seek help that is hardly available. Many years ago, some of us saw this coming but we did nothing; the consequences of doing nothing have driven us to near anarchy, when there will be a huge conflict between the rich and the poor, the small and the mighty.
In the midst of our failures at nation-building, we saw our population increasing astronomically, and conveniently ignored the pressure cooker of a teeming unproductive population of Nigerians in the 21st Century.
We saw corruption ravaging the uncoordinated development of the economy and the attitude of most of us was that if we cannot beat them, we should join them.
We saw the plans that were made in the 1960s and 1970s for the industrial take-off of the nation being abandoned and we presided over the complete collapse of those plans in the late 1970s and 1980s.
We saw the degradation of the environment, the destruction of the rain forests, the wanton and continuing pollution of the deltas and creeks with oil spills, the drying up of Lake Chad, which has affected the farming community, the disappearance of the grazing fields and water bodies, and the desertification of the Savannah. And we choose to do little.
All these have led to a situation whereby millions of Nigerians are angry and frustrated because they have not been able to accept the reason for their poverty, and rightfully so.