Extreme poverty is defined as absolute deprivation of basic needs such as food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. Nigeria is now one of the 17 countries in the world where extreme poverty is on the increase. Currently, 83018293 million people live in extreme poverty in Nigeria. We are in the same class with South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi, DRC and Chad. You should know this, if you have the habit of saying Nigeria is the giant of Africa.
According to the World Poverty Clock (http://worldpoverty.io/), for Nigeria to get out of this class of extreme poverty by 2030, 12 people would have to leave extreme poverty every minute. But the situation presently is that 7 Nigerians enter extreme poverty every minute. Let me bring it home: Every day, 10,080 Nigerians become extremely poor. This is 3.7 million people every year. While some are born in extreme poverty, others get demoted from poverty to extreme poverty.
Now the function of government is to provide security and welfare to its people. This is what our constitution says. We have a National Security Council, to guarantee our security. Whether this is working or not is a different conversation. But have you noticed we do not have a “National Welfare Council”? Have you also noticed that the welfare of the people is not even the concern of the government, except the sponsorship of Nigerians to Jerusalem and Mecca? Look at the definition of extreme poverty again and tell me what your thoughts are on the commitment of government to the welfare of its people.
Permit me quote some figures from the 2018 budget: Health and Education which are the major indices for welfare will receive only 5% of the capital expenditure of this budget. As a fraction of the total budget, these two sectors will receive only 11% of the N8.612 trillion, as against the 41% that is recommended (15% for health at the Abuja Declaration of 2010, and 26% for education allegedly from a UNESCO recommendation). The point I struggle to make here is that the 2018 budget ignores the statistics and the recommendations, and will therefore not even make an attempt to take the 83 million extremely poor Nigerians out of their mess, misery and subhuman bondage.
The World Poverty Clock, in November 2017 warned that by February 2018 Nigeria we will be the poverty capital of the world, having more poor people than any other country in the world. Nigeria got to this position in February 2018. Like we do with most data that is unpleasant, we either ignore it, or we challenge it, or we reject it, or we ostrich it. As it stands, you are standing on the soil that houses the world’s poverty. But we like to say we are a resilient lot, a weird attempt at euphemism.
We are an ostrich people: our heads are in the sand, perpetually hiding from ourselves and pretending that all is well; our feathers, like the ostrich’s, are inadequate to cover our national shame, or how would you explain the shame of a 3 month old petrol scarcity in a country that is the biggest oil producer in Africa; the few feathers we have cover our sides, instead of our bare bottom; we think we are the king of birds because of our size, but we can neither fly nor grow fine, fair, fluffy feathers.
But there is a scary part of our ostriching and it has nothing to do with our ugliness as typified by the ugly ostrich: the 7 people who stroll into extreme poverty are propably your relatives, or friends, or neighbours. Perhaps that isn’t very scary? I guess not. What if the person who will hold a knife to your throat and threaten to rip your jugular apart, and demand a ransom from your family is one of those who strolled into poverty only today?
We are all placed somewhere on the Victim Scale: victims of poverty, or victims of the victims of poverty, or potential victims of the secondary effects of poverty. Even those who sit atop the food chain of this victim scale – the victimizers – are not insulated from the virulence of poverty.
And I am sad because all we think we can do is wait, not act; talk not walk; look not leap; accept not interrogate; swallow not spit and allow and watch animals swallow millions of naira from the treasury.
And this is the tragedy of the Nigerian variety of poverty.
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