The Oxfam report is a wake-up call
The reality of the Nigerian condition was recently brought home by Catholic Bishops when they spoke to the hunger, hopelessness and deprivation that 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”, said the bishops in an assessment which 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 “Time to Care”, 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, no fewer than 112 million citizens live in poverty. “Nigeria is not a poor country yet millions are living in hunger. The government must work with the international community to get food and aid to hungry people now… It must free millions of Nigerians from poverty by building a new political and economic system that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few,” the report says.
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. However, the situation in our country is becoming very unbearable for majority of our people despite the denial by some delusional politicians. 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.
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. Even before the advent of Covid-19 pandemic that has dire implications for our country, majority of the citizens could hardly eat a good meal a day.
Millions are jobless while many of the employed are not paid living wages, hardly leaving any room for savings. Others get their daily living from the streets. But the main problem has been in the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Going by the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index, which ranks governments based on what they are doing to tackle this gap, 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 already telling. 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.