Home CELEB COLUMNISTS Opinion (07/08/18): Will Nigeria’s Democracy Ever Favour The Poor? – By Ayo Oyoze...

Opinion (07/08/18): Will Nigeria’s Democracy Ever Favour The Poor? – By Ayo Oyoze Baje

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Your leaders have no respect for their people.

They believe that their personal interests are the interests of the people.

They take people’s resources and turn it into personal wealth.

There is a level of poverty in Nigeria that should be unacceptable.

-Nelson Mandela

 

Dateline: June 25, 2018. The newspaper headlines painted the parlous picture of the country’s poverty conundrum.  Or, at least, part of it: ‘Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty’. According to a new report by the World Poverty Clock extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, the highest number in the world!

At the end of May 2018, the survey showed that Nigeria had an estimated 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared to India’s 73 million. The report further stated that the Democratic Republic of Congo, may soon overtake India as number two.  In the list of top 10 extremely poor countries, Nigeria leads with 86.9 million people and is closely followed by D.R Congo with 60.9 million people. Ethiopia is next with 23.9 million people, followed by Tanzania with 19.9 million. Mozambique comes next with 17.8 million while Kenya has 14.7 million people living in extreme poverty. The least four are Uganda, South Africa, South Sudan and Zambia with 14.2, 13.8, 11.4 and 9.5 respectively.

Apart from India other countries listed are all in Africa! That is a hot topic for another day. Meanwhile, our political leaders chest beat about their great achievements in various sectors of the wobbling economy. But we know better, at least some of us.

Interestingly, yours truly has written severally on this ever-relevant topic that should interest our leaders. But are they?  Name them: ‘Do they know we are suffering?’What is our concept of leadership?’ ‘Mister Politician, what are your legacies?’ ‘We have failed our founding fathers’. All of these and more are reflected in my newly launched book, ‘Drumbeats of Democracy’.

One’s persisting argument is that the cost of accessing political power and the payment structure here in Nigeria,  skewed in favour of the political class all constitute cogs in the wheel of any meaningful and sustainable socio-economic development.

With trillions of naira revenue, mostly from crude oil sales from the ‘60s till date, it is a crying shame that Nigeria parades some of the most disturbing dismal figures in the Human Development Index (HDI). The reasons are not far-fetched. Much of our national wealth has gone to feather the nests of the shameless, avaricious locusts that have held the reins of political power since independence.

While some have stashed their loot in dark, foreign vaults, others, as recent revelations from the EFCC go, have theirs hidden in overhead tanks, underground troves, soak ways, abandoned houses and even stinking graveyards! What a country?!

Painful still, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against poor Nigerians are walking our streets as free men! At the worst, they are held captive for a few days, then granted bail and paraded for media trial, with all the initial hoopla that soon dies from Doppler’s effect. But the concomitant implication of their crimes and the attendant impunity are telling on our frail democracy.

From increasing poverty rate, decrepit infrastructure, poor healthcare delivery system, high maternal and infant mortality rates, high food insecurity rate to huge youth unemployment, our nation’s sordid economic situation is a criminal betrayal of what God has richly endowed us with.

For instance, poverty rate rose from 15 % as at independence in 1960, to 67.1% in 1999 and 72.2% in 2014. Now, as revealed by the World Poverty Clock, it has worsened more than ever. Back in April 2014, the World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, stated at the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings that Nigeria, with 7% of the world’s poor ranked third in the world while India was placed at number one with 33 per cent of the world poor. But since the policy makers turned a deaf ear, we are number one today in 2018.

The bitter is that we can no longer sustain the huge capital flight committed by our unpatriotic politicians, who bulldoze through the national till only to empower foreign nationals.  For instance, in July 2004, UNIDO Report listed countries such as China, India, Singapore and Thailand amongst those with robust economies that reduced poverty rate from an average of 40% in 1981 to 21 % in 2001, while ours was escalating.

In fact, the Report singled out Nigeria as the country with the worst case scenario of capital flight and advised us to borrow a new leaf from Uganda, which had a similar challenge but was able to reverse the drift.

Back then in 2004 our politicians were accused of stashing $107 billion abroad. Similarly, in April 2011 CNN MarketPlace Report stated that Nigerian politicians own 40 per cent of luxury properties in Central London, with the cost ranging from 17 million to 33 million pounds sterling. Dubai is not left out. Such barefaced robbery of our common patrimony must also come to a halt. But how? That is the million-naira question.

While not a few Nigerians thought the ‘change’ mantra, as promoted by the APC-led government back in 2015 would bring succor to the poor (sentiments aside), there has been more heat than light in the art of governance of this democracy. What with the exasperating economic recession, increase in poverty rate, lack of access to quality jobs and the resultant increase in rate of suicide?

But what is the way forward?  To tread the path to prosperity, political re-engineering is sin qua non. We must retool our concept of governance, from the primary school level to the highest office in the land; to be for the state instead of the self. The payment structure of political appointees must be drastically scaled down, in tandem with the harsh economic reality.

The undue fixation of political power at the bloated federal centre must be done away with. We should revisit and implement some of  the well thought out recommendations of the National Conference. With true fiscal federalism in place, the over fixation on the so called Federation Account would come to a halt. There would be healthy competition amongst the states; to control their resources and apply such to reverse the poverty rate.   In fact, an expert on economic matters has posited that with creative thinking and prudent management of resources the states could cumulatively generate up to 10 million jobs.

Governments at the federal and state levels should consider instituting a Ministry of Job Creation, by merging the Ministry of Labour and Productivity with that of Trade and Investment. But we have to start planning with the benefit of credible data.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) should be financially empowered to avail Nigerians with the number of job-seeking citizens, their areas of professional specialisation, age, gender, place of residence and year of graduation. Such a Ministry should work in concert with the organized private sector and research institutes to get our job-seeking youths off the streets.

Industrialisation remains the panacea to solving the searing scourge of unemployment with stable infrastructure as the catalyst. Emphasis should shift to small and medium scale enterprises. Our banks should be more interested in identifying viable home-grown businesses and be ready to fund them.

Above all, Nigerians must “shine their eyes” so as not to elect their enemies, with sugar-coated tongues into sensitive political offices.  Come 2019, our destiny will be in our hands again.

 

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