Nigeria’s Embarrassing Gold Medal In Extreme Poverty

Casmir Igbokwe

Last Wednesday, Ahmed set himself ablaze. That was at Omole Phase 1 area of Lagos. Hardship was purportedly the main cause. Said to be a barber in his 20s, the young man had sustained third-degree burns before passersby could rescue him. He was rushed to the hospital. But there were reports that he eventually died.

The scene was reminiscent of what happened in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, when a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire. The action triggered the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring against autocratic regimes.

Trust Nigerians, Ahmed’s death will not trigger even a street protest. Some would have even made a caricature of him or busied themselves snapping him and uploading the video on the social media. But, at least, the incident will remind us of the current existential realities in the country. Like Ahmed, some people have similarly committed suicide on account of hardship.

Earlier in the year, both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank said unemployment and poverty rates had increased in Nigeria. The African Development Bank also estimated that 80 per cent of Nigerians live below the United Nations poverty threshold of $2 per day. And, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, about nine million jobs have been lost in the past three years. The number of newly unemployed rose from 8.03 million in 2015 to 15.99 million by the third quarter of 2017.

Little wonder it was reported recently that Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty. According to the report by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organisation in the United States, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute. This is the highest number in the world. The survey showed that, at the end of May 2018, Nigeria had an estimated 87 million people in extreme poverty. India had 73 million, which was actually a decline from what it used to be. Comparing ours with India is even misleading. India is far more populous than Nigeria. A 2016 estimate put India’s population at 1.324 billion, whereas Nigeria’s is about 180 million.

Corruption and mismanagement are at the core of our problems. A few individuals privileged to be in government have siphoned and continue to siphon our commonwealth. Today, we hear of budget padding and double salaries by those at the helm of affairs.

Meanwhile, many of those who toil day and night to make Nigeria better are denied their entitlements. The other day, the head, Department of Internal Medicine, at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital in Lokoja, Dr. Chukwudibe Rosemary, suddenly died in agony. Since February this year, Dr. Rosemary and many others have not been paid. Her case was so bad that she could not even pay for some of the tests such as pylori that were to be run on her.

Not wanting Rosemary’s fate to befall them, some policemen in Maiduguri, last week, went to the streets to protest the non-payment of their allowances. These are men who are in the theatre of the Boko Haram war. To owe them even one kobo is evil.

We cannot continue to live this way. We cannot continue to waste billions of naira as security votes when there is no serious control over the spate of killings in the country. We cannot claim to be the giant of Africa when one in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished; when millions of these children are out of school.

The questions are: Why should a state governor owing workers several months of salary continue to fund the so-called Office of the First Lady? Why should our political office holders continue to jet out for medical attention abroad when millions of Nigerians like Dr. Rosemary cannot afford even common paracetamol and do not have access to quality health care?

Why would governors engage long and overzealous convoys when the majority of Nigerians cannot afford N200 transport fare? What are those 10 aircraft or so doing in the presidential fleet? Does the Presidency operate a commercial airline? And why will a governor charter flights when there are commercial airlines going to many destinations in Nigeria?

The questions are legion. But there is one simple answer: curb profligacy in government; make political offices less attractive to thieves. Politicians cannot be swimming in money while the majority of the people wallow in extreme poverty.

Fair enough, the Federal Government appears to be fishing for solutions. Apart from the feeble fight against corruption, the government had boasted that it was reviving agriculture; that it was moving Nigeria closer to self-sufficiency in rice. That is a good step, if the herdsmen’s menace will allow farmers to produce the food we desperately need. The nation can no longer afford to rely solely on oil.

The Federal Government also said it was paying conditional cash transfer of N5,000 monthly to 297,973 poorest and most vulnerable households. And since 2016, the government said it has disbursed N10 billion to no fewer than 300,000 beneficiaries. It now plans to disburse the recovered $322 million of the late Gen. Sani Abacha loot to some households. These are palliative measures.

There is need for urgent reforms to give poverty a red card in Nigeria. Government should start by providing the security and enabling environment for business to thrive. If you have all the wonderful business plans and there is no guarantee of security, all the efforts will be in vain. Who, for instance, would want to invest in a place like Maiduguri at this point in time?

Beyond government, Nigerians should take their destinies in their own hands. It has been predicted that Nigeria would become the world’s third largest country by 2050. We need to learn how to control our libidos. The era when we kill a cow for a woman for having 10 children is far gone. Breeding children with the hope of giving them out as houseboys or maids is irresponsible. Nobody can train or love your child better than you.

Above all, we need to begin to seriously punish acts of corruption. Until we give red cards to corrupt leaders, poverty will never leave us alone. Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the Federal Capital Territory High Court recently jailed two former governors, Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye, for corruption and abuse of office. That is the way to go.

Re: Plateau Killings And Presidency’s You-Too Fallacy

Good afternoon, Mr. Casmir Igbokwe. I just finished reading your column in today’s Daily Sun newspaper. Thanks for such wonderful work. I have been praying for another good writer from Igboland since the death of the late Mr. Dimgba Igwe. Keep it up. I’m truly impressed with your write-up.

– Okpoko Daniel, Bauchi, +2347035639518

With these inexcusable killings, destruction, occupation of “conquered” territories, Buhari’s further four-year reign? FRIGTHENING!

– Anonymous, +2347035390254

I read your note in The Sun; you don’t need any soothsayer to tell you that this is ethnic cleansing of Christians in different parts of the country to Islamise the country. They shall never arrest any Miyetti Allah leader. Fulani indigenes in the army always go with them; when they finish they go back to the barracks. It’s jihad. Youths should be ordered now to enter the bush in every community and drive them away one day so that there should be no breeding space. That’s the solution. It should be simultaneously done.

– Chukwu, +2348080484851

My dear Casmir Igbokwe, I’m an old man of 74 years relocated to Lokoja from Kaduna. I don’t take breakfast until I go through dailies, especially Daily Sun. Each time I read your write-up, I feel I’m 40 years old because you hit the nail without fear. Today’s episode (July 2) is nothing but the truth. May the Lord guide and see you through. Amen.

– Dada Jacob, +2348162956049

Casmir, haba! Why are you so selfish to the extent that you reduced your write-up to a local, illiterate, parochial and drunk politician in a village square of Birom hamlet campaigning to win election in Jos North LGA of Plateau State? Niger Delta, IPOB, Birom cattle rustlers and armed gangs, etc, are all right but others are bad? How many soldiers, police and other security agencies do we have in this country? Buhari is God-sent messiah and we pray for his success till your types are cleared for better/sincere analysts to surface.

– Anonymous, +2348126660234

Earlier this week, Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association’s chairman was boasting that all land in Nigeria belongs to the Fulani. What does this tell us? What we have in this country is that the British handed power to the Fulani who are now our new colonial masters. The Fulani will continue the killings until the people of Middle-Belt, their errand boy, accept the Fulani’s conditions and gradually it will reach the whole South. All the security chiefs in this country are Fulani and you want us to believe they are helpless?

– Anonymous, +2348033584682

Sir, Nigerians think the media can do more than they are doing now to help this country. You people watch BBC, CNN and see how incidents are hammered to sensitise the electorate. You media people will be talking grammar and the country’s population will continue to be decimated! What is wrong with us? Where are our youths in tertiary institutions? They are our future leaders. Papers are full daily! No plans! No directives! No suggestions. Nothing! We will all be sitting ducks till we all die and four legged things occupy our premises!

– Concerned and aggrieved citizen, +2347019287625

  • First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, July 9, 2018

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