Do they know there is Christmas? – Punch Newspapers

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Ayo Oyoze Baje

As millions of Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on Tuesday, there are many more who do not have the economic resources to dine and wine, with members of their families and friends.  For instance, according to the World Poverty Clock, Nigeria overtook India by the middle of 2018 as the country with the most extreme poor people in the world. Precisely, the 86.9 million Nigerians now living in extreme poverty represents nearly 50% of its estimated 180 million population. This is worrisome.

 So is the recent revelation by the Federal Government that an estimated 40 million Nigerians are believed to be suffering from mental disorders. Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Mashi Abdullahi, stated this at the mental health action committee and stakeholders workshop held in Abuja.

Linked to the issue of mental disorder is the surge in thoughts of suicide and the commission of the act itself in recent years. Mental health physicians have attributed this to mass hopelessness, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorder, stigmatisation and chronic illnesses often leading to anxiety and depression.

While this rather saddening situation is understandable in some other countries ravaged by natural environmental disasters of drought, seasonal floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis, or the self-inflicted wasteful wanton wars, it is far from this in our dear nation, Nigeria.

Here, indeed, the victims such as the homeless, the elderly poor, the beggars, orphans and widows agonise over preventable poverty in the midst of plenty! Not left out of course, are the hapless civil servants owed for months by their cruel and conscienceless state governors that collect different funds from the all-conquering federal centre but simply refuse to pay them. There lies the irony and the pain!

In a report published by Oxfam in 2016, it stated that the combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men- – then put at about $29.9bn could effectively end extreme poverty in the country. Yes, you read me right. In fact, Celestine Okwudili Odo, Good Governance Programme Coordinator for Oxfam in Nigeria, said: “Extreme inequality is exacerbating poverty, undermining the economy, and fomenting social unrest. Nigerian leaders must be more determined in tackling this terrible problem.” This has always informed one’s clarion call on the powers that be that they should channel their efforts to combating poverty with the same zeal they do with their lopsided war against corruption.

Looked at from the perspective of  the Human Development Index, which is a summary measure for assessing the three key areas of long-term healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living, it paints a parlous picture of pure deprivation of the marginalised masses.

According to the World Bank, Brookings Institution and the International Monetary Fund 2018 Report, Nigeria does not rank amongst the Top 10 Fastest Growing Economies in Africa! While countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire post growth rates of 8.3%, 8.2% and 7.2% in that order, Nigeria’s growth rate stands at a miserable 1.9 %. Sadly, Nigeria is the only oil-producing country languishing in that shameful socio-economic stratum.

This is curious because Nigeria was ranked Number One in Africa in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, all under the much maligned Dr. Goodluck Jonathan-led PDP administration. In fact, as of 2014, Nigeria was rated as the country with the third fastest growing economy in the world but it currently languishes at the 88th position!

Under the Buhari administration, inflation rate galloped from 13.7% to 15.6%, between May and July 2016. Compared to that of South Africa of 6.3%, Republic of Niger of 2.3%, Zimbabwe of -1% and Mali of -0.4%, there is nothing to cheer about.  All these take place because the dynamics of consumables and essential needs such as food, kerosene, transport, housing and utilities are closely tied to fuel hike and inflation. The sudden hike in fuel price from about N97 to N145 per litre on May 11, 2016, from N87 to N145 (66.67%) has had deleterious effects on the quality of life of the average Nigerian.

One had expected, as admonished, that Mr. President was going to assemble a team of top technocrats and seasoned economists, who know their onions, irrespective of their political or religious persuasions and be ready to listen to them, back in 2015. But that was never done. As usual, the tightening of monetary policies led to devaluation of the naira. Since we do not produce or export much of homegrown products, importers would spend more naira to the dollar. With the rampaging insurgency in the North-East, which has led to food shortages in addition to hike in the price of farm products, a recycling of economic policies will not get us out of the wood.

How do we reduce the number of the extremely poor people in Nigeria? Firstly, our policymakers should be more creative and imaginative. We need the enabling environment such as stable power supply, good roads and access to soft loans with single digit interest rates to kick-start industrialisation. We need a futuristic approach to quality education delivery for Nigeria to key into the global knowledge economy. Indeed, there should be technologically-driven industrial hubs to coordinate and facilitate Small and Medium Scale Enterprises across the six geopolitical zones.

We should stop transferring our economic fortunes to foreign hands. We need to revisit the policy of liberalisation and the social benefits of privatisation. There should be fiscal federalism and devolution of the enormous political and economic powers from the centre to the federating units as it was during the First Republic. This would be better still under a return to the less costly parliamentary system of government, as being championed by some patriotic lawmakers.

Of a similar significance is the need to critically address the obscenely high cost of accessing political power vis-a-vis the huge emoluments of political office holders. This twin evils fuel corruption and undermine good governance that could benefit the poor. Our political leaders should come to terms with the harsh economic realities and tread the path of frugality, to become true servant- leaders as the late President Umaru Yar’ Ardua advocated.

We need to deploy the huge sums of money recovered through the anti-graft war to improve the quality of life of the average citizen, especially children, the elderly, orphans, the homeless and  widows  who are the greatest victims so that they  know or have the resources to celebrate Christmas.

  • Baje, a former Editorial Page Editor, Daily Times of Nigeria, is based in Lagos

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