Nigerians Are Very Poor

by Segun Akinyode

There is a saying in my part of Nigeria that, if the person that is lying does not realize it, the listener must know he is being lied to. In effect two people should not be oblivious of the truthfulness or falsity of a postulation.

The statement that was widely credited to the current ruler of Nigeria, Mr Olusegun Obasanjo, in almost all the Nigerian newspapers of Thursday, November 11, 2004 that “Nigerians are not poor” is hole-riddled, myopic and, to say the least, unpatriotic.

Mr. Obasanjo was said to have questioned the reliability of the World Bank and the International Community’s assessment of the poverty level of Nigerians as having moved from 42% in 1992 to 70% in 1996.

I am a Nigerian who has been living in Nigeria for more than four decades, and I have experienced the quotidian uncertainties that have been the lot of the Nigerian hoi poloi. If the African Development Bank’s parameters for assessing the level of poverty are considered, I want to say unequivocally, that Nigerians are very poor.

Let me make it clear that it was not out of any patriotism, or nationalistic fervour, as some newspapers wanted us to believe that Mr. Obasanjo challenged the ADB’s verdict but for selfish, egotistical and self-centered reasons, as shall be presently seen.

Going by the ADB’s yardsticks of access to good shelter, drinking water, education, healthcare delivery and employment opportunities, it is only a man who is being roundly mis-informed and ill-advised like Mr. Obasanjo’s horde of assistants and advisers have been doing since 1999, that would beat his chest and say, initially that there is no poverty in Nigeria only to turn round, when presented with the criteria that were used to measure the poverty level, and retorted “now, there is poverty yes but there is not abject poverty”, as if a normal human being should always be privileged to choose between the destructive effect of poverty or abject poverty?

The only defence of Mr. Obasanjo was probably based on the watery, unreliable, rag tag and home-made data presented by the Federal Office of Statistics. The fact of the case is that, the repressive policies of the federal government have pulled every government controlled office in Nigeria under, and the Federal Office of Statistics is no exception.

The real, reliable data are in the gaunt faces of Nigerians, the empty and rumbling stomachs, the fertile but deprived brains, the creative but starved minds, the growing army of emaciated kids, the band of jobless graduates and psychologically assaulted undergraduates; and the rising bellows of underpaid workers who have been forced to hawk their body for a living, and not the data presented by a group of ill-motivated, under-paid and equipment-starved officers of the Federal Office of Statistics.

The Land Use Decree pf 1978 promulgated by a government headed by the current Nigerian ruler set in motion the process of related activities that forced decent homes and houses from the reach of the Nigerian masses. That decree makes governments the custodian of lands in Nigeria. And, like every other well-intentioned but criminally implemented programme, the front burners in government abused and battered the implementation of the law to the effect that the commoners became the worst for it while, as Dele Sobowale puts it in his “Frankly Speaking” column in the Sunday Vanguard of December 12, 2004, “every Head of State and governor as well as military chiefs and top brass have taken advantage of it to acquire vast areas of land at the expense of the people.”

Whatever definition inform Mr. Obasanjo’s reasoning that Nigerians have good and decent shelter, a situation where a family shares a bedroom in our major cities; were kids, infants and the growing ones scamper for sleeping – spaces in cardboard homes; the flyover and bridges becoming home for able-bodied Nigerians while a few Nigerians can afford millions of Naira to purchase a plot of land in government established and supervised housing estates, is not an indication that decent sheltering is enjoyed by the masses of the sixth largest oil producing country in the world.

The problem of unavailability of drinkable water in Nigeria is legendary. The nature of its scarcity is so enduring that it became a major issue during political campaign for elective office. With a minister for water resources at the federal level, I do not think Nigerians are yet to enjoy the full impact of the availability of what has been described as the fluid of life.

Visit any of Nigeria’s rural towns and witness the scramble for drinkable water by the hapless Nigerian masses, some of whom have to wake up while they should still be sleeping in order to beat other water-searchers to few available water faucets. The case is not cheering in the urban cities, where able-bodied men and women have to abandon their offices, store their cars with jerry cans and travel far and wide in search of this all-essential commodity.

A government that intends to provide jobs for its citizen must be sure how many people will need jobs at what time and what type of job to provide. A situation where government does not know the areas of its economy that need to be staffed does indicate that government is serious in its determination to make jobs available for those who need to work. It is this unserious approach to providing jobs for Nigerians that makes one wonder what the hues and cries of government to ensure technological development of the nation is all about when a graduate of polymer technology, metallurgy and other technology based disciplines are bus conductors, GSM phone operators and the likes.

Perhaps the worst-hit area of the Nigerian economy is education. It is my contention in many discussion fora that, if Nigerian system of education were a physical structure, it would have collapsed many years back. Even now one is not too sure if it has not been annihilated going by the many bashes it has received in the last five years.

Professor Babs Fafunwa introduced the 6-3-3-4 system of education with the best of intentions. Today, as a result of the crazy illusion attached to the worthless paper issued in Nigerian Schools and called certificates the -3-3 aspect of the system has been tacitly killed. What is left behind is 6-4-, a practice where a student leaves secondary school and transfers to the tertiary school irrespective of his competence to execute and display the cognitive, psychomotor and affective responsibilities befitting a tertiary level student.

The system of education in Nigeria is so defective and corruption infested that one can walk into any examination hall in Nigeria and hear the invigilator utter something like “.you people had better cooperate, if you must use ‘material’ in this exam”. Material is the euphemism for all the shades and colours of examination malpractices ever imagined and practiced by man. If the subject being written is either English language or Mathematics, the invigilator is wont to add, “.this is not like any other subject, if you don’t cooperate, you would be in trouble”. “Cooperation” as repeatedly used by this typical Nigerian invigilator means the transfer of a few Naira notes from the candidates to the waiting pocket of the invigilator so that the candidate use every illegal means to cheat and pass the examination. This instance culled from the New Age newspaper of Friday, November 12, 2004 results from the newspaper’s education reporter’s undercover investigation into the conduct of public examination in Nigeria.

A candidate would from all that has happened pass his examination in “flying colours” and, through similar defective means, gain admission into a tertiary school, where, I am sure, he would employ the same crooked means to achieve “success”.

The truth is that most of the certificates flaunted and brandished by Nigerian youths are obtained through dubious means. And who would blame the invigilator, WAEC or NECON official, the parents or, even the candidate for savouring this anti-intellectual, anti-progress, retroactive means of achieving academic excellence? Each of these shareholders knows that the political leadership is no less transparent than the invigilator.

The WAEC or NECON official is aware that what accrues to him in terms of remuneration cannot adequately cater for his basic responsibilities. So, why not make something by the wayside? The parents are aware that nobody asks questions about the quality of your certificate. What matters is the production of the piece of paper; the intellectual resourcefulness that produces it is immaterial. The candidate or student’s subconsciousness had been fed with negative orientation so much so that he believes the only avenue to success is to procure a certificate through hook or crook. He is so much in a hurry to join the sickening debauchery being conducted by Nigeria’s elected rulership.

All this, if Mr. Obasanjo must be sincere are indices of poverty. Poverty, from a nation’s perception is not measured from the point of view of the availability of unaffordable food alone. Poverty resides in the quality of the moral standing of the people, the ease of their access to good education, affordability of sound and functional health services, good road network, effective” provision of security for their lives and property; realistic in-road into technological development and other indices of human well-being.

From every reasoning, all these indications are lacking in the lives of an average Nigerian. How then should Mr. Obasanjo say that Nigerians are not poor?

In my thinking, Mr. Obasanjo’s postulation is another of his administration’s blinkers just like his “I see hope” jingle, “due process” advertisement and lately, “reforms” pills. The real reason for his puerile remark was not to cast aspersion on the integrity of the ADB, and International Community’s yardsticks for rating the level of poverty in Nigeria, but to prepare the minds of his ilks for what will be a harsher assessment of the Nigerian poverty level in the next report of the respected assessors. For if the current rating in based on the fact that “Nigeria’s poverty level rose from 42% in 1992 to 70% in 1996”, what would be the degree of the poverty-rise between 1999 and 2003 with the epileptic, lopsided, jejune and confused governance Nigerian is currently endowed?

So, if Mr. Obasanjo can discredit the assessors’ criteria now, when the body’s report of his administration is released probably in 2006, some people may take such report with a pinch of salt.

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