The Oxfam report is another wake-up call to address the imbalance in the society
The latest report from the UK-based charity Oxfam, ‘Survival of the Richest’ which documents enormous concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people both on the global stage and across countries should task the authorities in Nigeria. “While millions of Nigerians are unsure where their next meals will come from, the super-rich are getting richer and not paying their fair share of taxes but taking advantage of the complexities and loopholes in the tax legislation, as well as the lack of transparency and accountability in tax implementation, thereby depriving the country of the revenue needed for social protection and inequality reduction,” revealed Oxfam.
Since 2020, according to the report, the richest one per cent have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth—nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99 per cent of the global population. For the first time in 25 years, Oxfam report further reveals, there was an increase in wealth inequality and poverty ‘simultaneously’. In what is described as another ‘first’, the United Nations Human Development Index—which measures life expectancy, expected years of schooling and inequality within a country—fell in nine out of every 10 countries in either 2020 or 2021.
One can argue that inequalities in the distribution of opportunities is not peculiar to Nigeria, and the Oxfam report confirms that. However, the situation in our country is becoming very desperate for majority of our people despite the denial by people in government. 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 situation 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.
Therefore, the Oxfam report should be another wake-up call, especially for politicians who are currently campaigning for various executive and legislative positions in the coming general election. With the plight of the under-privileged steadily worsening and many going to bed with less than a survival diet, the challenge is 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, for example.
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. By diverting scarce resources to private hands at the expense of much needed projects such as schools, hospitals, roads and reliable institutions, poverty and inequality are being reinforced. Millions are jobless while many of the employed are not paid living wages and therefore 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.
The problems of unemployment, poverty, inequality, decayed infrastructure, insecurity, and serious challenges in social services like education and health, etc., are already telling. The solution can therefore not be in some tokenist programmes that are neither well thought-out nor enduring. 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 abilities are maximised but also that the resultant prosperity is shared. To bridge the gap between the few rich and the many poor in our country, we must make the economic system work for everyone.