The beggars, homeless, elderly poor, job-seeking youth, orphans and widows
As millions of Nigerian Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the globally acclaimed spiritual saviour of mankind, there are many more who do not have the economic resources to wine and dine, with members of their families and friends. While this sad situation is understandable in some other countries ravaged by natural environmental disasters of drought, seasonal floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis, or the self-inflicted wasteful, wanton wars, the situation is far from this in Nigeria.
Here, indeed, the victims such as the homeless, the elderly poor, the beggars, the job-seeking youth, orphans and widows agonise over preventable poverty in the midst of plenty! Not left out of course, are the hapless civil servants owed for months by the cruel and conscienceless state governors that collect different funds from the all-conquering federal centre but simply refuse to pay them. There lies the irony and the pain!
Only recently, the World Bank warned the Buhari regime that the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty may increase by more than 30 million by 2030. The Bank warned that Nigeria would be home to 25 per cent of the world’s destitute people if the government failed to act right.
The report read: “Economic and demographic projections highlight the urgent need for reform. With population growth (estimated at 2. 6 per cent) outpacing economic growth in a context of weak job creation, per capita income is falling. Today, an estimated 100 million Nigerians live on less than $1. 90 per day.
It adds that: “Close to 80 per cent of poor households are in northern Nigeria, while employment creation and income gains have been concentrated on central and southern Nigeria. The economy is expected to grow by 2. 1 per cent in 2020 and 2021, compared to an annual population growth rate of 2. 6 per cent. “Nigeria’s economy is recovering gradually from the 2016 recession, with growth projected to pick up from 1. 9 per cent in 2018 to two per cent in 2019. But the projected growth outlook is vulnerable to external and domestic risks, including geopolitical and trade tensions that may affect inflows of private investment”.
As previously highlighted in my essay titled, ‘UN’s battle against poverty’, the statistics of our country’s scenario are simply scary and scandalous. One is talking about the inexcusable social inequality and injustice which exist between the very rich and those caught in the pitiable pit of preventable poverty. In a report published by Oxfam in 2016, the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men- then put at about $29.9 billion could effectively end extreme poverty in the country. Yes, you read that right.
In fact, Celestine Okwudili Odo, Good Governance Programme Coordinator for Oxfam in Nigeria, said, “It is obscene that the richest Nigerian has amassed more money than he can ever hope to spend in a country where five million people will struggle to feed themselves this year. Extreme inequality is exacerbating poverty, undermining the economy, and fermenting social unrest. Nigerian leaders must be more determined in tackling this terrible problem.”
Looked at from the Human Development Index, which is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in the three basic dimensions of human development, there is nothing to write home about. The three key areas of long-term healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living paint a parlous picture of pure deprivation of the long-suffering masses. Especially, by their so-called leaders, and painfully too, under a democratic dispensation.
Nigeria was ranked 152nd out of 188 countries in the 2016 Report of the African Human Development Index, released by the United Nations Development Programme, in Nairobi, Kenya. Consequently, the country retained its 2014 status, as there was no forward or backward shift from the computation. Nigeria’s HDI value for 2014, according to the UNDP’s 2015 report, was 0.514 which put the country in the low human development category.
Even Botswana ranked better than Nigeria according to the report published on August 29, 2016. Furthermore, it stated in unequivocal terms that Nigeria’s Human Development Index rose by 13.1 %. Such is the high level of poverty in the country that the UNDP, precisely on April 19, 2017, warned that Nigeria must stop being a “seriously hungry nation”.
Sadly, Nigeria was the only oil-producing country languishing in that shameful socio-economic stratum. Also, according to the 2015 HD Report Work for Human Development for 188 countries assessed by the United Nations, life expectancy index was 0.44, education index was 0.59 while the GDP index and HDI value were placed at 0.36 and 0.466 respectively.
Under this regime, inflation rate galloped from 13.7% to 15.6%, between May and July, 2016. Compared to that of South Africa of 6.3 %, Republic of Niger of 2.3 %, Zimbabwe of -1% and Mali of -0.4%. All these take place because the dynamics of consumables and essential needs such as food, kerosene, transport, housing and utilities are closely tied to fuel hike and inflation.
As usual, the tightening of monetary policies has led to devaluation of the naira. Since we do not produce or export much of homegrown products, importers would spend more naira to the dollar. With insurgency in the North-East, which has led to food shortages in addition to a hike in the price of farm products, a recycling of economic policies will not get us out of the wood.
What is the way out of the economic quagmire? Firstly, our policymakers should think out of the box. We need to have an enabling environment of stable power supply, good access roads, potable water, opening up of the rural areas, diversification of the economy from crude oil to agriculture and availability of single-interest loans for industrialisation to thrive. We should stop transferring our economic fortunes to foreign hands. We need to revisit the policy of liberalisation and the social benefits of privatisation.
Secondly, the pay package of political office holders must be drastically scaled down in tandem with the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country. As one has often suggested political appointees should be placed on equivalent civil salary scales at the local, state and federal levels. That is if they are indeed, true servant-leaders. Their current humungous pay packages, in addition to sundry allowances are a great drain to the national till.
By Ayo Oyoze Baje