The month of May is a significant one. The first day is set aside to celebrate millions of working people all over the world. The day, widely known as Workers’ Day, highlights the plight of workers and seeks for ways to improve working conditions for the world’s impoverished workers slaving on low wages and severe work environment. In Nigeria, Workers’ Day has a long history of solidarity march past and speeches by Labour unions and government representatives. The essence of the day is to reflect and bring the attention of government to the issues confronting Nigerian workers.
Workers’ Day has traditionally presented the opportunity for governments to identify and strike partnership with Nigerian workers who form the critical mass of the population. But it was on that occasion that President Goodluck Jonathan chose to exhibit what could seem to be poor knowledge of key socio-economic indicators that are at the heart of the well-being of the ordinary citizens.
Instead of assuring Nigerian workers on the measures his administration had taken to address growing poverty afflicting Nigerians, Jonathan shocked the entire nation with his treatise on why he thought the country was not poor. It was unbelievable coming from a president…
In President Jonathan’s estimation, Nigeria is a rich nation of prosperous citizens and condemned reports about the country’s poverty status. According to him, Nigeria is not a poor country because we are among the top 10 countries of private jet owners in the world! He also said that the listing of the business mogul, Aliko Dangote, as one of the 25 richest persons in the world is a testimony to why he thought that Nigeria was a rich nation. According to the President, Nigerians were the most travelled people on earth; the nation’s Gross Domestic Product is over half a trillion dollars; the economy was growing at almost seven per cent and that Nigerians did not appreciate gifts of small amount of money. The above parameters in the President’s estimation make Nigeria a rich country.
To say one was scandalised and outraged was an understatement. It was inconceivable that a leader could reason that way. To me, the President’s explanation as to why he rated Nigeria a rich nation was just too unseemly. How can a President with all the information at his disposal come to that conclusion? How can our President with all the array of economic advisers around him engage in such a costly faux pax about his country’s economic and social status?
We are talking about a country with a population of about 170 million people and the President singles out a few individuals with private jets as his yardstick for measuring prosperity. After listening to the President, one does not know where to begin from? The question I asked was: Was the President actually serious? Did he read from a prepared speech or what he hurriedly jotted down at the event? It was worse that he read the speech. Bu whoever wrote the speech is not worth his job. It beggars belief that the President seemed not to understand the parameters for ranking a nation’s economic and social development. This mindset by our leaders has contributed to the failure of governments to address mass poverty, unemployment, crime, illiteracy, disease, environmental degradation and low productivity, which are manifestations of under-development.
What came to mind as I pondered on the President’s reasons was: If the President of our country shows insufficient knowledge of economics, and key concepts related to macroeconomic policies, then we are in trouble as a nation. In recent years, poverty in the midst of abundance is a popular paradox that has defined the Nigerian economy. Our country is blessed with abundant human and natural resources. It is ranked as the sixth largest exporter of petroleum in the world and the largest black nation on earth thus having great potential for human resources. Despite all these, millions of our citizens are afflicted with widespread poverty. The economic output is low in both the private and the public sectors due to corruption, inefficiency, erratic power supply, poor infrastructure and unrealistic policies.
Several economic and social policies to reverse deep poverty have turned ineffective. Example is the recently scrapped National Poverty Alleviation Programme among others. The austerity measures of the Shagari era, the Structural Adjustment Programme introduced in 1986 by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and even the transformation agenda of the Jonathan administration, have yielded unsatisfactory results in lifting Nigerians out of poverty. In real sense, the situation is becoming worse every day. Jonathan spoke on the backdrop of the recent rebasing of the country’s GDP that placed Nigeria as the biggest economy in Africa. In spite of the rebasing and other claims of economic progress, poverty continues to deepen.
Poverty can be described as the dearth of the means of meeting the basic and customary needs of people, which include good shelter, food, clothing, security, health care, education and freedom to participate in social activities and lawful undertakings. There is usually a distinction between absolute and relative poverty: Absolute poverty refers to a state in which an individual or household lacks the resources necessary for subsistence. This is usually measured in terms of the earnings of individuals and the price index in the society. On the other hand, relative poverty is individual’s or group’s lack of resources in comparison to members of another society. Today, Nigeria is home to a large chunk of the world’s absolute poor.
This point was buttressed by the World Bank when it recently reported that about 100 million Nigerians live on the margins of poverty. The Bank also revealed that two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor are concentrated in just five countries namely, India, China, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before this, the African Development Bank in its African Economic Outlook revealed that more Nigerians became poorer in recent years. But our President is in denial. What is even shocking is how we run cap in hand to the Bretton Woods institutions and others like the African Development Bank only for our government to disparage reports from them as political. Who is fooling whom?
Our leaders must accept that our country is poor not in terms of material resources. The challenge for this government is how to harness our rich human and natural resources for the common good and for the few individuals with private jets.
BY BAYO OLUPOHUNDA