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FG, Oxfam on collision course over inequality, poverty in Nigeria

…Wealth of 5 richest Nigerians can end extreme poverty — Oxfam
…Report structurally deficient, inciting — FG
…Oxfam unfair to the 5 businessmen — Odukoya

By Michael Eboh, Nkiruka Nnorom & Dotun Ibiwoye

ABUJA—The Federal Government, yesterday, accused Oxfam International of trying to incite some sections of Nigerians with its latest statistics on poverty and inequality in Nigeria.

Nigeria’s poverty level is very high

Oxfam, in its latest report entitled, “Inequality in Nigeria, Exploring the Drivers,” in Abuja, had presented an alarming picture of the Nigerian economic situation, stating that 112 million Nigerians are living in abject poverty.

Presenting a picture of extreme inequality in Nigeria, Oxfam argued that the combined wealth of the five richest Nigerians, put at about $29.9 billion, could end extreme poverty in the country.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Abuja, Minister of State, Budget and National Planning,  Hajia Zainab Ahmed, said the 54-page Oxfam report on inequality and poverty in Nigeria does not have the requisite methodology, definition of content and diplomatic approach to analyse  and appraise  Nigerian affairs.

Represented by Director, International Cooperation of the Ministry, Mr Eloho Samuel, the minister noted that the positive development and all the positive poverty alleviation scheme implemented by the Federal Government were not considered in the report.

He said: “I was worried by the language, tone and style of the report, and this made me to ask: what was at the back of the mind of the authors when the report was being written?

“When I looked at the report, I was worried about certain concepts, such as ‘who are the elite?’ There was no definition of terms, such as elite and poverty. More worrisome was if the report falls into the hands of aggrieved individuals, how would they react?

“To us in Nigeria, when we find problems, we pray for the leaders. Let us think Nigeria, write Nigeria and behave like Nigerians.”

Findings in the report

According to the report, economic inequality was a key factor behind the conflict that had led to the severe food crisis in Nigeria’s North East states, especially as the UN estimates that about five million people in North East Nigeria will suffer from severe food shortages this year.

Other findings in the report include that “Nigeria’s richest man earns 8,000 times more in one day than a poor Nigerian will spend on basic needs in a year.  More than 112 million people are living in poverty in Nigeria, yet the country’s richest man would have to spend $1 million a day for 42 years to exhaust his fortune.

“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 per cent. The number of millionaires increased by 44 percent during the same period.”

Commenting on the report, Celestine Odo, Good Governance Programme Coordinator for Oxfam in Nigeria, said it was obscene that the richest Nigerian has amassed more money than he can ever hope to spend in a country where five million people will struggle to feed themselves this year.

Factors responsible for inequality

Also speaking, Mr. Oluseun Onigbinde, Lead Partner, Budgit, disclosed that inequality had over the years, created serious economic and political crisis for the country and its negative influence had permeated all sectors of the country.

He identified factors responsible for inequality to include gender discrimination, unfair distribution of resource and the prohibitive cost of governance, adding that the country’s budget and the scale of resources that goes to the treasury cannot be equated with the country’s level of development.

He said: “Apapa port and roads linking the port had been in shambles for years, but look at the haste with which the Abuja airport was repaired. This shows that the priority of the country is on the rich.”

Oxfam unfair to the 5 businessmen—Odukoya

Reacting also,  Mr. Tola Odukoya, Managing Director/CEO, FSL Asset Management Limited, said while it was true that the level of poverty was high in Nigeria, it was unfair to correlate the level of poverty in the country to the wealth of five men concerned.

He argued that they are business men and women who have built their wealth through hard work, saying that things like the poverty level and standard of living of the people should be addressed to the government, which is the manager of the common wealth.

He said: “The report is not too far from the truth. There is no doubt that there is so much poverty in the country, but I don’t think it is fair to the people mentioned in the report because they are private businessmen, who have built their wealth through hard work. The level of poverty is something that should be addressed to the government.”


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