Policymakers should strive to ensure fair distribution of economic opportunities among the citizens

The reality of the Nigerian condition was brought home to President Muhammadu Buhari by the Catholic Bishops last week when they spoke to the hunger, hopelessness and deprivation that currently pervade the country. “Our beloved country appears to be under siege. Many negative forces seem to be keeping a stranglehold on the population, especially the weaker and defenceless ones”, the Bishops told the president in the course of their visit. 

The assessment by the Catholic Bishops validates a recent report by Oxfam, an international confederation of NGOs working with partners in over 90 countries to end the injustices that cause poverty. The report entitled, “Reward Work, Not Wealth”, reveals that 82 per cent of the wealth generated globally last year went to the richest one per cent. More disturbing is that the situation is even worse in our country where, according to Oxfam, “the legal minimum wage would need to be tripled to ensure decent living standards” while “despite almost a decade of robust economic growth in Nigeria, poverty has increased over the same period”.  

To be fair, inequalities in the distribution of opportunities is not peculiar to Nigeria. According to Oxfam, economic rewards are “increasingly concentrated” at the top, and there were now 2,043 US dollar billionaires worldwide – with nine out of 10 being men. A further breakdown of the statistics reveals that just 42 individuals now own the same wealth as the poorest 3.7 billion persons, representing 50 per cent of the global population.  

However, the situation in our country is getting increasingly desperate for majority of our people despite the denial by the governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello. In Nigeria today, many basic services such as education, health and infrastructure are decrepit or in short supply, while a huge demographic crisis is looming. And just last week, the African Development Bank (AfDB) confirmed, in its 2018 Nigeria Economic Outlook, that no fewer than 152 million Nigerians, representing about 80 per cent of the country ’s estimated 190 million population, live on less than two dollars a day.

The consequences of this state of affairs are not only for the victims but also those who feed fat at the expense of the poor in both the public and private sectors. The Oxfam report should therefore be a wake-up call not only for the authorities in Nigeria at a period the plight of the under-privileged is steadily worsening and many go to bed with less than a survival diet, but also for all critical stakeholders, including in the private sector. Indeed, the more worrisome aspect of the Nigerian condition is that poverty goes beyond the shortage of food, clothing, shelter and safe drinking water, all of which determine the quality of life. It is inclusive of educational attainment and gender inequality.

Going by the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index, which ranks governments based on what they are doing to tackle the gap between rich and poor, Nigeria fares badly because its social spending (on health, education and social protection) is abysmally low. The solution to the problem can therefore not be in some tokenist programmes that are neither well thought-out nor enduring. The federal government must muster the political will to enact policies that will ensure a fair distribution of economic opportunities among all the citizens, regardless of status.  

What the totality of the foregoing suggests is that the problems of unemployment, poverty,inequality, decayed infrastructure, insecurity and serious challenges in social services like education and health, etc., are telling on the people. Therefore, the challenge of the moment is for the government, at all levels, to begin to deliver targeted and result-oriented policies that would ensure not only that our potentialities are maximised but also that the resultant prosperity is shared.