Poverty in Nigeria remains both the trigger for and consequence of many more struggles, despite all the optimistic reports of growth and development. Legit.ng guest contributor Ubaka Chukwuka Maximus maintains that pushing the poorer and less privileged segment of population even lower, denying them opportunities to ever rise from the bottom will eventually evoke consequences of hardly imaginable proportions.
Since the foundation of civilisation laid in ancient Egypt some 4,000 years ago, there have always been two distinct groups at two extreme points on the socio-economic ladder: the rich and the poor. In a country like Nigeria, there is no "middle class" on this ladder. The rich understand the dynamics of class struggle and, thus, have orchestrated a non-existing division among the poor just to prevent their unity. The unity of the poor can lead to a revolution, which happened in France in 1789.
Mixing religion, geographical and ethnic setting is a good recipe of division among the poor. The rich have made a good use of this mix to keep the poor divided. In our confusion over religious and ethnic differences, the league of the rich is sharing out public resources among themselves while reserving some for their offsprings. Interest has always defined man's actions, and so, common interest brings them together. At the club of the rich, which has no ethnic or religious boundaries, they award contracts and appointments to each other and toast to the ignorance and gullibity of the poor. They are the bourgeois.
Karl Marx, Hegel, other notable polictal scientists observed the gameplay of the rich with religion. The biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus is giving the poor hope for a better life in the afterlife. The end of time will tell if this hope is misplaced or not. But the fact still remains that the poor overlook the exploitation and injustice in the society due to the element of religious faith. The spiritual shepherds of the poor help the rich to reduce the anger of the under-privileged. These shepherds have become members of the club of the rich, they even own private jets. The clergy are part of the conspiracy against the poor. In a pure capitalist country, like the United States of America, economic system created poverty, and the rich established charity organizations to compensate the poor over the harsh economic effects of the system. As laudable as their intention might look, we know that most of them give to charity as a means to reduce tax burden.
The ugly side of democracy is evident in the parties' choices of flag-bearers. Political parties give their 'flags' to people who are willing to protect interests of the 'selected' few. The poor are left with no option than to choose 'between the devil and the blue sea'. The two major political parties in Nigeria have made it obvious that they are the same persons in character and intentions, but with different party names and logos. Their mission is to occupy or retain Aso Rock. Their goal is not centered on the will to bridge wide income gap, to address infrastructures that would benefit the poor, or to establish local factories that could employ us or whose products we can afford. The bigwigs in the party want a share in the oil blogs, they want import licences and government contracts. They float or merge existing political parties as a means of getting richer.
The poor have no such machinery to get to power. The Labour Party, which sounded like 'ours', has for long entered an unholy marriage with the PDP. I remember those days when Adams Oshiomhole was seen as the 'messiah of the poor'; today, our supposed 'messiah' is one of 'them'. Being a member of this league does something to ones 'human milk of kindness'; members can tell a poor widow to "go and die " without blinking .
The poor lack good education, and so, we lack the critical thinking to understand how united the rich are. The poor lack basic information, so they put all trust in the media, and the media is owned by the rich. Through the propaganda of the media, the poor are at each others throat over which candidate belonging to the rich becomes the next president.
Man has the same characteristics as other animals, and the dominant ones survive. In their bid to survive, children of the poor have resorted to Internet fraud. 'Yahoo' business has opened a new hemisphere, and in their poor thinking, they live lavish lifestyle just to rob shoulders with the rich. Most of them still come back to poverty. Survival needs have led citizens to indulge in crimes that entail death penalty in Asian countries. Most of the victims of these crime are the poor. Even if the rich fall prey to the law, they always have a way to escape justice.
Records have it that Nigeria has had a persistent economic growth of 7% for seven consecutive years. The alleged growth succeeded in making some people members of the Forbes list of billionaires.
Ironically, as the economy was growing, income gap widened as the government kept selling public enterprises on credit. Obasanjo sold NICON insurance to Jimoh Ibrahim at an annoying discount. The new owner of the company sacked many Nigerian workers, thereby increasing the army of the poor. The privatisation of Ajaokuta Steel Complex sent many families to the ocean of unemployed people. The Indian who bought the complex decoupled the expensive equipment and took it to India. In the spirit of privatisation, my compatriots have become very prone to hunger and disease. Infrastructures like good road networks that would help poor farmers market their products, or clinics to treat their injuries, or pipe-borne water are not part of government priorities.
Nigeria's human development index is poor even for a "growing economy". That brings us to an interesting question: Economic growth for who? However, in the midst of all these, the poor are still loyal to the country — more loyal than the rich who own all the factors of production. Obnoxious laws like the 1978 Land Use Act were made to dispose the poor of their land, labour laws are being relaxed to encourage casual workers in banks and other juicy sectors. The two factors of production meant for the poor, namely, land and labour, are no longer within our grasp. The Pension Reform Act, as amended, has eroded the little faith left in old-age welfare, as the law made it possible for a group of persons to pocket the life savings of the poor as witnessed in the police pension scam.
Moreover, as oil revenue has fallen and is still falling, austerity measures are being resurrected after many years of inactivity. Those to bear the brutality of these measures are low-income earners and the most poor among us. I am an advocate for the unity of the poor. The poor in any part of Nigeria are the same. They all face the same type of hunger, they lack the very ingredients that make life beautiful. Ingredients like good homes, security, clothing and basic diet. The poor always think alike because hunger has skewed their mind to react offensively even to their children. The FAO [The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations] September 16, 2014, report noted that over half a billion people are chronically poor, most of them in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Two-thirds of them live below $1.25 per day.
Finally, unless the elite and the government start seeing the welfare of the poor as a priority, they risk the anger of the frustrated poor. Unless the government understands that power rests with the people, the nation may find itself at the mercy of these people once they are saturated with suffering. We cannot wait for mischief makers to use the massive army of the poor against the government. A stitch in time...
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