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Published On: Sun, Oct 12th, 2014

Solving Nigeria’s inequality riddle

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President Goodluck Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan

By Ochiaka Ugwu

There is no doubt that our looming economic problems are compounded by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led government inability to address them.

The gap between the leadership and followership is like from here to London. The supposed social contract with the people has been broken long ago without any plan of mending it in the near future.

This best explains why there is a growing anger and hostility among Nigerians who are becoming convinced that the Nigerian dream is gradually becoming an illusion.

It is no longer an article of faith that anyone who works hard and plays by the rules can get ahead. That belief used to be so strong that it was no less than a civic religion.

The people bought it with clear heart and with excitement. It sustained hope that bad times would end, as they always had.

The working stiff was variously promised a Square Deal, a Fair Deal and a New Deal and Dawn, and it was more or less delivered.

The belief drew millions of Nigerians to the conclusion that they are close to Promised Land and economic prosperity.

These great countrymen whose energies and talents helped to make it morning in Nigeria now and again have did all they could to get the best they deserve but all to no avail.

Millions were exhilarated by the rhetoric of candidate Goodluck. Goodluck to all! It is quite appalling that the exclamation mark has slowly been replaced by the question mark. Goodluck to all? Today roughly 80 million people, or 6 in 9 Nigerians, live at or below the poverty line, while median annual household income has virtually not budged in the last decade.

You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you what is on board. What happened has no single explanation.

We are living in a different era, one of economic downturn, decaying infrastructure, epileptic power supply and disruptive technological innovations that have eliminated too many lower- and mid-level jobs.

The result is higher levels of long-term and perhaps even permanent unemployment and underemployment, all of which has been intensified by the style of leadership we have today which careless about Nigerians.

Our predicament is multifaceted and baffling. Indeed, it might help to think of our having made a beautiful jigsaw puzzle and to recognize that it won’t come together again by some simple hypothesis, left or right.

We will have to recreate our beautiful picture piece by piece. And these are some of the key pieces:

Reduce income inequality; increase social mobility; invest in education and infrastructure – now, we are bankrupted by the looming security crisis that is caused by inequality which promotes poverty that leads to frustration.

There is every need to revive growth, and widen Nigeria’s door to honest poverty reduction programmes that will reduce the high inequality we have today.

We have regressed in social mobility and income equality. For the first time in our history, we are less socially mobile than our neighbours like Ghana and Benin Republic that were formally looking upon Nigeria for direction before now. And economic inequality is manifestly real, dangerous and growing.

The top 2 percent of Nigerians now account for half of the national income, compared to one-third a number of years ago.

In a recent study, observation was made that “children of well-off families are disproportionately likely to stay well off, and children of poor families are very likely to remain poor.”

It is widely understood that the single best predictor of future financial success is educational achievement, yet educational opportunities seem to be sorely lacking for all but the families at the top of the income ladder.

High-income parents invest more in their children, widening the gap between those who are rich and poor in test scores, college attendance and graduation.

It is now a practice for the rich to send their wards abroad where they can get the best of education while the children of the poor stay back to face the rigorous strike actions which has now become a tradition in our educational system.

A common  arithmetic will tell you that the wealthiest students out-populate the poor students by a great margin in any institution in Nigeria as the fees of most of these schools are being hiked on yearly basis without any improvement.

The disproportion threatens the ability of the next generation to improve their lot in life.

Wage gap between political office holders and civil servants really began to change during the 1990s, as widening differences emerged between university graduates and those with little or no university participation. Today, according to a recent analysis, the average political office holder earned 77 percent of what a civil servant earned. What happened to the rising tide that lifts all boats? All of these problems are compounded by the fact that the President Goodluck Jonathan seems to be unable to address them.

He seems to have lost enthusiasm for the interesting competition Race to the Top, one way of getting states and cities to tackle unemployment, stimulate experimentation and reduce poverty.

Nor has he shown the capacity to develop the necessary support in National Assembly to make progress on some of these issues.

Indeed, he has developed very few of the personal relationships with ordinary Nigerians that every previous president understood were essential.

So he has had to do what he can by executive order.

The equality we must strive for is not only equality of wealth but also equality of opportunity, which is what has always made nations great.

But today too many people are trapped in poverty, with long odds of getting out. Of course we could just focus on looking for solutions where we can never get it.

What we need do is to increase social mobility by providing opportunity for many more people in the lower half of the economy to become members of the middle class.

This best explains why majority of the people think we are headed in the wrong direction.

No wonder only few Nigerian adults of voting age believe their member of National Assembly deserves re-election.

No wonder there is a lack of trust in virtually every major institution in our society, be it government, big business, banks, religious organizations, public schools, organized labour and the media.

 Sadly, only the military, small business and the civil society groups generate confidence levels above 50 percent.

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