I saw the official twitter handle of Nigeria that seeks to give information on us say “Discover Africa’s most populous country and largest economy.” This is good public relations and branding through Social Media Marketing. No country’s public relations manager puts out bad information about them on social media especially that it is the window through which the world is informed about them but my problem with that information on Nigeria is that while the “Africa most populous country” is true even though we are yet to harness the potentials and strength of a population of largely 75% of young people making it up, the “largest economy” is a farce.
When a country’s economy is only in theory and does not practically translate in an improved living standard of its citizens, it becomes a farce. I need not to be an Economics Professor or a financial analyst to know simple economics -that countries with large economies would be reflected in the income of its people. There are less poor people in those countries. This is not the reality in Nigeria even as she brandishes the title of “largest economy.” in Africa. Poverty still remains significant at 33.1% in Africa’s biggest economy from a World Bank report on Nigeria’s economy. United Nations defines poverty as “A condition characterized by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information.” I look at poverty in a commonsense way- the inability to afford food, shelter and clothing. Who in the world can survive hunger? Food is a basic human necessity. You can live in a mud house and survive. Even now, there are people living in houses made with mud and planks and rafts and are surviving. I saw the kind of houses the Otodo- Gbame people lived in before the Lagos Government wickedly chased them out from the only place they have known to be a place of their sleeping and waking. Again, you can manage few clothing for one to two years. But you cannot manage to live on today’s feeding for a week more. You are most likely to die.
I do not like poverty but the kind of poverty in the USA, Canada, Australia, Singapore and UK is manageable. These countries do not leave you in consequential poverty. It is a fact that in any of these countries, no matter how unskilled or lazy you are, there are jobs for you to do and earn your bread. Even when your laziness can only allow you one hour of work every day, there is a kind of work you can do to survive hunger. You can decide to work in a factory that just requires you to pick used cans and recycle to them and get paid for the time and effort you put in the day so you can buy food. There is always something to do to get you out of absolute poverty. You are not wealthy but you are not poor to the extent of dying of hunger.
But sadly, in Nigeria the reverse is the situation. There is a kind of poverty that Nigeria is unique with. One that stares you in the face daily and strips you of every iota of hope. Even when it gives you a leach of small economic choices, it is one that leaves you with an insignificant life for as long as you live in Nigeria. Both young and old people in Nigeria die of hunger every day. There are statistics to prove that. About 100 million Nigerians out of 170 million according to the Bureau of Statistics are living on less than US$1 a day. Poverty continues to rise in Nigeria. The productive population of Nigeria within the age range of 18 to 45 want opportunities and the enabling environment to create value in exchange for money. They seek to escape poverty. And when they do not find means to channel their energy and be productive, they resort to crime. It is only in Nigeria that aged people who have invested their youth and energy in working for the government and have engaged in the contributory pension scheme but at old age cannot access their monies to feed, and care for themselves because some government officials have corruptly enriched themselves with their sweat. I hope they know that they are feasting blood money as some of these old folks end up dying from the agony of pursuing for their pension payment.
I recall a story my mother told me about 13 years ago which gets me clear about the Nigeria kind of poverty. She told me of how the son of a woman who sold roasted corn down the end street of her shop goes around restaurants in the area begging for food from customers with the story of how he father is late and his mother a poor widow who fends for him and his four siblings from roasting corn. It could have been a normal story only that the boy’s father was still very much alive and not dead as the boy peddled around. His father worked in a motor park looking out for passengers.
My mother said the boy’s antics was discovered by a woman who knew his parents when he went begging for food with the same story at the woman’s restaurant. The woman had called him out on the lies and went to tell his parents. On hearing the sad report of how his son went around branding him as dead in other to elicit pity and be given food, the poor man broke down in tears, asking his son if he was truly dead. Hunger drove the boy to the point of hallucinating about his father who was alive as dead. The man cried because he knew the misery money he made from the motor park and that of his wife roasted corn business did not sustain the family and they were more days of hunger than not. His son had to improvise albeit in a crude manner.
That incident happened 13 years ago but even till now in Nigeria, majority of families still face that sort of dire situations of poverty. There is the constant struggle to just survive in any way or die of hunger. Nigerians take the route of the Sahara Desert or Atlantic sea to escape from poverty for better life in countries abroad. Statistics show that Nigeria has the highest number of persons who have been executed on crimes of drug peddling around the world. We also hold the record of the highest number of Nigerians who are awaiting death execution in Asian countries because of crimes of trying to push in cocaine into their countries. Daily in the news, we read and hear stories about all manner of frauds by Nigerians. There are gory tales of arm robbery and kidnapping in the country. There is no justification for crime but you need to ask yourself why are Nigerians are prone to engaging in any illegal means just to escape from poverty or their country. Poverty and hunger breeds crime and violence. The statistics of crime in developed and functional nations is much less than in underdeveloped and dysfunctional nations.
Everything is dysfunctional about Nigeria. We are included along with Chad, Somalia and South Sudan as countries with the highest causalities of maternal mortality rate. Nigeria is yet to completely wipe out polio. We remain the only country in the world with that status. We are ranked close to terror zone Afghanistan as the countries with the highest number of infant mortality rate. When you look up at BudgiT Nigeria, a financial accountability and research organization, you will see states that owe salaries of primary School teachers, secondary school teachers, local government workers, pensioners, secretariat workers and independent agency workers and the number of months they are being owed. Kogi is owing salaries in all this areas for an average number of 12 months while that of Ekiti is 6 months. Only few states like Anambra, Kaduna, Akwa Ibom, Borno, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kano, Lagos, Yobe, Sokoto, Plateau and Kastina out of 36 states in Nigeria do not owe workers salary in any of these areas, the rest owe in two or three of these areas. How it is expected for these workers being owed their legitimate wages to survive in Nigeria is what I don’t know. This is shameful and sad going by the fact that millions of dollars of public money are stolen and hidden in apartments, uncompleted buildings, cemeteries and airports.
Nigeria is like the biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus ate form the crumbs that fell off the rich man’s table. I like to think that Lazarus died of hunger. The rich man is Nigeria and Lazarus are the poor Nigerians who have been taking crumbs from the elite who brazenly enjoy our collective wealth while we suffer and waste away. The only difference is that the rich man in the bible may have made his wealth through hard work but the rich elite in Nigeria are common thieves who steal from our common patrimony.
I often wondered why good governance is hard in Nigeria. Why can’t our leaders both at the state and federal level appropriate funds for improving infrastructure instead of stealing them? Why do they prefer to buy properties in Dubai, New York, Malibu and London instead of using it to build affordable houses that can be mortgaged to us? What is the rationale of going to hospitals abroad for treatment instead of using our money to build hospitals and engage Doctors who try to escape from Nigeria to go to other sane climes where there are better equipment and pay for them? What do they gain from sending their children to USA, UK, Canada and Malaysia for education purposes instead of building and equipping schools that can compete with the same ones that they send their children to?
I like to think solutions. I am not only for criticizing Government and public officials. Nigeria can live up to that title of ‘Africa’s largest economy” in reality by taking up responsible leadership, combat systematic failures and fight the endemic corruption that continues to hinder our progress. There is nothing difficult in using public funds to improve electricity so that entrepreneurs doing business in Nigeria can have a slash in overhead cost, giving them more growth in business profit that will enable them expand their business and create more jobs. Instead of travelling with tax payer money to US, Europe and Asia countries to woo investors to come and invest their money in Nigeria which most of the time does not yield any positive outcomes as these foreign business people are smart enough and know countries they can invest in order to get good Return On Investment (ROI) from. All they need to do is to click on google and ask questions about the rate of business success in your country and they are certain to get the true picture of things.
There is a smarter way to attract them. Increase in power supply and consistent viable policies in an enabling environment will attract foreign investors to do business here. In order to have a working Nigeria where there is less poverty, we need to build 21st century industries where graduates will deploy their creativity and knowledge in producing excellent finished products for exports, support the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by giving them access to loans and credit facilities with less interest rate or without. Developed countries progressed through SMEs because of the employment opportunities it brings. Crude oil money is not the only way out of poverty. We are blessed with vast arable land and state Governors can make farming attractive for young people by providing them modern equipment that makes farming enjoyable. I mean what is difficult in doing all the above?