Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Opinion: The Co-Habitation Of Extreme Wealth And Extreme Poverty In Nigeria


By Jaye Gaskia

I have been recently reading a report which depending on how you look at it, could be said to be a sad development or joyous news!

I am sure many of us like me have been treated to snippets and details of the most recent report from Forbes on the wealth of the wealthy! Interesting isn’t it, how the substance of economics ‘used’ to be about the ‘wealth of nations’ or conversely the ‘poverty of nations’; and of course along with this, the contrast between this national wealth or poverty and the status and conditions of individual citizens! But alas now the voodoo economics of world leaders [including our own leaders] celebrates individual wealth [the more stupendous, the greater the celebration], while disdainfully dismissing poverty of the immense majority, even criminalizing the poor and blaming the poor for his poverty.

So it is now officially confirmed that Nigeria’s and Africa’s richest man has become the first African to be worth more than $20bn making him to become the world’s 25th richest person!

There are quite a number of historic and monumental ironies involved here; first it was only in 2008 that he entered the Forbes’ record of global $ billionaires with a wealth of $3.1bn. And now over a period of less than 7 years, that wealth has increased more than 600 fold to more than $25bn with $19.5bn of those coming from the worth of his 93% stock in one company - Dangote Cement alone; an irony!

Another irony lies in the fact that this personal wealth of over $25bn is more than 50% of the total [combined] external savings [external reserves + excess crude account] of the country, Nigeria, at just about $50bn!

A far greater historic irony, is not only that this contrasts sharply with the fate of more than 112 million [69%] fellow Nigerians living in poverty; but also that this phenomenal growth in personal wealth has occurred over a short period of 7 years; in the context of increasing national wealth; consistently high GDP growth rate; increasing joblessness and homelessness; and astronomical increase in the scale and scope of corruption.

It is little wonder that as a nation we are in the upper bracket of nations with the highest and most unsustainable gap between the rich and the poor [with the richest 10% owning 40% of national wealth, and the poorest 20% owning a mere 4.1% of national wealth].

Some may be tempted to celebrate that a Nigerian has ‘achieved’ this ‘uncommon feat, this uncommon personal transformation’, I instead will query how it is possible for such phenomenal growth in individual wealth should be possible in the midst of equally phenomenal and historic growth in mass poverty, and steep deterioration in the conditions of living of a majority of citizens.

One can say on the basis of the foregoing that this generation of stupendous individual wealths at one extreme, while mass producing generalized poverty of the immense majority at the other extreme, has been the most significant cumulative outcome of the policies of governments and the ruling class presiding over them over more than 5 decades [52 years] of ‘flag’ independence!

What kind of society is this where the individual wealth of a few citizens, counted in their tens, maybe hundreds, can pay off in one single transaction the total national debt [currently standing at $7bn] of their country?

What manner of transformation agenda is this [bearing in mind that this phenomenal accumulation of wealth began from 2008]; that ends in such historic transformation in the scale and scope of inequitable distribution of national level?

How viable can a state [national state; state in national, country context] be, if the individual wealths of certain persons is such that it accounts for significant percentages of national forex savings? How can national security [it is already obvious in the wide disparity between the rich and the poor that human security has long been undermined] be guaranteed in the medium to long term, when the end result of national economic policy formulation and implementation is the production of oligopolies, and the emergence of oligarchs whose personal wealth rivals that of their country?

What more proves do we need to establish the fact the impoverisation of the majority is the condition for accumulation of stupendous individual wealth?

This is the clearest indication yet that the Nigeria thieving, light fingered, treasury looting Ruling Class/Elites, have ruled, and continue to rule, solely and exclusively in their own greedy and gluttonous interests.
It is the most significant indication of the fact that our national salvation and social emancipation can neither emanate nor be led by this thieving lot!

It is why we must urgently organise and mobilise ourselves politically, autonomously of their parties [mere platforms for treasury looting], and independently of individual ‘GodFathers/Mothers. It is the only way we can take our destinies into our own hands, and Take Back Nigeria.

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