Once upon a time, the rising tide of people living in poverty was called a “time bomb”. Not anymore, both time and bombs are here with us. Read on.

“Using the absolute poverty measure, 54.7 per cent of Nigerians were living in poverty in 2004 but this increased to 60.9 per cent or 99.284 million Nigerians in 2010.”

Dr Yemi Kale, Statistician-General of the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, February 13, 2012 in Abuja.

This was part of the report released on that day by the NBS according to which 112.5 million Nigerians or 68.7 per cent now live in poverty; by whatever metric the measurement is made. Dr Kale also noted that “it remains a paradox, however, that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing [at 7 per cent or more per annum], the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year.

He also noted that income inequality has increased from 2004 to 2010. It will definitely increase even more in 2011 and 2012 because the very poorest have largely been ignored by governments at all levels since 1999 irrespective of the political party in power even at the state level.

Also more public funds have been embezzled by elected officials and civil servants since 1999 than all the years since 1914 put together.

To economists current with global reports, the report of the Statistician-General of the Federation comes as no surprise.

Perhaps, to most Nigerians also, it might not be so startling. What is most disturbing is the fact that thirteen years after the return to civil rule, close to 90 per cent of Nigerians, including the rapidly shrinking middle class and pensioners, are still waiting for the dividends of democracy which politicians promised many years ago.

More appalling to economists, however, is the fact that the trend is worsening – both in percentage and real terms.

The reason for that is not hard to discover. At federal, state and local government council levels, over 80 per cent of the annual budget is spent on the government and civil servants with very little left for the rest of the citizens.

Furthermore, a disproportionate percentage of the little left for the rest of the citizenry is spent on the wealthy and the high income earners while less than one per cent goes for service delivery to middle/low income areas and the absolutely poor get next to nothing.

The few roads in Government Reserved Areas I, GRA I, receive several layers of asphalt every few years; those in Government Rejected Areas II, GRA II, almost never. Most roads in Lagos Island, once the seat of the Federal government, received their last layer of bitumen when the seat of the Federal government was here.

The same is true of Maiduguri, Portharcourt, Kano, Ibadan, Enugu, Jos, or Calabar or any other capital city in Nigeria today. The number of functional police vehicles attached to any police statio
n situated in each GRA also tells the entire story of where the public funds are going.

GRA I receives the newest; GRA II the oldest – if any at all. As for street lights, they almost invariably are in GRA I; never in GRA II. Water supply to GRA II? Forget it. The poor actually pay more for water that the affluent.

So, not only are the poor living in poverty, everything governments do, irrespective of political party, conspire, if they are not designed, to keep them mired in poverty for generations. In fact, what the NBS report failed to mention is the fact that Nigeria had lost several generations to grinding poverty – meaning people who have lived all their lives only to constitute a burden to the nation because their net contribution to the wealth of our country had been negative.

In development discussion, thirty years has been accepted as the measurement for one generation. Poverty measurements started since the 1960s –more than 41 years ago. With thirteen years, since the departure of the military, spent in deepening poverty, while proclaiming increasing GDP growth, we are in effect gradually losing another generation of Nigerians to poverty. And, the consequences, which are already dire, can only get worse as time goes on.

Why? Because the criminals of tomorrow are already the five, six, ten year olds born and raised in the GRA IIs of Nigeria and they will become twelve, thirteen and even twenty year old tough gangsters.

The report pointed out that the Northeast and Northwest are the poorest. That should be no news to anyone either. The first workshop, on Poverty Alleviation, which I participated in at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, in 1978, confirmed that and more.

Even the people in the Northwest and Northeast know it now – thanks to television and other ICT products. Abuja, once remote, is now as close as the NTA News report every evening showing them how their rulers live with N1 billion food subsidy – while they starve.

They saw the wife of the President and those well-attired women feasting at Christmas and wonder if they live in the same country. Well, they don’t.

What the report did not say is actually more important than what was reported. In social terms, the Northeast and the Northwest have become home to the largest number of people with nothing to lose. Lagos State, oddly enough, comes third.

That means the two zones, by being inhabited by the largest number of idle hands, have become the devil’s biggest workshop in Nigeria. It is therefore easy to understand that violent and/or “religious” groups quite frequently find their most loyal supporters in those zones.

Incidentally, Niger Delta Militants also grew out of the most deprived segments of the oil producing states. Abacha’s phony two million man march, with Youths Earnestly Asking for Abacha, YEAA, brought kids to Abuja from the Niger Delta and opened their eyes to the crimes of the rulers.

There has been no going back since then. None of the warriors, who surrendered their weapons, after declaration of amnesty, came from a rich home or even a comfortable middle class abode. They were the wretched of the Niger Delta.

Boko Haram is simply the latest, and by no means the last, of such groups which can, with minimum sponsorship, go to war and whose members are prepared to fight to death. When all you have is the rag on your shoulders to call your own, your very life becomes expendable in any adventure, planned by others, for a pittance.

It is inconceivable that a well-adjusted young man with a two bedroom bungalow to his credit would want to blow himself up for any reason. So, as long as we continue to maintain and expand our hatcheries, for potential self-terminators and pyromaniacs, producing people existing in desperate circumstances, we will always experience periodic spasm of violence from the poorest zones.

Many of us, government officials included, are not even aware of how we have, deliberately or inadvertently, organized Nigeria to increase, in absolute numbers, the pool of those with nothing to lose. Back in 1992, the population was estimated at 100 million with 70% living in poverty; that made the number approximately 70 million.

Now, the NBS informs us that 69% of our population lives in poverty; but the real numbers have jumped to 112.5 million – in twenty years we have nurtured 42.5 million more desperados. And the trend is upwards, both in percentage and absolute figures….

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