Poverty, hardship and pain will always produce ancillary results of fear and instability. This was evident in the 1800s in England where the societal level of poverty and squalor was evident and Charles Dickens chronicled it in characters like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. Poverty was mammoth and it characterized the consciousness of Britain when Benjamin Disraeli called Britain two nations with no intercourse or sympathy.
Nigeria is in that phase now with massive poverty and perceived instability. The economic indices are not looking good with the poverty rate estimated at 40% of the population, inflation at over 12%, plummeting prices of crude oil, reduction in productivity and rising job losses all contributing to unemployment estimated to be well over 23% at the last count, and a high import bill that is steadily eroding the nation’s foreign exchange reserves.
The present economic phase has left a gulf between the rich and poor. Poverty has become brazen in Nigeria and it constantly mitigates the hopes and aspirations of many Nigerians.
The number of Nigerians that subsist on less than a dollar a day have been estimated at 82.9 million. This was revealed in the latest poverty and inequality report released by the National Bureau of Statistics.
According to the report, the Northern states in Nigeria rank poorest with nine of the top 10 poorest states in the country. The conundrum of Northern Nigerian has set off a lethal cocktail comprising the Boko Haram insurgency and banditry, massive unemployment, low access to healthcare services, and millions of out-of-school children – all which have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economic misfortune in the region has led to a dispersal of the economically disadvantaged in the north to Southern Nigeria, be it homeless children, locally known as the Almajiri, and able-bodied, young men. But the migration has caused anxiety and suspicion among residents in the south, irrespective of the provisions in the Nigerian Constitution permitting citizen to live in any part of the country with let or hindrance. This anxiety is triggered by concern, real or imagined, that there is a Fulanisation agenda on the cards by the north section to take over the lands and resources of south.
But it has to be said that the central theme is the audacity of poverty that now fans the embers of insecurity and suspicion. Rather than peddle fears of attack on the south by the north, rather than call on local security outfits such as Amotekun to be battle ready, it is time to collectively tackle the problem of poverty or else it will tip the balance of national unity and might lead Nigeria into an abyss.
So innovation in the national plan against poverty should be sought rather than opening wounds of the past. Constitutional alterations and policies that devolve powers from the central government to the states to empower them to implement programmes targeted at improving human capital and creating job opportunities for the millions of youths in the north should be encouraged. Infrastructure development in the region is just as paramount, as agriculture and other minerals where it has a comparative advantage can only fair better under the right legal and regulatory environment.
The Chinese say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is now. It is time.
Rufai Oseni, email@example.com