By Muyiwa Adetiba
Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. What this means is that we are the greatest producer of poor people in the world. What this means is that we have acquired another badge of dishonour.
The argument of Enelamah and Udoma, our respective Ministers for Trade and Budget that the figures used are recession figures are feeble and therefore puerile. The work done is too extensive to be dismissed by that kind of defence. Besides, the realities on the ground which we can all see and feel, lend credence to the report.
According to the report of an economic study group which was launched in 2017 to track trends in poverty reduction, Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor. The report stated that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty by May 2018, compared with India’s 73 million.
More worrisome is the fact that Nigeria’s poverty rate is growing by six people every minute while India’s rate continues to fall by 44 people per minute. According to the report, Africa as a whole would have about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty by the end of the year—just two months away. The grim economic report is not finished. Africa currently accounts for two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor and will account for nine-tenth by 2030.
For those who think it is another Western negative narrative, it is instructive to note that it almost agrees entirely with the position of African development Bank (ADB). ADB had observed that 152 million Nigerians representing 80% of the country’s estimated 193 million population, live on two dollars per day.
I believe the aim of reports such as this is to make us feel uncomfortable with ourselves enough to ask questions and make amends. Especially when they are accompanied by disturbing signs like increase in crime, increase in youth unemployment, increase in out-of-school children, increase in urban migration and increase in the desperation of the young as well as the old to flee the country. But we seem to be wearing these badges of dishonour with equanimity if not pride.
We were labelled a fantastically corrupt country only a couple of years ago. It was a badge of dishonour which should have called for introspection. Instead, we turned the table and questioned the sincerity of our accusers. After all, they are recipients of our largess. But it is our money not theirs. And they are using it to develop their countries not ours. And so, despite all the hoopla, despite the best but feeble efforts of this administration, we are still a fantastically corrupt country.
The signs of a failing state are everywhere; in the scramble for stolen state wealth; in the recourse to religion rather than state to solve basic problems; in the strident cry for regionalism; in the unacceptable level of impunity and crimes and finally, in the gradual severance of the threads of unity and nationhood. But we seem impervious to these signs. We are like the man who put a naked light on his thatched roof and goes to sleep. What he is likely to wake up to is a conflagration which could consume him and his family. Our leaders are fiddling; the followers are dancing; the intellectuals are bystanders. Yet, as history has shown time after time, nobody is spared from ‘the fire next time.’
The devil is in the system. It has to be holistically altered. Everybody, especially the elites and the intellectuals has to make serious adjustments. Despite our considerable human and material resources, we earn very little outside oil. We have become a lazy lot. And not just our youths; everybody. We contribute very little to the outside world. Yet, we have an appetite for foreign goods that is unrealistic and unsustainable. We have to dispense with the luxury of smart TVs, high performance cars and of course, private jets. And exotic liquor and food. Whatever we cannot produce must not be consumed. That is how many countries we now envy turned their economies around. But it is not going to happen here. Not very soon.
If you doubt it, just look at those the primaries shortlisted. It is a sign of our skewed system and warped values that only two of them have a realistic chance of making it to Aso Rock. We wanted a change yet the country as one failed to endorse change. Instead, we chose the status quo. We narrowed our choices to two sides of a bad coin. Take a close look at the leading contestants from APC and PDP. They are both septuagenarians. They are both educationally limited.
They are both products of the past that got us where we are. They are both Fulanis. But more importantly, they both belong to the very zones that have dragged us into becoming the poverty capital of the world. Then ask yourself if a man can give what he doesn’t have. A Yoruba proverb says: ‘If a man wants to give you a shirt, you first look at what he is wearing.’ The zones where these two leaders come from definitely don’t advertise them.
I am amused when some people say one of the contestants understands the language of business. I am sorry. For me, trading is the wrong type of business. Importation is the wrong type of business. Contracting is the wrong type of business. Rent-seeking partnership is the wrong type of business. According to a tweet I read recently, 13 Boeing 747 cargo planes come into Nigeria daily and fly back empty, sometimes using sandbags to stabilise the aircraft. Six ships come in full and five leave empty. That is what our propensity for foreign goods and our ‘business gurus’ are doing to us. That is what 20 years of this current democracy has achieved. That is what it means to consume and not produce.
But all of this is tangent to the point for me. The major point is economic restructuring because our infrastructural decay has been caused by corruption and impunity. Everything has virtually collapsed because we have a greedy elite. Eighty percent of our meagre resources is used to accommodate the ‘needs’ of just 2% of the population. And 50% of whatever is left for infrastructural development is simply shared by the same elite. Until we get the kind of leadership which can cut Aso Rock, the National Assembly, the public service especially the civil service to size because they ‘are bloated, unproductive and bleeding the country,’ we shall continue to adorn one badge of dishonour after another.
Ascetic Buhari couldn’t do it. Can opulent Atiku do it? Can he take on the powerful 2% that is milking the country dry? Can he commit class suicide? I have my fears.