By Dele Sobowale
If you reduce poverty and the person is still poor, you have achieved nothing. I don’t believe in poverty reduction concept. It is more positive to talk about wealth creation”, Jonathan..
Now, I know why we are getting nowhere on poverty reduction or alleviation. The President of Nigeria, who is supposed to lead the fight, knows very little about the whole thing. He might have gone to school without shoes, but he now eats with golden spoons and is forever far removed from poverty.
All those who voted for him because of his sob story about his humble beginnings can now go in search of another person to help them. Goodluck here means good luck for only one person and his close associates. For most others, bad luck continues.
Only the Presidency knows how those invited for the Media chat are selected. But, the last group, like most of the others before, was short on economics-literate pen-pushers. That suited Jonathan just fine because it allowed him to get away with making a statement which would have made economists hold their heads in horror.
Jonathan is only the latest in our series of leading political leaders who, by the time they rose to the top, had no rudimentary knowledge of economics. So, it is not an insult to GEJ that we are offering him free education at Unijankara to brush up on his economics. If anything, it is an indictment of the economists serving him.
Poverty reduction, or alleviation, has been addressed by economists for more than sixty years and it has never been understood to mean that you leave the poor in destitution. That is why, for better, or worse, the poverty level for several years had been pegged at $1 dollar a day – until a few years ago, when it moved to $2 a day.
All the efforts aimed at poverty alleviation seek to move as many people as possible above the poverty line irrespective of whether new wealth is created or not; although, it is also true that increasing total aggregate income makes it easier to achieve the goal of poverty alleviation in general. However, one of the problems the world faces, at the moment, is the fact that wealth creation in over twenty years, or more, had only widened the gap between the wealthy and the poor. This includes Nigeria.
Back in 1992, at a seminar on poverty alleviation, a study revealed that 70 per cent of people lived below the poverty line. The price of crude then was just over $12 per barrel. Today, the price of the commodity hovers around $120per barrel; yet 70 per cent of Nigerians still live below the poverty line.
Obviously, wealth, which, incidentally, was created for Nigerians by God, had not reduced poverty. The lesson we want to teach Jonathan at Unijankara addresses the reasons why increased wealth had not reduced poverty. But, because GEJ might not “give a damn” about coming to class to be educated, let me tell him a few things he missed while giving the answer he did to the journalists.
First, wealth creation does not, on its own, eradicate or reduce poverty. It helps, but only if accompanied by more equitable distribution of income. Without that, and especially if government policies skew income distribution in favour of the wealthy, then increased income might actually exacerbate the problem of poverty.
That is the Nigerian situation. In 1960, a university professor earned more than a permanent secretary and the Editor of Daily Times took home as much as a Federal Minister. Today, the editor of any paper takes home far less than a state Commissioner; certainly no paper can pay its editors what Ministers truck home and survive for more than six months. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as Premier of Western Region, had only two official cars.
Today, eight states in the Southwest and South-South have been carved out of the one region and each Governor has a fleet of limousines that would make President Obama look like a pauper. Such obscene distribution of wealth largely explains why 70% remain poor wh
ile wealth increases.
When the mind, a good mind that is, turns to corruption, then it is easy to understand why Jonathan needs desperately to attend classes; we won’t bring bulahlah like the governor of Sokoto; I promise. In 1970, nobody could have, single-handedly, embezzled N1 billion naira because the total Federal budget under General Gowon was not up to N1 billion. But, then, only 34% of Nigerians were classified as poor. Under Jonathan, one single civil servant, in the pension office, has been accused of embezzling N22 billion. And she is not alone.
The entire country is puzzled by how N1.3 trillion disappeared from the treasury on account of fuel supply scams. That is not all. In 1970, the words “Duty Waiver” would have been regarded as synonyms for “fiscal lunacy”. Since the PDP took control of the Federal government, over N700 ($4.35) billion had been given to wealthy individuals and organizations as “Duty Waiver”.
Jonathan’s government gave out; and the self-righteous former President Obasanjo “dashed” waivers too, (Read my book: PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED, for details). Every single kobo of the money went to the wealthy. With such demonstrable callousness, avarice and indifference to the plight of the poor, it is clear that even if Nigeria’s GDP were to increase ten-fold, the budget allocation for Food and Welfare in Aso Rock will only climb from NI.34 billion to N13.4 billion. The appetite of gluttons grows with eating and the PDP is the party of cruel gluttons. And Jonathan is President of Nigeria, leading the PDP.
Why go on? Our President, will probably only continue to engage in media chats during which he reveals how little or all he knows about this monster problem called poverty alleviation.
A LESSON FROM UK ABOUT FIGHTING CORRUPTION
“Every country gets the government it deserves”, Joseph De Maistre,
Nigerians deserved Obasanjo, because they had Dr Alex Ekwueme as an alternative in 1999. OBJ gave us a successor who was at death’s door. We deserve, even more, GEJ; because majority of us voted for him – including Obasanjo who is now crying loudest after spilling the national milk himself.
When Obasanjo claimed that his successors were not capable of fighting corruption, he was only being economical with the truth – as usual. PDP governments, Federal or state, can never fight corruption because they are responsible for most of it. Last week, a court in the United Kingdom convicted a British-Ghanaian who had been on trial for $2.3 billion fraud which was discovered only last year.
In just about one year, the case was over; the accused was off to jail. By contrast, the cases of Nigerian politicians accused of embezzling public funds and bank managers who defrauded their banks and ruined millions of Nigerians, have not proceeded beyond preliminary stage more than four, or even seven, years after.
An accused former governor acquitted of all charges in Nigeria was sent to jail for less than one fifth of the charge sheet in London; the “Justice” who delivered that travesty is still on the bench; perhaps in order to deliver more. Yet, Jonathan looked into the television cameras and told Nigerians that his government is fighting corruption. Well, we deserve that insult too.