In mid-May the international NGO Oxfam issued a report which brings together information on poverty and inequality in Nigeria. The information is shocking, but the conclusions are fairly moderate. Despite this, the government has attacked the report in anyway it can – let’s not talk about poverty and inequality seems to be their main message.
Lifting all Nigerians above the extreme poverty line of $1.90 (N600) per day for one year would cost about $24 billion the Oxfam report says. This is less than the wealth of the five richest people in Nigeria (which the report does not name).
Oxfam remarks that Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and has been one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, despite the recent recession. Its report laments that more than half of the population grapples with extreme poverty, while a small group of elites enjoy ever-growing wealth.
This obscene wealth was demonstrated about the same time as the report was published when 24 private executive jets flew into Minna airport for their owners to attend former president Babangida’s daughter’s wedding.
“Annual economic growth averaged over 7 percent in the 2000s, and yet Nigeria is one of the few African countries where both the number and the share of people living below the national poverty line over that period, increased”. In 2004, 69 million Nigerians tried to exist below the official poverty line, by 2010 this had increased to 112 million or 69 percent of the population. This is according to the government’s own statistics. So economic growth is not the answer – we need re-distribution of the wealth.
In the same period the number of Nigerian millionaires increased by approximately 44 percent. Income inequality, as measured by the Gini Index, grew from 40% in 2003 to 43 percent in 2009.
The report also points out the regional inequality within Nigeria – it is no co-incidence that Boko Haram gained so much support in the poorest region of Nigeria.
Oxfam also reminds us of the extremely high cost of governance – politicians salaries in Nigeria are the highest in the world – and the failure of government services and the taxation system to alleviate poverty. Governments have consistently failed to provide decent education, health and clean water for its citizens. This is because such a small part of the annual budget is spent on these issues.
The report makes the important point that much of the informal sector is heavily burdened with taxes and other official and unofficial fees. Oxfam estimates that many informal workers may lose up to 40% of their income in this way, but larger and multinational companies often manage to avoid paying taxes. Many reports assume the informal sector are under-taxed – Oxfam shows that such claims are far from the truth.
Speaking at the launch of the report, the Minister of State Budget and National Planning said the Oxfam report did “not have the requisite methodology, definition of content and diplomatic approach to analyse and appraise Nigerian affairs”. The minister also complained that “the positive development and all the positive alleviation schemes implemented by the Federal Government were not considered in the report”.
Since the report used official statistics, the latest of which only comes from 2010, it could be argued that the APC-led Federal Government’s schemes are beginning to be activated, and it will take some time for them to have an impact on the national statistics. But, this argument fails to take a few important issues into cognizance.
First, there is little or no essential difference between the PDP and the APC. While, half a trillion naira is meant to be committed to its “social investment programmes”, APC chieftains, like their PDP peers continue to feed fat on hundreds of billions of naira that could be used for improving the lives of tens of millions of Nigerians, as allowances after they exit office as governors, or as serving legislators and governors.
Patronage through contracts and even questionable implementation of the social investment programmes are also not different from how PDP ran the country with SURE-P and similar projects. The rich elite in Nigeria are rich because they have stolen our collective oil wealth. Oxfam shows that Nigeria has more poor people than any other country in the world.
The minister then went on to worry that, “if the report falls into the hands of aggrieved individuals, how would they react?”. Comrades should take up the challenge and use the information in the report to argue for action. We need to put pressure on the NLC and the TUC to take action over the minimum wage. An increase to N56,000 would do more than all the Federal Government’s poverty alleviation policies together to reduce poverty in Nigeria.
To read the full report go to: http://tinyurl.com/lyfz7zf
by Drew Povey