The Politics of Poverty in Nigeria

(By Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere)

Whether absolute or relative, the spectre of poverty is better appreciated when viewed against the backdrop of disturbing statistics. For instance, a Department for International Development (DFID) material released in 2012 posits that in spite of the prodigiousness of natural resources in Nigeria, about 63% of Nigerians subsist on less than one dollar per day.

Poverty is an emotive issue which can be explicated within the framework of a people’s socio-cultural and economic circumstances. Thus, it is the reward of indolence, or the manifestation of the government’s abdication of its responsibility under the Social Contract. It is the visitation of karmic justice on a person, or the intrusion of satanic influence on their economic endeavours. While lexicographers define the phenomenon rather simplistically as the state of having little or no money and material possessions, economists choose to split it into two, videlicet, absolute poverty and relative poverty, with the former defined as the deprivation of basic human needs and the latter extrapolated as economic inequality in the society in which a people live.

Whether absolute or relative, the spectre of poverty is better appreciated when viewed against the backdrop of disturbing statistics. For instance, a Department for International Development (DFID) material released in 2012 posits that in spite of the prodigiousness of natural resources in Nigeria, about 63% of Nigerians subsist on less than one dollar per day. Last year, the African Development Bank (AfDB) revealed that the number of people living below the national poverty line worsened from 65.5% in 1996 to 69.0% in 2010, adding that the rate of poverty was higher in the rural areas at 73.2% than in the urban areas at 61.8%. The National Bureau of Statistics, on the other hand, in its report released earlier this year shows that 112.519 million Nigerians, representing approximately 69% of Nigeria’s population live in conditions of relative poverty.

It is within the ambience of this fertile ground that the demagoguery of the Nigerian political elite finds ample expression. At no time in Nigeria is this shenanigan deployed to maximum effect than during electioneering campaigns. The net worth of a typical Nigerian voter is equated to foodstuffs and condiments and a sprinkling of paltry sums of money in the neighbourhood of ?50 to ?200. The lucky members of the electorates get a branded textile material and T-shirts depending on their relative importance and their perceived electoral value. Another dimension was added to the mix recently when one of the gladiators in the Ekiti gubernatorial polls distributed airtime of ?100 to the people of the State. The sheer shamelessness of these gestures is an eloquent testimonial of the lack of scruples of the politicians as they exploit the poverty of the constituents to attain power. The politicos have successfully worked on the psyche of the immiserated electorates that the latter have been occluded from comprehending the mechanics of this brand of politics.

Yet, there is a more insidious proportion to the politics of poverty. Couched as an us-against-them struggle, the poor are led to believe that their current economic situation is attributable to the policies of the ‘other’ persons in policymaking positions. How the politicians manage to entrap the poor in this web of obfuscation such that they are unable to ask probing, rational questions, or any question at all, beggars comprehension. This is particularly true of the north. The aristocratic and religious matrix of the north’s socio-cultural milieu demand of an unquestioning obedience from the talakawas. This facilitates the political manipulation of the talakawas. This is the politics of poverty. Disturbingly, the poor hardly, if ever, query these politicians who preach the gospel of division and hatred what their legacies were when they were the policymakers – seeing that Nigerian politicians are, arguably, the most recycled in the world.

It is within this context that the attempt by certain characters to create a nexus between the boko haram insurgency in the north-east and poverty in the area becomes a study in political petulancy and its attendant logical untenability. Equally uncharitable and mischievous is the effort to blame the poverty of their constituents on the present crop of national leaders: the poverty in the north predates the present administration. Indubitably, some politicians from the north, taking advantage of the famed unflinching loyalties of the common man in a typical northern society, and the ‘rankadada’ syndrome which engenders a culture of handouts, have established a bulwark which protects them from the surge of uncomfortable questions. On the other hand, this position should not be considered an endorsement of the present political leadership, for the indigents of the Niger-Delta area are themselves victims of the politics of poverty. If the northern poor are a neoclassical example of the ironies of poverty in the midst of political power, their south-south counterparts are living paradoxes of poverty in the midst of plenty. The politics of poverty is not circumscribed by the reality of spatial constraints.

Understanding how the political elites manipulate the prevalent psychology of poverty among the general populace and its role in the politics of poverty will position the plebeians to ask questions that will liberate them from the cesspool of the politics of deceit into which they have been plunged. When the poor become courageous enough to despise the measly handouts, ignore the despicable call to parochial loyalties, and interrogate the politicians’ motivations, the politicians’ raddled plea of ‘us-against-them’ will be otiose. This will afford the plebeians considerable latitude to demand greater accountability from the political leaders. The poor should imbibe the traditional Igbo wisdom embedded in the adage that a man should not be a wizard and a poor man at the same time.

Ogbu, Blessing Ekpere, Esq., a Legal Practitioner, writes in from Abuja

(Source: abusidiqu)

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