Nigeria was destined to be world football champions by the year 2020, what we achieved was world poverty champions. This we have momentarily lost to India in 2021 after a three-year reign though we are working assiduously to regain the crown. Also, Nigeria was expected by others, to be one of the 20 largest economies in the world (others projected these worthy aims for us), what we achieved was 31st from 26th position.
Professor Sheriffdeen Tella captured the quagmire we are in in his July 18, 2022 article, titled, Nigeria refuses to win against poverty and hunger, published by The PUNCH. In the article, he paraphrased a speech by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, warning that the war against poverty was more difficult to overcome than armed rebellion. Like most advice the grand old man gave, it was roundly ignored and here we are today—the poverty capital of the world!
Yet the warning signs were there. Not long ago it was made known that 80% of the world’s poverty would reside in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. What a paradox, the two resource-richest African countries housing eight out of 10 of the world’s poorest. Yet Nigerian leaders of thought harp on each region having resources that will transform their regions. That having resources does make a country rich should be the takeaway lesson of the last few decades.
This lesson is known in other climes as other races in the world have stopped whining because they lost out in the resource lottery. While dependency on resources dulled the thinking of the resource-rich, it spurred the resource-poor to put on their thinking caps and exit the poverty trap. These countries also escaped the upheavals that resources attract, while the DRC and Nigeria are bedevilled by crises over resources, adding to the poverty count in both countries.
Population growth and poverty: The accepted wisdom is that high population growth rate is not good; low growth is good. There is ambivalence about this as countries that imbibed this demographic policy are now beset with an ageing and declining population, while Africa has a youth bulge that will deliver if incentivised. Otherwise, as has been the case, the poverty indices will worsen. Nigeria is a two-edged sword in this regard with an Afghanistan-type demographic North and a South-East Asia demographic South. One seems a liability, the other an asset.
Today we are dwelling on how we have become poverty champions not how we will turn a liability—our Afghanistan North—into an asset and avoid an asset spiralling to a liability. Let it be made known that the Nigerian state is directly responsible for impoverishing the Nigerian people but not without the connivance of the people of Nigeria.
How Nigerian governments create poverty: Allow me to illustrate actions governments deploy that directly swell the poverty numbers. To put food on the table for their families our unemployed youths offer community services by collecting refuse from homes rather than us dumping it along the wayside. Enter the state and waste management boards and they plan to eliminate these young cart pushers and push them further into poverty. I have enjoyed the services of the cart pushers for about 10 years and I was approached by agents of a waste management board, asking me to patronise them and demarketing the cart pushers calling all of them criminals.
Same with Okada owners, another endeavour of impoverished Nigerians to earn a living and put food on the table for their families. What does the government do? Drive them off the roads and crush their okadas. Saloons or sedans are not crushed, okadas are. Then the okada owners are told to come to lease some government minibuses to have them become enslaved to the people in government.
Kiosks and sheds set up by the struggling unemployed are destroyed for aesthetic reasons, throwing the owners into penury and forgetting that finer things of life become accepted by the general public when per capita GDP crosses a threshold of about $5,000—a figure Nigeria is receding from after achieving near $3,000 per capita income. Gentlemen, peradventure you think I am an armchair critic of the government, please read earlier writings of Nigeria attaining trillion dollar status and improving our per capita income.
We saw governments dispossess people of their land, faking public use but selling to private entities. This is the reason I say we, the people, are in sync with governments in impoverishing Nigerians. The Land Use decree never handed ancestral lands to state governments, they were to mediate obtaining land for public use not to keep taking more and more land from either side of the original tract for any public road. We the people now opine that “land belongs to state governments.” The decree has not been amended and we have handed our lands to governors. Thank God the Magodo landlords were persistent and stayed on the case for almost 40 years.
The dousing of endeavours of aspiring entrepreneurs spilt over into ride-hailing apps for motorbikes. Rather than our governments encouraging nurturing hustlers into the next BUA Group chairman, Abdul Samad Rabiu, or the CEO of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, our governments destroy them. They also go on to criminalise the okada riders, the cart pushers the crude oil refiners so as to hang them. Politicians now profit from the poverty they create by weaponising it. They throw crumbs at some thugs, who become their private militia. They are confident they can rabble rouse the electorate and administer stomach infrastructure on them.
These are direct ways our governments increase our poverty count individual by individual. The whole population gets impoverished by policy choices foisted on the nation. The naira, which is currently spiralling out of control, is a result of the government’s alternate economic model foisted on Nigerians by the central bank governor, Godwin Emefiele. Under the former economic orthodoxy, the naira lost 100% of its value in 16 years. Under the people-centred Emefiele model, the naira lost 400% of its value in seven and half years. Our president liked it and reappointed the CBN governor for a job well done. Meaning we are saddled with a CBN governor, whose policies worsened our currency as never seen before.
To fiscal policies that ensure poverty reign. One is our vile misconception of equating Federal Government revenues with the well-being of the larger economy. Yes, they are linked but not always positively. With our current policies, the relationship is an inverse one. Government revenue was down when they chose to borrow heavily without repairing the economy and a return to robust growth that will pay off loans. The chicken is home to roost and revenue can’t cover servicing of loans. Yet they were warned against pursuing loans with the state of our economy seven years back. Now in these hard times, I am sure fiscal authorities are thinking of more taxes, meaning more burden on people and businesses and further depression, a catch-22 situation brought by fiscal rascality. In short, if revenues go up from taxation the economy will come down.
What to do: The CBN has started to pursue a program to restore the long-term health of our currency with its RT TO 200BN NON-OIL EXPORTS that should eventually lead to the influx of hard currencies, shore up our reserves and lead to the ability to defend the naira against currency speculators. Yet for reasons best known to him, Emefiele refuses to go the whole hog, bite the bullet and eliminate arbitrage between official CBN rates and parallel markets.
Our fiscal authorities have bullets of theirs to bite. Subsidy removal was cleverly kicked down the road for the next government to deal with after being thoroughly abused and inflated beyond recognition. However, we the governed are complicit because the government was roundly hailed on each of its pauperising moves. Yes, we and our leaders walked hand in hand to receive the trophy.