By Emmanuel Ugwu
The Brookings Institution recently published a grim report that indicated Nigeria has leapfrogged India to become the country with the highest number of people in extreme poverty and the de facto poverty capital of the world.
According to the report which was based on the latest World Poverty Clock data, Nigeria is now the frontrunner in the global poverty race. It said ‘’At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.’’
The natural temptation is to gloss over this report because it relays an obvious truth. The most basic fact about Nigeria is that it is a rich country choking her dirt-poor majority to death. The wretchedness of the Nigerian poor is ubiquitous and palpable: it doesn’t require the statistical validation of some poverty police operating from Washington. Moreover, the assessment of mass poverty is not an exact science.
But there is something eye-catching about the report. It is the alarm that Nigeria is now without equal in terms of exponential poverty.
The Brookings report highlights the niche of Nigeria’s retrogressive progress. Africa’s most populous nation is aggressively developing in the hardship department. She is effectively threatening to achieve universal poverty coverage!
The ranking of Nigeria as the current world champion of extreme poverty is a backhanded compliment to a wealthy nation that has made her citizens guinea pigs of a home-grown formula for mass pauperization.
We ought to stop and contemplate this feat of Nigeria beating the world in the democratization of poverty. We should be shocked that our country trumped other nations in citizen impoverishment. It’s appalling that our new claim to fame is our reproachful status as the poverty capital of the world.
Nigeria’s climb to the top of the poverty league epitomizes the paradox of a wealthy nation living the contradiction of explosive poverty. Yet, it is more than that. Nigeria’s current place on the poverty table reflects the country’s earnest aspiration to be the foremost shithole of the earth. Nigeria boasts of no vision of a more dignified profile in the comity of nations. All Nigeria seems to pursue is be an exemplary basket case.
The business of governments is to stimulate development and create wealth. Nigerian rulers find that task too sophisticated to understand and undertake. So, they settle for a far easier endeavor -fostering poverty. They fertilize and cultivate poverty and leave it to gain ground like rank weed!
It’s no surprise that the federal government dismissed the poverty report card with a lazy bromide. Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Okechukwu Enelama, branded the report a piece of historical fiction. ‘’Somebody may have written a report when we were in recession.’’
Enelama and his cohorts in the Buhari presidency did not welcome the report as an opportunity to explore the fundamentals that drive the Nigerian poverty crisis. This is in spite of the fact that Vice President Yemi Osibanjo once cited a National Bureau of Statistics report which estimated that over 110 million Nigerians were in thrall to poverty.
Enelama’s riposte is consistent with the face-saving evasions with which every incumbent government has saluted unflattering data. When confronted with facts and figures of mass suffering, the government of the day disputes and discredits the data like enemy propaganda. They resist any suggestion that they are accountable for the situation or responsible for remedying it.
In the midst of a hard-biting recession, President Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, said that Nigerians were not suffering. When a World Bank report rated Nigeria one of the five poorest countries in the world, President Goodluck Jonathan said ‘’the nation is not poor’’…‘’the challenge of the country is not poverty but redistribution of wealth.’’ Since independence, regime after regime has mocked the reality of mass poverty in similar terms.
The externality of the fat cats to the street make them divorced from the squalor in which the poor wallow. The belief system is that grassroots poverty is exaggerated. This attitude forms the framework of government indifference to citizen poverty and ensures that every new head of state leaves the people poorer than he met them.
Successive governments maintain a trend of catalyzing poverty. This explains why Nigerians are perennially nostalgic. In their daily chatter, Nigerians wistfully recall the good old days when the past president. They say that life is worse under Buhari than under Jonathan and that life was worse under Jonathan than under Yar’Adua and that life was worse under Yar’Adua than under Obasanjo and that life was worse under Obasanjo than under Abubakar and so on…till Lord Lugard!
Nigerians romanticize yesterday, lament today and fantasize about tomorrow.
Nigeria is so blessed that it shouldn’t be associated with the worst poverty credential. The abundant resources of Nigeria can give the common man access to food, shelter and clothing. All this pervasive suffering is needless.
The problem is that the sheer utility of poverty recommends it to the Nigerian political class as an instrument of mass control. They perpetuate and exacerbate lack because misery has a magnetic and hypnotic effect. The poor will gravitate towards the rich and do the bidding of a fairly generous benefactor.
Poverty has the tendency to make an individual needy, fatalistic and slavish. The poor crave for instant gratification. They are prone to being compromised. They are amenable to manipulation and exploitation.
The Nigerian poor are a desperate folk. They scramble and trample on themselves for ‘stomach infrastructure’ bribes. They hire out themselves as campaign rally attendees. They sell their vote.
In essence, the Nigerian politician gives the poor just enough breadcrumbs to keep their them alive till the next election. In power, they refuse to lift the people above poverty. They would rather not create the sweet spot of a voter uprising that would consume them.
Nigeria would have been a different country if poverty were low. If majority of Nigerians were reflecting the wealth of their country, citizens would be prouder, bolder and more independent-minded. They would negotiate deliverables with their leaders. They would ask tough questions. They would make better voting decisions.
Many countries have lifted tens of millions of their citizens above poverty. Brazil is a recent example. But Nigeria initiates poverty alleviation schemes that defraud the poor. Nigerian politicians actually scam the poor the most under the guise of helping the poor.
President Buhari once swore that his late friend and maniacal kleptocrat, General Sani ‘’Abacha never stole.’’ Since 1999, Nigeria rulers have been repatriating and frittering the inexhaustible loot that Abacha stashed away in different parts of the world. The latest tranche released by the Swiss authorities is $322 million. Buhari, Abacha’s character witness, has determined that the most prudent way to spend the money is to share it as monthly handouts to putative ‘’poor households.’’
The Robin Hood method doesn’t make sense. Buhari has been borrowing like a foreign debt junkie. But he figures an alms program can fetch him some votes. In this election year, he needs to inveigle himself into the affection of the unwary.
Hoodwinking the poor is a winning strategy. In the run-up to 2015 elections, Candidate Buhari feigned poverty and claimed he had to take a bank loan to buy his party’s nomination form. The poor fell for the scam. They donated their widow’s mite to his campaign. They only found out he had obtained money from them under false pretenses when he partially declared his assets.
The danger we face is that Nigeria’s poverty crisis is bound to grow worse. Nigeria will become the third most populous country in the world by 2050. A UN projection suggests that she will add 189 million before that magic year. This means that, unless there is a drastic intervention, the expected population explosion will combine with our insane impoverishment rate to make Nigeria the go-to destination for poverty porn.
Nigeria needs help. The new poverty capital of the world needs a positive disruption!
Emmanuel Ugwu can be reached at email@example.com