By Afe Babalola
“It is no secret that for some time now, things have been far from usual, no thanks to the rising state of poverty in the country. How can one celebrate unemployment, indebtedness, homelessness, helplessness or insecurity?”
IT is Christmas and the end of the year again. It is traditionally a time that Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion or political leaning use as a period of relaxation and merry making in appreciation and perhaps celebration of the feat of surviving yet another year in Nigeria. It is also used as a period of planning for the coming year.
It is a period which is marked with social activities and exchange of gifts, at least in times past. However, it is no secret that for some time now, things have been far from usual, no thanks to the rising state of poverty in the country. How can one celebrate unemployment, indebtedness, homelessness, helplessness or insecurity? How can one plan for the coming year when nothing is certain and the resources needed to plan are non-existent?
In a recent study by the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria was stated to have overtaken India in the highest number of people living in poverty. In a list which included India, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Kenya and Indonesia amongst others, Nigeria was recorded as number one with about 86.9 million people recorded as living in poverty.
Living in extreme poverty
In yet another list made up of African countries alone, Nigeria was still listed as No.1. Commenting on this report in June 2018, Yomi Kazeem, on quartz.com stated as follows:
The 86.9 million Nigerians now living in extreme poverty represents nearly 50 per cent of its estimated 180 million population. As Nigeria faces a major population boom—it will become the world’s third largest country by 2050—it’s a problem will likely worsen.
Poverty is the inability to adequately meet personal or family basic needs for day to day existence; food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.
However, Prior to 1965 and indeed prior to the coming of Europeans, poverty was unknown in Africa. However poverty and its attendant effects including begging by the poor is everywhere. Beggars besiege and embarrass people at wedding, birthday parties, naming ceremonies, funeral ceremony, coronation, chieftaincy installation, petrol stations and on the highway.
Nigeria is a country endowed with more enormous human and material resources than most of the developed countries of the world that has per capita income of USD300,000 and above and also life expectancy of 70 years. Per capita income in Nigeria is only about USD300 while life expectancy is 52 years. About 70 per cent of Nigeria live in abject poverty with less than N500 per capita. This large population lives in squalor, unlike developed countries where less than 10 per cent are poor. For a country with massive wealth and huge population to support commerce, a well-developed economy and plenty of natural resources such as oil, the high rate of poverty is disturbing.
Poverty in Nigeria is getting worse by the day. Why is this? Are the poor people to blame for their predicament? Have they been lazy? Have they made poor decisions? Have they been responsible for their own plight? Is their poverty due to lack of capital or funds to start a good business? Is it due to mismanagement? Is it due to non-availability of resources at individual, corporate or national level? Is it due to lack of good priority setting? Is it due to economic monetary and banking policies of the government? Is it due to excessive interest charged by CBN and commercial banks? Is it due to the education system which was not designed to turn out entrepreneurs and industrialists?
Why Nigeria is different
Many of the above stated factors can and have actually been adduced as partly responsible for the state of poverty in Nigeria. Who after all can argue that poor management of a country’s resources or poor policy formulation or implementation by its monetary regulatory agencies can aide the onset and elongation of poverty. These are factors which cannot be regarded as unique to any country and indeed can be said to be present in most countries of the world. What then makes Nigeria the difference from such other countries? What makes poverty so endemic here when other countries can be said to suffer the same malaise of maladministration which over the years have stunted our country’s economic growth?
In my estimation, the answer is partly the poor disposition of Nigerians to giving. Nigerians, and I mean wealthy Nigerians unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, who have established endowment funds, Foundations, Charity organisations etc, seem unable to understand just how important giving can be when used appropriately.
In a lecture I delivered on November 4, 2010 at the ocassion of the alumni of Ibadan College of Medicine Association World-wide, University of Ibadan, entitled Philanthropy and Sustainable development, I stated as follows:
Much as successive government world over have been dedicated to the formulation and implementation of policies aimed at bridging the gap between the rich and the poor and the outright eradication of poverty, it appears that their efforts have yielded little results. The rich it would seem have simply become richer while the poor have become poorer. Whatever is the cause of this be it ineptitude, incompetence or corruption one thing that is crystal clear is that no single Government can by itself adequately meet each and every need of its citizens.
Government alone cannot reasonably be expected, particularly in the light of the world’s current economic realities, to improve the quality of life of everyone to the level which most people expect. Government alone cannot fix and repair every bad road or replace every worn out desk in every school or provide every single child or individual with the best medical facilities required. I must not be mistaken as saying that these are not objectives to which every government anywhere in the world should seek to achieve and surpass. My contention simply is that our present realities make the attainment of such ideals difficult in the extreme. As one philosopher once said, “the way we live is so far detached from the way we ought to live”. So what is the way out? The answer is Philanthropy.
What it was like in times past
In order to fully appreciate the extent of poverty in the country, it is necessary to firstly examine what life in Nigeria was in its pre-independence days. In the 50s and 60s, the economy, although subsistence farming was stable. There were only two classes of people; namely the white men, the Obas and Chiefs regarded as the upper class, while the others were in the lower class. There was no poor class.
Between 1952 and early 70s, three classes of people had emerged namely: the Politicians and the Obas in the upper class; the middle class consisting of professionals and businessmen; and the working class.
Since the 80s however, new classes of people have emerged namely:
- The super rich
- The politicians including Presidents,Governors, Ministers, Senators etc
- The tycoons
- The middle class consisting of civil servants and professionals.
- The workers
- The poor
- The very poor
The emergence of these new classes and the attendant economic and social consequences was brought about by many factors including the discovery of oil, reliance on oil and the almighty revenue earner, the policy of government to export crude oil and import refined oil for local consumption, instead of refining enough oil for local consumption; the neglect or abandonment of agriculture; the lucrativeness of politics, the indiscriminate issuance of licenses and waivers for tycoons for importation of sugar, flour, cement, corn, wheat and other basic essential commodities.
Other factors which inflicted hardship and poverty on the citizenry include failure to provide steady and reasonably cheap electricity, abandonment of rail transportation, poor road transportation system, poor education and poor health service. Of all these, the Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), which many of us including my humble self opposed, had the most profound effect on the economy of the nation. It brought about steady currency devaluation, internationally uncompetitive low wages and the collapse of the middle class. It also sounded the death knell for many national bodies such as the Nigeria Airways, and the Nigerian National Shipping Line and railways. The gradual worsening of the economy and increase in poverty level is therefore cumulative and all previous governments are to blame for the present level of poverty in the land.
Effects of poverty
The first noticeable effect of poverty is inequality. The poorest people will always have less access to health, quality education and other services. Hunger, malnutrition and diseases have more effect on the poorest in the society. They are invariably marginalized in society and have little or no representation of voice in public or political debates. By contrast, the wealthy benefit more from economic or political policies. The wealthy have accesss to the bank and the government whereas the poor suffers in silence. The gap between the rich and the poor is dangerously widening. Soon, we may produce the richest man on the planet and also the largest number of poorest people.