“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind: And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” John Donne, 1571-1631
By Dele Sobowale
Those living in extreme poverty anywhere in the world constitute the living dead. Nigerians caught in the poverty trap exist in a hell on earth of their own. There are safety nets in some countries, regular subventions of resources to help the destitute cushion the impact of poverty. Not Nigeria; here, the poor are on their own. Instead of helping them government uses them as smoke screen to fleece the country through fraudulent Social Intervention Programmes, SIPs, and “Tradermoni” given to “party stalwarts”. Despite all the attempts by the Buhari administration to bury the truth, it just keeps popping up all the time.
When in June last year, the World Poverty Clock, PWC, declared Nigeria the poverty capital of the world, ably supported by British Prime Minister, Theresa May relying on the UK’s own studies, Buhari’s unpatriotic officials attempted to debunk the unpleasant story. One Minister, in a disgraceful manner announced that the WPC report was based on 2010 data in an attempt to shift the blame to the Jonathan. Spokesmen at the Rock joined in the barrage of lies that followed.
Nigerians were told on these pages to ignore the ill-fitting temper tantrums of Buhari’s men and women. Nobody in his right senses should believe them. It was also pointed out that it is a simple economic fact that if your country’s economy grows at a slower rate than your population, then your per capita income will drop. Nigeria’s economy had grown under Buhari as follows: 2016 (-1.8%), 2017 (0.8%), 2018 (1.93%). Meanwhile, the population has surged on at 3% per annum. It beats the imagination why individuals parading themselves as having integrity would deny that Nigerians are getting poorer under this government.
Instead of accepting the Government’s falsehood, we proceeded to make a projection for the year based on the data available. In June, we projected that by the end of 2018, the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty would have reached 90 million. Last week, the WPC again published their latest report. According to the “91.16 million Nigerians were living below a dollar a day as of February 2019.”
At least two facts have been underlined by the present report. Contrary to the nonsense uttered by Minister, the WPC does not publish report based on 2010 data. It updates its records virtually everyday. Second, that report is more consistent with the basic principles of economics than the illogical propaganda of the administration which had rejected every report which was indicting of its atrocious performance. Nigerians, who are not deluded by the FG’s propaganda and outright lies could not have forgotten that when the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, reported that unemployment rose significantly last year, one of Buhari’s spokesmen, a former Editor, released a statement telling the world that the Director General of the NBS was summoned to the Presidency and shown “facts” about millions of jobs the FG had created and the NBS would soon make another announcement. There was no meeting with DG-NBS and there was no retraction of the report. All governments are prone to lie repeatedly. But, this administration has taken lying to the Next Level! They have not reacted yet to the latest report by WPC. You can bet a lie follow. That is their stock in trade.
“An economist, like anyone else must concern himself with the ultimate aims of man.” Alfred Marshall, 1842-1924.
When a report like this is released, every economist worthy of his professional calling must worry about the ultimate fate of his people and his nation. The first thing readers must bear in mind that the projections we made in June last year have proved to be more accurate than the utterances of FG officials. Henceforth, you believe them at our own peril. And, serious peril lies in our future if the present trend towards creating more extremely poor people is not reversed.
With 91.16 million now classified as indigent, we are almost at the point where the majority of our population are in that category. Some of the consequences are already being experienced. More will surely follow. But, before highlighting the dangers ahead, it must be pointed out that given Buhari’s lack of solution to reversing the awful trend, Nigeria by December 2019, will add about 4 million more people to the army of people living in extreme poverty. That will bring the figure to about 95 million. It is a formidable Devil’s army; and the rest of us will pay dearly for it. Without realising it, we are under attack – by our own people.
Already, formally peaceful communities, even in rural areas, have suddenly become unsafe on account of kidnappers. The experience of a colleague, a successful banker, is more common now than people realise. Until two years ago, he was contented to send funds to his parents in the village – where their mansion was the talk of communities around. He was also always in the news as all wealthy bankers are. The family’s peace of mind vanished two years ago when his father was kidnapped on the way to church one Sunday. He paid ransom for the release. Then, his mother was snatched on her way to market. More money was surrendered. A third attempt was made a few weeks ago and now he must move the entire family from the village. Even he cannot now go there to sleep in his own bigger mansion. Kidnapping has now become the fastest growing industry in Nigeria and nobody is safe anymore.
Internet fraud is rising. That young man you observe driving the latest jeep and living well without any visible means of employment probably has one – and it is criminal in nature. A young man close to the “smart” ones estimates that close to half of young graduates in computer science and unemployed are either actively into cyber crime or learning to join the trade. No account is completely safe.
Unsettling as those instances are, and they are multiplying in number, they pale by comparison with the large army of the extremely poor who are now ready to kill, without remorse, for as little as N50. With nothing to lose, except their lives if caught and convicted, they now roam about Nigeria, like predators, and for them anybody is fair game.
Meanwhile, what is the FG doing about it? First is denial; they pretend that it is not true or that the problems will solve themselves. That is the worst recipe for greater disaster. The truth is India, which was once the gold medallist for poverty, did not reduce the number of poor people because governments offered the best excuses and because the Prime Ministers gathered around them the best liars money can procure. Each government faced the truth; accepted international reports which announced that it was the world’s poverty capital and determined to change the situation. Now they have handed Nigeria the dubious title. We would not get out of it as long as Buhari and his economic management team are in charge. They are making things worse.
“I will probe the $16 billion Obasanjo spent on power.” Buhari
Where is the money to alter the situation? You are probably asking yourself. Buhari provided the answer last week. In the last days of his campaign, and after being serially attacked by Obasanjo, Buhari finally announced that he will now undertake a probe which Jonathan should have undertaken and did not; which Buhari should have made his first port of call and he did not. It was damn unpatriotic of the two Presidents. Nigeria is not rich enough to throw away $16 billion. That is one reason we are multiplying poor people. Even if all Nigeria could have recovered was $8 billion, we would not now be spending 44 per cent of revenue servicing debt instead of reducing poverty. Even $4 billion, leveraged and judiciously spent will grow the economy at 4 per cent or more.