The Cost of Inequality
BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE
0805 500 1974
On a general note, the manifestoes of the presidential candidates have a lot in common on the economy despite the nuances of emphasis in framing the respective policies and programmes. The policy elements include increased growth rate, diversification of the economy, widening the revenue base, job creation etc. Hence, the manifestoes are loaded with statistical projections.
As an aside, the focus of the public seems to be on the agendas of the presidential candidates. The manifestoes of the governorship candidates are hardly discussed as if the business of development would be that of only the president to be elected next month. This is because unlike in the Second Republic when it was the political parties that presented manifestoes embraced by their presidential and governorship candidates, in this dispensation candidates seem to own their agendas at all levels. So, if a party did not win the presidential election its manifestoes were to be implemented in the states where its candidates won the governorship elections. From a development viewpoint, it is more difficult to make assessments of political parties on policies with the trend in this dispensation in which the political party is relegated to a mere machine to win election. The parties appear to have little or no leverage over the drawing of the the agendas. Little surprise, today’s political parties hardly articulate the policies of governments elected on their platforms. This is in contrast to what happened with the political parties of the Second Republic in which the party secretariats defended the programmes of their elected governments.
Policy analysts are wont to ask questions about how the candidates would fund their programmes. In other words, they require candidates promising policies in education, healthcare, infrastructure, security etc. to make clear statements about the projected sources of revenues to finance the programmes. Interestingly, the demand on the candidates to state the cost often comes when promises are made in the social sector- education, healthcare, social housing, mass transit, social security etc. The refrain often goes like this: tell us how you would fund the policies on universal healthcare coverage and public education. This is the idea of economic cost that is commonly discussed. Economic experts enjoy making the calculations. That is the cost in Naira and Kobo!
The other cost that is not often a matter of discussion during campaigns is political and social in nature. That is the cost of failing to implement the appropriate policy mix to boost the access of the people to the elements of the social sector. One of the consequences of the neglect of the social sector for years is the widening inequality. And the cost of inequality on the society and human progress is enormous. Some economists have argued that gross inequality on its own could be inimical to economic growth as well as the size of the GDP. Inequality is expressed not only in figures; it is also manifested in human and moral terms. Widening inequality worsens the other dimensions of the crisis in the land such as insecurity and the collapse of the societal fabric. Here the nexus between politics and economics is worthy of deeper and critical reflection by party strategists. The tangible and intangible costs of inequality are huge obstacles on the path of human progress.
The contemporary regime of inequality in Nigeria is such that neo-liberal ideologues can no longer rationalise on the basis of the old sayings that “fingers are not equal” or that “equality is utopian.” The poor cannot be blamed for his poverty anymore. The social consequences of the decades of policies of exclusion are too manifest on the streets and the bushes for any rational human being (expert or non-expert) to dismiss. A society that is desirous of peace, social cohesion and human progress cannot make inequality a virtue as some reckless neo-liberals consciously do with ideological undertones. The matter is even made worse when the inequality is exhibited in gender relations.
Things are actually tending towards what even some liberal economists call the “dual economy,” an economy in which the vast majority of the people are excluded as economic players with attendant implications for security and social cohesion. The poor get poorer in the economy.
Tackling the problem of inequality is, therefore, not a just a matter of economic calculations. The solution is also in the political and social realm. It is, therefore, relevant to talk about the cost of inequality in a season when politicians are seeking power to govern. It is not enough to make projections on the economic indicators, it is also important to pin down politicians on their philosophical outlook on the problem of inequality.
The commitment to reducing inequality is a subject of the economic philosophy to which a political party subscribes. Well, in today’s politics of Nigeria ideology is not taken seriously. That’s why you can hardly call a party conservative, liberal or social democratic. The nearest to philosophising in the current campaigns is the emphasis on values of honesty, integrity and transparency. Corruption and the character of the candidate have featured in the soundbites on the hustings. Moral questions are legitimately raised about the faulty leadership recruitment in the political sphere. These are doubtless important values cultivate and cherish.
However, it is important to also stress that solving these problems has a systemic basis. Some patriots have reasoned that even an angel would find it impossible to operate the current system of Nigeria. They often speak passionately about the vertical problems of Nigerian federalism. Beyond that, however, are the deeper structural problems of the socio-economic system itself which affect the people horizontally across ethnic, regional or religious divides.
To address these deeper structural problems, those who seek power should also develop a passion for another set of values in addition to the one sketched out in the foregoing. These are the values of justice, equality and fairness. These values are not loudly proclaimed in the political circles. To reduce the social width of inequality in the land, the focus should not only be on the character of who is seeking to be president or governor, but attention should also be paid to the character of the Nigerian state itself. The most honest man cannot do much about inequality without a developmental state in the Nigerian situation. The state must be commitment to an all-round development of the people. Such would not be only be pursuing of the dream of expanding the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The government would also hinge its success on the qualitative improvement in the lives of the people as measured by their access to the basic things of life as discussed on this page last Wednesday.
The campaigns for scrutinising the moral fibres of those campaigning to be elected to positions of leadership should be complemented with the struggle for socio-economic justice. Such a campaign would bring to the fore the imperative of retributive justice. There should be a loud voice in favour of the central values of justice, equality and fairness. Productivity should be boosted to meet the needs of the people who, in any case, would be consumers of the goods and services so produced.
The quest for increased production and the commitment to redistributive justice should be concomitants. The problem of inequality cannot be solved by neglecting one while focusing on the other. The reason for this assertion should be obvious. The figure of 133 million poor people in Nigeria was not arrived at overnight. The shameful figure is the cumulative effect of policies that have tended to normalise inequality for over four decades. Policymakers have been explaining the socio-economic injustice off with all manners of bourgeois economic jargons. However, a look into the nation’s socio-economic history would reveal the reality which some experts would rather deny. For instance, the fate of the millions of Nigeria who still practise open defaecation and who lack access to potable water has remained the same whether the economy was growing fast or in recession. Some state governments are resisting raising the national minimum wage. Their hostility remains the same during economic growth or recession. Yet, the national minimum wage is an instrument for stemming the expansion of inequality. In the public sphere, you would hardly find any outrage against the denial of socio-economic rights. The question of inequality is not a palatable topic of debate.
In sum, the manifestoes of the political parties are about the future. What the manifestoes say or fail to say about inequality is therefore worthy of note. Despite all the imperfections, the policy projection of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari on poverty reduction is a right step (albeit very slowly) towards solving the problem of inequality. Nigeria is certainly very far from attaining the goal of social protection.
In planning for the future, political parties and their candidates should include tackling the problem of inequality in their respective agendas. Future governments should correct the errors of the current social policies and improve on what is being done now. Social protection should be an important focus of governance. Socio-economic justice should be a goal of every government as enshrined in Chapter II of the Constitution.