My World

January 15, 2022

The poor are crying

By Muyiwa Adetiba

The glitter is off. Fireworks that used to light the skies in different colours while sending beautiful shimmers down to earth have petered off.

Christmas lights have been taken off in most of the placesthey adorned and these places have returned to their usual, nondescript selves.Families have hugged and said their goodbyes. Travellers have returned to base and the once deserted streets are filling up again. Yuletide is over until another twelve months. The holiday is over until another season.

Work has resumed; school has resumed; traffic has resumed. Nothing is left now but the memories of what the season had been. Memories of reunions; memories of disappointments. Memories of plans that went awry due to circumstances beyond the planners’ control – Covid19 played a major role in how the yuletide festivities were shaped with many events cancelled or moderated because the key actors were either infected at the last minute, or could not get flights on time due to travel restrictions. But there is no doubting the fact that the season brought joy to many homes across the world.

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As memories of happenstances that brought joy to us during the season linger, let’s not smother those memories that are not too pleasant but which have become so normal that we find it convenient not to register them any longer. When for example, we remember the beautiful Christmas carols and the invigoratingnight vigils, let us not forget those who lurked in the shadows looking for pittance or warmth in the cold harmattan nights on our way to the respective venues.

As the gaily dressed children and their parents walk towards their places of worship, there are poorly dressed children and their parents by the street looking on with their usual begging bowls. There is no telling what they are thinking.

As the traffic lights stop you on your way to a social event, urchins appear from nowhere to peer curiously into your car hoping for appeasement; hoping for recognition as human beings. At the event itself, there are adolescents hustling and fighting themselves to park you. All for a pittance. These memories of the poor, the wretched of the earth, register on all of us – albeit fleetingly for some.

And if you have any conscience, they should linger as a symbol of the injustice and inequity that the country breeds. As we toss out a coin or simply avert our eyes, do we sometimes take time to think at that moment, or later in the comfort of our homes, about what would happen in ten years’ time to these children whohave been born, weened and nurtured on the street?Street life for these children, is the only life they know.

It is their education. It is their survival. Sometimes you see envy in their eyes as they peer into your car. Sometimes you see hatred. Sometimes desperation if they have had a ‘barren’ day. But hardly fear. It is their turf and you engage them there at your peril. Their numbers are swelling by the day thanks to the socio/economic situation in the country.How many of them will survive this vicious circle of poverty they have found themselves in? How many will experience their first drug in their early teens? How many will graduate to hardened criminality? How many will live to see their grandchildren? How many will even live to be forty? No matter how you turn it, their future is bleak. And what does it say about the future of the country and about leaders who seem incapable of hearing the loud cries of the poor?

In the next few weeks – if Government does not change its mind – the subsidy on petroleum products should be removed. This means the cost of everything will spiral. Everybody will feel the pinch; the poor even more. Labour will react the only way it knows, by going on strike and shutting down an already depressed economy. Those who will suffer most by the ensuing strikes will be the entrepreneurs and the daily workers –meaning organised labour bears very little, if any, of the brunt. Yet there is no doubt that the never ending subsidies have to be addressed at some point.

Until sanity comes into the petroleum industry – both upstream and downstream – Nigeria is unlikely to see much progress.

Definitely an optimal performance of our refineries and power generation will be a pipedream unless we clean up our act.  The importers of these products and their co-beneficiaries have always fought hard against subsidy removal using emotive arguments. They have always had their way because there are probably fifth columnists in government and in organised labour to aid them.

The pain in the subsidy removal should be temporary if there is transparency in the whole process. The employment that the increase in the activitiesof the petroleum and power sectors will generate should more than make up for the short term pain of subsidy removal. But the key word is a commitment to a transparent process which I can’t see happening. For the people to see subsidy removal as a necessary pill to swallow, government must demonstrably tighten its own belt.

The pain should not and cannot be borne by the people alone. The profligacy in government, especially with the Executive and the Legislature, must be curbed. Nowhere else do elected officialsmove around in luxury and in convoys of cars the way we do in Nigeria. The leakages in the Civil Service must be stemmed. 80% of Nigerians do not have to sacrifice to feed the fancies of the other 20%. Anything that increases the gap between the haves and the have not in the country as a result of any policy should not be encouraged.

Anything that further swells the rank of the poor must be stopped. The poor are crying. We have to be humane enough to hear them this year and do whatever it takes to wipe some of those tears. It is in our collective interest. Their backs are to the wall as it is. Their belts have been tightened to the last notch. It is time for the leaders to show that their ears are not deaf to the cries of the poor by making some sacrifices as well. The poor are weary of constantly being asked to sustain the ever draining lifestyle of the rich.