By Owei Lakemfa
HOW we can liberate the 82 million Nigerians trapped under the poverty line, was the task I was given by the Wilson Badejo Foundation, WBF. So on August 13, at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Lagos, I stood before a packed audience. This included Dr Wilson Adebogun Badejo, the immediate past general overseer of the Four Square Church, his successor, Reverend Felix Meduoye, the church’s in-coming general overseer, Reverend Sam Aboyeji and many men and women of God.
My message basically was that Nigerians are poor because of the underdevelopment path our leaders forced us to take. A path that has destroyed our industries, discouraged initiative, encouraged corruption, and employed ethnicity, religion and regionalism to rationalise our tragedy. Having traced the trajectory of our underdevelopment and fortified the foundations of my arguments with reinforced concrete of statistics and facts, I proceeded to proffer some solutions. I posited that in order to fight poverty, we need basic principles and policies such as: ‘Eat what we grow and grow what we eat’; ‘Wear what we produce and produce what we wear’; ‘Buy vehicles we assemble/produce and produce vehicles we buy’. Often in the media, we have news of Nigerians carrying out innovations, we need to link them, provide funds to develop their various programmes and projects and market them. We need a ‘Nigeria First’ policy.
To fight poverty, we must provide basic needs, including food, shelter, healthcare and functional education. This is not utopian or a radical demand; in fact, it is so stated in Article 17(2) d of our Constitution. Education is vital in lifting people out of poverty and developing the country. Our oil wealth alone can ensure that all our children are in standard schools with a meal per day. Ironically, 13.2 million of her children are out of school, and the standard of the schools is largely questionable. So, even if some of the poor go to the overcrowded schools with no desks, leaking roofs, poorly trained and poorly remunerated teachers, it would amount to giving bad education to poor people which will make them poor.
We need to build a rounded citizenry with a conscience, and promote vocational training so our youths can be armed, not with sticks and stones, cudgels and guns, but with skills that will earn them and the country, a living.
The Buhari administration’s promise of 100 million jobs in the next ten years is a mirage. First, how does a government with maximum of four years in power, promise jobs over ten years? Secondly, there are no reliable statistics of the jobless. So we are just travelling without indicators and maps. Thirdly, are the jobs to be provided in the ministries and agencies? That is impossible. If they are to be by the private sector, where are the industries?
So we have to provide enabling policies, provide available, accessible and affordable electricity so that small scale businesses and the industries can run. We need the programmatic and verifiable provision of jobs rather than the endless employment of statistics for propaganda.
Nigeria does not need more assembly plants, what we need are proper industries. Making politics economically unattractive and drastically reducing the cost of governance is a basic requirement to save money for welfare projects. We need to run a political system like Cuba in which political office is so unattractive that beyond its patriotic and ideological pull, some try to dodge political appointments and elections.
So, Nigeria needs a system that rewards hard work, not indolence. A system where a senator nets N14 million ($38,356) monthly, and the worker on the National Minimum Wage earns N18,000 ($50.57) monthly, is unviable. Poverty cannot be alleviated or wiped out by buying the votes of the poor and employing thugs during elections. We have to evolve a patriotic, people-centred economic policy, not one that promotes insatiate greed, profit and politicians. This is also in line with Article 17 (2) C of the Constitution.
Our population should not just be the basis of distribution, revenue allocation and consumption. Like China, it should also be the basis of production. A four-fold increase in population within 60 years of independence is not desirable. Also, a swelling of unskilled and in many cases, violent and armed migrants must be checked. A return to the First Republic culture of regions (now states) being accountable and productive, is necessary for development. The current culture of zero production and zero contribution to the federation account by most states must be reversed.
The endless multiplication of bureaucracy, including states, ministries and agencies should be curbed in order to use available resources for development not to fund bureaucracy. At independence, we had three regions, three premiers and three Houses of Assembly, today, we have 36 of each. Each of the 36 states has a long list of commissioners, a retinue of special assistants, busloads of aides and a huge market of hangers-on. This waste is replicated in 774 parasitic local governments.
A major challenge we face is that a lot of money does not go into verifiable Federation Account. Also, we need to build a culture of budgeting minus padding and phantom constituency projects. Our country requires a return to the culture of direct labour in the execution of public works, especially road and drainage construction, rather than awarding such contracts to local and international construction companies at highly inflated costs, with dubious payment for uncompleted, abandoned or badly done jobs.
We need to remove the marauders and bandits occupying farming communities, especially in Plateau, Benue and Zamfara states. Criminality, banditry or forceful relocation of populations in the name of ‘herders-farmers clashes’ must not be allowed. In other words, farmers belong to the farms, not to Internally Displaced Peoples, IDPs, camps. On the other hand, bandits belong to prison. The alternative is endless clashes, insecurity and food shortages.
Genuine herders are Nigerians and their challenges of climate change, increasing desertification, modernisation of their trade, changing their itinerant culture, educating them and their children, should also be the challenge of the Nigerian people. However, this has to be done without the ‘RUGAlisation’ of the country and building-specific herder settlements across the country. A win-win situation rather than a mentality of conquerors or the defeated is the solution.
As religious bodies plant churches and mosques, they should also plant schools and vocational training centres for all ages, so we can be cultured and grow together in order for us to have good harvests. What Nigeria lacks is a reasoned pressure group with clearly defined goals to change our situation, change our system, and thereby change our circumstances. Finally, like Prophet Amos admonished: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness, like an ever-flowing stream.”