Poverty is Nigeria’s greatest problem not corruption

A report in the last edition of THISDAY, The Sunday Newspaper, put paid to the boastful rhetoric of the Buhari government on the success of its anti-corruption war.

The front page story, quoting a recent report on corruption authored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Matthew T. Page indicated that, in spite of all the posturing of members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, there is very little difference between it and the Peoples Democratic Party, the one believed to wear the crown of malfeasance.

The report entitled, “A new taxonomy for corruption in Nigeria,” was quoted to have offered as follows: “Kleptocratic capture of political party structures is a sine qua non of gaining power and thereby unlocking corruption opportunities across a range of other sectors. Little distinguishes Nigeria’s two main political parties in this regard. Both are constellations of fluid national, state, local elite networks. Both are almost identically structured non-ideological organisations. Both rely on misappropriated public funds to finance elections campaigns. Neither values internal party democracy, allowing money and high-level interference to corrupt candidate selection processes.”

It diagnosed further that: “… Corruption in Nigeria runs the gamut from the jaw-dropping, to the creative, to the mundane. It encompasses the oil minister who diverted billions of petro-dollars in just a few years. It includes the local official who claimed a snake slithered into her office and gobbled up $100,000 in cash. And it involves the cop shaking down motorists for 25 cents apiece at makeshift checkpoints.”

It is not likely that Nigeria’s political leaders, especially those who are in power at this time would dignify this report. As a matter of fact, representatives of the two political parties already dismissed it, which ironically, is one of the reasons why the furious war that the Buhari administration said it launched against corruption over the past three years largely hither and thither. The wilful denial of the complicity of the leaders and their associates in the perpetration of acts of compromise which cast the image of a modern day Sodom on Nigeria is central to the ineffectiveness of the war against corruption. Period!

If Nigeria was truly ready to tackle corruption, the administration proposing the war would seek a meeting of all minds, including those of the opposition, the legislature and judiciary before launching out. But characteristically, in this country, the winners take the initiative, its implementation and the attendant failure of national projects like this fight against corruption. There is nothing like a national consensus on anything here, unfortunately, success in the circumstance of a war against corruption can only be by inclusion.

There are however more important reasons than the forgoing for the mediocre accomplishments of the current anti-corruption war.

Principal of this is that corruption is only a symptom of a greater evil that diminishes the country’s capacity for development.

And rather than comprehensively treat the ailment, government is busy rolling out the tanks against the symptoms. It is like a man diagnosed with Malaria fever applying all his energy to the treatment of headache. Chances that he would recover from this illness remain slim until he takes advice and treats malaria. That is the way corruption will increase in Nigeria until the pervasive and grinding poverty in the country is systematically and sustainably tackled.

Just on Tuesday, Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom lamented the alarming rate of poverty in Nigeria. That lends credence to the February 2018 International Monetary Fund declaration that Nigeria had become the world’s poverty capital. This implies that about 87 million people in the country were living in extreme poverty defined by the World Bank as those who do not have access to about N700 income in a day! Those conversant with the reality of Nigeria’s massive disadvantaged people will tell you this is a grossly understated statistic, but then, even this is sufficient to ring the alarm in the minds of conscionable leaders.

Added to this frightening number are the millions of civil servants who earn a little over the one dollar, 90 cents daily benchmark for extreme poverty but have worked months on-end without salaries being paid when due. And that is in a country without an effective credit system which ensures that citizens with verifiable means of livelihood can take care of their essential needs while awaiting their wage!

Yet, there are daily pressing needs that people face especially as public utilities in the country have continued to be a joke. Nigerians, no matter how poor, are unable to access quality healthcare from public health centres. Nearly two decades after the establishment of the National Health Insurance Scheme, the body has been more enmeshed in allegations of misappropriation of funds than in the enrolment of beneficiaries. The NHIS till date has only a meagre five per cent enrolment status!

The mass of the people are also unable to send their children to public schools without fears that they will not just turn out half-baked but that they might even acquire anti-social tendencies that are now rampant in some of these institutions.

As a result, everyone struggles to feed their families, pay hospital bills, pay rent, drill boreholes for water supply in their homes and literarily become a local council by themselves. In effect, successive governments leave the majority of Nigerians with no choice than the creation of alternative means of satisfying these psychological needs which psychologist Abraham Maslow says are essential to survival in his Hierarchy of Needs theory. This is why the policeman has become the opposite of what he was employed to be; the civil servant would manipulate processes and contribute to the perception of Nigeria as an irredeemably corrupt country; why the doctor temporarily pushes the Hippocratic Oath out of his mind and the clergy occasionally suspends commitment to his ecclesiastical commission. It is the reason why crookery and dishonesty have become, seemingly, a national code.

Now, it is possible to argue here that those who steal huge amounts of money that Nigeria loses periodically are not poor and that is a reasonable argument on the surface. However, there is a way in which the general state of want in the country pressure government officials into dipping their hands into the public till.

The Yoruba say that one wealthy man in the congregation of seven people is himself poor. It is only sensible to imagine that his six friends would look up to him for sustenance and unless he seeks unorthodox ways of retaining his wealth, it would soon become history. The pressure on the few prosperous ones is worsened by the prevailing communal mentality, which leads communities to assume ownership of every opportunity that comes the way of their indigenes.

In addition to the poverty of resources and need, however, is the poverty of the mind which makes some Nigerians accumulate so much than they actually need.  So, the elite with their insatiable appetite for more are rich in their pockets and account balances but poor in their minds. And in their avarice, they consume their portion and the portions of their children and go ahead to assail the sensibilities of the less privileged Nigerians with ostentatious display of wealth.  Their greed breeds universal poverty and lures the lowly official of state into exploiting his own little position for personal advantage. Aristotle said poverty is the parent of revolution and crime, which is the very manifestation that Nigeria currently faces in the increasing wave of corruption. A revolution against a system that cares for no one but those who run and a crime against this generation’s future.

The way it stands, any war against corruption in Nigeria would only gain traction through the right investment and consistent investment in the welfare of the people, the education and re-orientation of their minds as well as the repentance of the political elite from the vainglory of the “we on them” mentality. All methods to the exclusion of these would only make marginal and tentative impressions as the past few years have shown.



Credit – Niran Adedokun (@niranadedokun)