Bringing Good Government To The People

Killing the new democracy with austerity, while denying Nigeria even a penny of debt cancellation is beyond logic. I have heard one excuse after another why Nigeria has been rejected until recently as a candidate for debt reduction. The IMF says that the G7 industrial countries insist that the IMF collect the debts. The World Bank says that the debt decision is not it’s to make. The Clinton administration blames Congress. The US blames the Germans and the Dutch. Britain says it favours debt cancellation but cannot act without other countries. And so on.

There is one pervasive argument that runs through all of this, an argument so untested that I find it shocking. The argument is that the western public believes Nigeria is a rich country, rolling in oil that does not need outside help only an end to internal corruption.The fact is Nigeria is a poor country. It produces 2m barrels a day of oil, with a market value (at Dollars 25 per barrel) of about Dollars 50m a day. About Dollars 6 a barrel, or even more, goes to production costs and to the foreign oil companies. That leaves close to Dollars 38m a day for the 120m Nigerians, or about 31 cents a day per person. Given that oil is just about Nigeria‘s only export earner, its total per capita income (adding in non-traded goods) is only about Dollars 280 a year. Some riches!Some say that Nigeria is just too corrupt to justify help in any event. But this argument utterly ignores Nigeria‘s recent history. The rich-country approach precisely fails to differentiate between the ethics of the new president and the despotic General Abacha. Ex-president Obasanjo, before his election, chaired the international advisory board of Transparency International, the most respected anti-corruption organisation in the world. He held that position, indeed, while jailed by Abacha, in part for his protests against the corrupt excesses of the regime.

But so far the US has done nothing but give moral support for Nigerian democracy. Nor can the Nigerians understand why their bankrupt country has been kept off the list of countries in line for debt cancellation, even though in 1996 Nigeria was recognized by the IMF and World Bank as in need of debt cancellation by inclusion in the so-called Heavily Indebted Poor Countries initiative (HIPC) at the launch of that programme. The rich countries need to differentiate with much more than words between Nigerian leaders, who are murderous, corrupt thugs, and Nigerian leaders who endure incarceration to bring good government to their people.

As if this were not enough, the government is gearing up for major attacks on education, hiking tuition fees, privatizing hostels, etc. “…We must all embark with the greatest care of economy in expenditure by all public institutions, of a return to sanity in the interest of national economy. The nation must cut its coat according to its cloths…” The times change and they do not change. Again the person at the head of these reforms that will usher in the Golden Era was Obasanjo and, as if tragedy intends a farce, his previous education henchman, Ahmadu Ali, was onboard.

Of course, these measures will further price education beyond the reach of the poor. These measures follow the need to make public schools more accountable to the needs of big business by introducing the principle of free market into the school system. The aim is not to improve education one bit, but to facilitate further attacks on the education sector. This follows a pattern already set in the public sector, of privatization of public utilities, in the guise of fighting mismanagement.

Not having access to education would mean not having access to decent well-paying jobs for the majority of poor working-class people. Not having a decent job means living in a poor neighbourhood. Living in a poor neighbourhood means not having access to adequate social services and replicating poverty. For millions of children born of poor parents, it would mean ‘eating’ suffering from the moment of their birth to when they lie dead in a poorly maintained cemetery. It would also mean being indebted from birth to the Bretton Woods institutions, to the IMF and World Bank, with a colossal amount, which they can never hope to repay in a dozen lifetimes. If the goal of the regime is to wage an undeclared war on the poor masses and increase their misery then the policies of the government have been an unqualified success. For at least half a decade, human misery has accompanied economic collapse. Even members of the ruling class have been forced to admit the obvious. If, however, as the regime claims, through its spokespersons and apologists, the goal of the regime is aimed at poverty alleviation, then its failure is easily demonstrated. Still, in the face of recent claims about ‘debt relief’, we must consider not just the deeper roots of this failure, but also, the price paid by the Nigerian workers for this forgiveness.

However, statistics never tell the whole story. The government’s Poverty Alleviation Programme has the stated goal of bringing food to hungry, poor Nigerians. So far, they have failed to do that. In the past five years government officials have lined their pockets and swelled their bank accounts with money that could have been used to feed hungry Nigerians. This year, the government had a budget running into trillions, more money than ever before. But not a dime will find its way into the pockets of the poor toiling masses.Yet these people are not invisible. If you have the political will, signs of growing poverty are not hard to come by on the streets of 21st century Nigeria. They strike you in the face. One must possess, however, the will to look beyond the deceptive patina of modern sky-rise buildings that lines the highways of the Federal Capital Territory to the shanties and dirt roads that are the inevitable consequences of decaying capitalism. Thousands of peoples face a life of hunger and misery in the sinkhole of the world’s second most corrupt country. Lagos, the commercial heart of Nigeria, contains some of the most shocking testimony of poverty existing alongside reckless affluence.

The major streets of this city – as indeed most Nigerian cities – are littered with broken dreams and destroyed lives. A short drive from the wealthy few the highways begins to cede place to the dirt road. The sprawling shanty towns are a world apart from the neon lights and glass and marble houses where the rich are ensconced, hidden from the sight of those the ‘affluent society’ left behind. More and more, a growing number of Nigerians are condemned to line the major highways, to beg for alms, to live and die in quiet desperation. Everyday existence weaves into the tapestry of the mind images that haunt; ragged child beggars co-existing alongside, and seeking alms from, expensively dressed businessmen; homeless men and women passing their lives on street sides and sidewalks, walking the streets on empty stomachs in search of jobs that do not exist. Quite apart from the growing poverty and immiserisation of the mass is an overwhelming sense of decay one encounters in the streets, the dwelling places, the looks and habits of people. Conditions in these communities, where the poor are tightly trapped, have rapidly deteriorated – worse than anytime in the past. Crime, violence, hungers and social instability of all sorts racks theses communities. Family life, too, has been shaken. Unemployment, bad housing, prostitution and ill health are endemic. The inevitable results are despair, hopelessness and anger.

Thousands of people are driven by hunger to sell their bodies and souls to live; thousands of people, wretched and living in misery and appalling squalor, struggle to earn just enough to keep themselves alive; willing to work and begging for a chance, yet starving. Condemned to hunger, dirt and disease. This is the Elite’s Nigeria! This is a world far-removed from that of rich, government officials who live in luxury and extravagance; who spend the country’s GDP for a pair of shoes, for expensive cars and parties – turban ceremonies, and outrageous mansions in Europe and America, as if vying with each other in ostentation – and recklessness. These are the people “fighting corruption” and advocating “reforms.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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