The Nigerian oil-rich poverty ~ By Tochukwu Ezukanma
History has demonstrated that democracy is a fount of political stability, social justice, rule of law, principled distribution of wealth and over all societal progress. It has improved the standards of political morality, elevated societal ethics and refined the value system in many countries of the world. Lamentably, in the topsy-turvy world of our beloved country, Nigeria, democracy has not been attended with any of these laudable outcomes. It has been fraught with social injustice, lawlessness, inequity, poverty, repression of free speech, and most disturbingly, insecurity and the demeaning of human lives.
Most Nigerians are not politically fastidious; our concerns are limited to the mundane and pedestrian. We long for the basic essentials of life: jobs, food on the table, education for children, electricity, water, security from criminal predators, and protection from the inhumanities of governing officials and agents of government. Unfortunately, after more than twenty years of democracy, our basic expectations of democracy continue to elude us.
In their hypocrisy, our rulers posture as democrats and sentinels of the public good, but are, in essence, tyrannical and voracious feudal lords. Shelter in their cocoons, they live in islands of affluence and extravagance in an ocean of poverty, gloom and misery. Their thievery and profligacy make it impossible for most Nigerians to share in the general prosperity of the country. So, while the political elite and their cronies maintain life-styles that amaze even the rich and the famous of the wealthiest countries of the world, a frightening proportion of Nigerians are trapped in extreme poverty.
A onetime United States of American Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, once called Nigeria “the poorest oil-rich nation in the world”. What an oxymoron – oil-rich poverty? It was an appropriate characterization of Nigeria because despite her oil wealth, she ranks with the poorest and war-torn countries of the world in life expectancy, child mortality, and other social indexes. Life is a cruel grind for countless Nigerians; so many are consumed by the drudgery for daily existence. Many families can barely eat one square meal a day. Many survive as scavengers, rummaging through trash dumps for edibles, reusable items and sellable scraps; and as street hawkers, thronging the streets hoping to eke out a living by selling water, soft drinks, fruits, etc to motorists and pedestrians.
Many Nigerians, even in urban areas, do not have access to clean drinkable water. Consequently, dirt borne diseases, like malaria and Typhoid fever, are very prevalent; people suffer and die from these readily preventable and treatable diseases. Many, especially, in urban areas, are homeless: living in open air and under the bridges. Some of the supposedly lucky ones that can afford housing inhabit decrepit and dilapidated houses, just hovels and pigsties. In them, people are crowded, sometimes, up to 10 persons in one room in dusty, filthy, festering, trash strewn neighborhoods, with gutters clogged with filth and debris, and streets pock-marked with pot holes.
While we generally train our focus and criticisms on the federal government, the state governors are just as corrupt, irresponsible and dictatorial. Without financially independence, state legislatures lack the independence and intrepidity of a serious parliament; they are rubber stamp parliaments. The governors are essentially provincial despots; their powers are uninhibited. Each governor appropriates from state coffers, at least, five hundred million naira every month, as security vote. The security vote is unaccounted for; it is spent strictly at the discretion of the governor. In their avarice and wastefulness, some state governors refuse to pay state employees for months, sometimes, for more than twelve months. And those that demand a partial payment of their backlog salaries are severely punished.
It has been written that, “Money is like muck, not good unless it is spread”. As such, “the best antidote for political upheaval is equitable distribution of wealth”. Corollary, the most potent trigger of political turmoil is inequitable distribution of wealth. The social injustice and income disparity in Nigeria will inevitably lead to political turmoil. In our present political passivity and docility, we seem to have forgotten that we have, in the past, risen up, in protest, against exploitative and oppressive powers. Long ago, we successfully rallied against a colonial power and wrest the country from its grip. More recently, we rose up in protest against the repudiation of the collective will of the people – the annulment of the June 12 election – by gun-toting generals.
Nigerians need to break the vicious grip of our evil rulers, and bring to an end their looting and tearing down the country and deliberate impoverishment of the Nigerian masses. To do these, we must unite in agitation against the iniquitous cabal that rules this country. It is collective, courageous, sustained and strategically directed agitation that will break its ruthless grip on the country and force it to reform its ways.
The killing of peaceful, flag waving, national anthem-singing protesters was to intimidate Nigerians into passivity. However, Nigerians must muster the guts and gumption to start another more elaborate, better organized and protracted protest against this government. After all, has the cudgel of the International Criminal Court (ICC) not fallen on many dictators that wantonly murdered the innocent? Secondly, has history not demonstrated that those that wanted to maintain their power, with guns and bayonets in defiance of the legitimate aspirations of the people have always kissed the dust?
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria