Suleiman Barnabas urges leaders to use public money to address problems of poverty and infrastructural development
Riches are good, as they bring comfort, happiness and pleasure to many who have been privileged to possess them. However, the sources and the pursuit of riches are of special interest to every virtuous soul and society. This is because majority of the evils in our society, namely: fraud, rituals, embezzlement, robbery, contract scam, political violence and all other forms of corruption are caused by the insatiable pursuit of riches at all costs. Little wonder the Holy Bible warns that the “love of money is the root of all evils”!
Thus, it should bother society how its citizens acquire and utilize riches and examine whether or not the society ultimately benefits or suffers, in the end, from the pursuit or acquisition of riches by its people. This is the dilemma that Nigeria is confronting, as the quest for primitive accumulation of riches by an infinitesimal few continue to hurt the masses.
Nigeria remains largely underdeveloped as a result of the massive poverty and unparalleled inequality that characterize this naturally blessed society. The poverty of the many, surely, is the superfluity of the few Nigerians which is today ranked as the country with the highest number of poor people in the world.
Let us examine the causes of poverty in Africa’s most populous country and then go on with the consequences for both the poor and the rich.
There are arguments, mostly academic, on the causes of poverty, but I have chosen to go practical in examining the structural and criminal realities that have pauperised the Nigerian masses, and empowered the few to feed fat on the resources of Nigeria’s commonwealth. So my focus is on how Nigeria’s political class have brought poverty to the Nigerian society because of their quest for corrupt accumulation of riches.
Let me start from the nation’s legislative arm. Nigeria’s National Assembly members earn some of the highest salaries and allowances compared to their counterparts in other countries around the world. The reported salary and allowances of a Senator is 36 million naira per month. His/her counterparts in the House of Representatives earn 25 million naira per month. Let us not forget that the majority of the people occupying these chambers are already very rich men by all standards of defining wealth, as they have previously occupied political positions as former governors, legislators at the state level, commissioners, ministers, special advisers to governors and presidents, et cetera.
Yet, they must earn fat from the meagre resources of the state to continue to live in opulence, the type that translates to the misery of the poor! But you may not understand the iniquity of this situation until you establish the fact that the ‘un-implementable’ minimum wage in Nigeria is #30,000 per month! Oh, how the riches of the senators and the house of representative members drown the men and women of Nigeria in destruction and perdition! You ask “why are you not mentioning the executives where the real money is misappropriated?” That is my next point. The majority of the presidents, vice presidents and their uncountable ministers and special advisers, and the governors and deputy governors, and their uncountable commissioners and special advisers and other political office holders (and their wives) since the Fourth Republic have continued to be bad examples on how to become stupendously rich without tangible businesses.
Some of them now own private jets, universities, estates, and other multi-billion naira properties across the globe as ungodly ‘rewards’ for being public officials. Their children and relatives, some of whom have never worked, are in unexplainable wealth, with houses in the highbrow areas of the country and overseas. These types of “riches” drown men and women in destruction and perdition!
In a country where the cost of the seized jewellery of a citizen, $40 million, could have built the non-existent good schools for the community where the lady comes from explains the reality of the riches that drown men and women in destruction: “for the prosperity of fools shall destroy them”! Or how does one explain a situation where governors who cannot pay the salaries and pensions of workers have billions of naira at their disposal to satisfy their gluttonous political and social appetite that includes egoistic donations, lascivious parties, wanton and licentious holidays, acquisition of vehicles, houses and estates that their legitimate earnings cannot afford. Their flirtatious and wasteful lifestyles, no doubt, explain the extreme poverty of the masses. This method of acquiring and utilizing wealth, no doubt, leads men and women, poor and rich, young and old, to destruction and perdition!
Now, I turn my attention to the businessmen and women who have made their wealth through hard work. The Nigerian state has a good number of them! But it is for their good to be reminded that they pay their taxes without cheating the country, as the facts suggest they cheat the country wittingly or through the connivance of dubious tax collectors. They should be reminded that they have a righteous obligation to engage in corporate social responsibility activities that would impact on the lives of the very poor that serve them, and those whose lands are explored and exploited to keep their businesses thriving. For example, the mining of coal and other resources in Kogi State by the Dangote Group should have been enough reason to fix the death-trap Okene-Ajaokuta-Enugu road.
Then, the poor and the exploited sometimes make the right decision to take their grievances to the courts in search of justice, but sadly, are often denied the justice they seek, irrespective of the volume and clearness of the evidences they present the earthly lords. And when the reasons for the verdicts of the justices defy legal reason and technicalities, you can check the bank accounts of the judges to have an insight of how their riches, as revealed through their account statements, lead men and women to destruction and perdition. It is on the strength of these riches that some state governors have emerged against the votes of the masses in the elections. Bandits, killers, thugs, and assassins have been set free with technicalities, paving the way for judges and lawyers to become billionaires both at the bar and on the bench (bar-bench-billionaires)!!
And whilst we ought to have put our hope in our school system to inculcate the right values in our young people, we are faced with the reality that it is actually the platform for the learning of the ills in our societies. It is in the school system that lecturers and educators engage in sex-for-marks and collect bribes to pass students. It is in our schools that grades are allocated on the basis of what students can pay, even if it has to be in the form of buying hand-outs!!
While these riches and the manner in which they are lavished explain the poverty condition of the Nigerian state, it is also important to emphasize the truth that they also lead to the destruction and perdition of those who have these defiled, ephemeral riches.
The on-going Covid-19 pandemic and the destructive consequences for all, both rich and poor, have exposed the perdition that are the consequences of the looting of funds meant for hospitals by government officials and their collaborators. The road accidents that have claimed the lives of Nigerians, rich and poor, testify to the fact of the riches that lead men to perdition and destruction. The insecurity that has made the country ungovernable and fear-stricken, such that the rich and powerful politicians from the North are unable to visit their communities is a witness to the riches that lead men to perdition and destruction.
The conviction and imprisonment of former governors and other top government officials who have used their positions of power to corruptly acquire wealth for themselves, their families and friends testify to how greed can acquire riches that drown men into destruction and perdition.
The on-going revelations about the criminal misappropriation of the huge resources being made available for the development of the Niger Delta area at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) by those who by all standards are very rich typifies the quest for riches that drown men into destruction and perdition.
May our leaders reflect on the vanity of life and consequences of impoverishing a nation through corruption, and thus be advised to take the path of honour by using every kobo meant for the public to address the problems of hunger, poverty and infrastructural development in our country.