Posted by News Express | 17 April 2020 | 1,371 times
Hunger cannot be quarantined
— Ex-Governor Peter Obi
Exactly two years ago or a little less than that length of time, Nigeria overtook India to become the world’s poverty capital. The symbolism and significance of this clearly overwhelming human catastrophe is that Nigeria with a population that hovers within 180 million or two hundred million has the largest concentration of poor households, numbering over 90 million far and above India with a population of well over 1 billion or so people.
The truth is that even amid the claims of the existence of some forms of corruption among the political class in India, the government still devoted substantial percentage of their financial resources to aggressively train their manpower in some rare skills that are competitive internationally; to an extent that these skills mobilisation of the population of India saw a progressive shift from the deeply-rooted social failures that gave rise to widespread poverty and unemployment in India, which inevitably may have accounted for its departure from the disgraceful position of the global Poverty Capital and, thus, handed over the horrific medal of infamy to the so-called Africa's biggest economy – Nigeria.
Although, President Muhammadu Buhari and his media spin-doctors attempted to dispute this apparently indisputable fact that Hunger, Poverty, violent crimes have taken the shine off Nigeria and has crippled the nation to the dangerous dimension of becoming a basket case.
Tried as much as they could without success, the same President, who upon being declared the winner of the disputed March 2019 Presidential election, took over 8 months to constitute a cabinet, ended up somersaulting in the feeble attempt of his media minders to dispute the report which classified Nigeria under the watch of President Buhari, as the nation with the greatest concentration of absolutely poor households in the entire planet Earth.
Buhari personally belied the lame propaganda of his officials to engage in dubious self-denial regarding the poverty state of Nigeria when he stated that he has lined up programmes to kick-start the economy of Nigeria, basically through aggressive agricultural financing to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
So, from the horse’s mouth, we have been told by the current political administration in Nigeria that there is actually nothing less than 100 million Nigerians that are “imprisoned” by poverty.
The claim by President Muhammadu Buhari that there are at least 100 million Nigerians that are too poor to eat two square meals per day was reported by the bewildered media that attended the public event at which he made this admission.
This presidential admission was made when Nigeria marked June 12, 2019, as Democracy Day. On that occasion, President Buhari clearly made a solemn promise to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. For a man elected to spend only four more years and no more, to promise to take 100 million people out of poverty in ten years, shows the manifest dishonesty in the entire gamut of the public speech containing the outlandish pledge.
Speaking at the inaugural June 12, Democracy Day celebration in Abuja, Buhari said that his administration would ensure rapid and positive growth in the economy to move Nigeria away from poverty.
His words: “Our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is expected to grow by 2.7 per cent this year. Our external reserves have risen to $45 billion, enough to finance over nine months of current equal commitments. This administration has laid a foundation of taking bold steps in transforming our country and delivering our people from the shackles of poverty.”
This is how President Muhammadu Buhari said he will lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty: “First, we will take steps in integrating the rural economy to national economic grade by extending access to input to rural farmers as well as credit to rural micro-businesses and opening up many critical feeder-roads. Secondly, all small scale enterprises in towns and cities would share facilities currently available so that we can continue to encourage and support domestic production of basic goods to improve our lives,” he said.
He added that in the next four years his administration would remain positive to improve the lives of people.
Sadly, hardly had the government improved the living conditions of millions of poverty stricken citizens of Nigeria before the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease in Nigeria, which started in Wuhan, China.
Nigeria was almost financially ruined by poor economic policies and official corruption, gross absence of respect for procurement laws, and the total neglect of the principles of transparency and accountability by top Federal and state government officials before the coming of Covid-19, with vengeful devastation.
Most of the 36 states became financially insolvent to the disgraceful extent that the Federal Ministry of Finance went around the world borrowing heavily just to meet the financial demands and obligations of payments of salaries to the workforce. The states borrowed heavily from banks to pay salaries of political appointees. As a result, the allocations coming from the central pool in Abuja are used to service these debts, and the rest pocketed by the governors. Primary and secondary health-care facilities in the states have collapsed.
Then, again, the agencies of the national government that generate much of the external revenues, such as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), and those that generate domestic revenues through taxations, such as the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Nigerian Immigration Service and the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) are so badly administered. Due to apparent governance failures there are loopholes and contradictions in the exact amounts generated by these agencies. So, while these agencies are always in the public media announcing huge turnovers, the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari is globe-trotting in search of loans from all conceivable places.
This is the exact position of Nigeria before the advent of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.
For the specific purpose of re-emphasis, let me restate that the coronavirus challenge came at a time of a multitude of sociological issues of mass poverty, mass hunger and unemployment, with gravely deteriorated and neglected health sector and frightening widespread violent crimes.
Another sociological factor remains that Nigeria having been so much underdeveloped by the ruling class to the level that it is a nation of strong individuals and deliberately-weakened institutions, it then seems practically impossible for the systemic and deeply entrenched social maladies to be confronted and decisively resolved, or minimally controlled.
The institution put in place to dispense and re-distribute the social investment funds (NSIP) has so far not provided transparent account of how the officials have wasted so much money running into TRILLIONS OF NAIRA in the last five years. Yet, they have barely reached less than a million poor Nigerians. This interventionist institution has been paying a ghost consultant the whooping sum of N100 million monthly, for doing God knows what. The fact that the consultant is anonymous manifests the absence of governance standards in the administration of the Social Investment Programme (SIP) domiciled under the office of the President for five years; before being divested to create a separate Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development. This is one leg of the sociological factors. Another is the inefficient and ineffective security architecture in Nigeria.
The security forces have their internal operational issues such as the disproportionate deployment of majority of the armed security forces to protect few individuals in government and so only very few are left to provide security of lives and property of millions of Nigerians.
In Nigeria, there are about 50 per cent of the security forces that are guarding and running domestic errands for prominent Nigerians. In fact, all that it will take a rich Nigerian to get armed guards made up of police and soldiers is to bribe the commanders or the commissioners of police, as the case may be.
Then there is something like 40 per cent of security forces paid by the tax-payers’ fund who are actively engaged in running extortion rings all over Nigeria.
So, effectively, only about ten per cent of the security forces are actually working to protect lives and property of over 199 million Nigerians. The consequence is that violent crimes of all genres are widespread and are getting out of hand. Unfortunately, this is compounded by the poor handling of the lockdown order by the Nigerian state.
These factors were on ground before Covid-19 came, and then the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari decided to lock-up and lock-down Nigeria.
This translates to a monumental disaster that has been unleashed because as I expounded above, those social issues of hunger, poverty, violent crimes that have torn Nigeria into shreds have not disappeared nor have they been quarantined for the one month that the President Buhari decided to lock down the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ogun and Lagos states, just as the entire Northern states are operating as if they are not part of Nigeria, with the banks operating in those places; whereas the residents of Abuja, Ogun and Lagos do not have the privilege of even withdrawing their money from the banks to restock their kitchens.
President Muhammadu Buhari is unlike most other responsive world leaders who talk to their people daily. In Nigeria, there have been two recorded television broadcasts of the president, who has not been seen since his Chief of Staff Abba Kyari came back from Germany with Covid-19.
In those two recorded television broadcasts, the president made heavy weather about the relevance of observing the regulations worked out by the World Health Organisation (WHO) regarding the combating of the coronavirus pandemic. But his decision to lock up over 100 million poor Nigerians and has only promised to feed only 3.6 million poor people means that his government is in breach of the fundamental law guiding the declaration of LOCKDOWN. The World Health Organisation has clearly stated that lockdown will not work in poor countries without palliatives.
The World Health Organization strongly advised governments imposing lockdown restrictions to provide palliatives for their citizens, to enable them to comply.
“How do you survive on lockdown when you depend on your daily labour to eat?” WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, asked at a press briefing in Geneva on Monday.
Ghebreyesus said he was aware some governments were trying to impose, extend and lift restrictions; but added that it should not be at the expense of human rights.
He also said that for countries with large poor populations, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America, the stay-at-home order used in some high income countries may not be practicable, because most of them were already living in overcrowded conditions with few resources and little access to health-care.
He also said that 1.4 billion children who were not in school due to the lockdown stand the risk of being abused.
“News reports from around the world describe how many people are in danger of being left without access to food.
“We also call on all countries to ensure that where lockdown measures are used, they must not be at the expense of human rights. Each government must assist their situation while protecting all their citizens, especially the most vulnerable,” he said.
But he warned that either way, the lockdown should be lifted slowly, not immediately. He also urged everyone to keep complying with the public health advisory on Covid-19.
Speaking further, he noted: “Some countries and communities have now endured several weeks of social and economic lockdown. Some countries are considering when they can lift the lockdown, others are considering whether and when to introduce them.
“In both cases, this decision must be based, first and foremost, on protecting human health and guided by what we know about the virus and how it behaves. Control measures must be lifted slowly, it cannot happen all at once.”
In view of what the WHO said with regards to the necessity of making palliatives available to all the poor citizens if the Nigerian government will have any justification to lockdown the commercial and political capitals of Nigeria for a month, it has become crystal clear that President Muhammadu Buhari is in violation of international human rights laws.
To make matters worse, the armed security forces can't protect the people who are observing the compulsory lockdown from the bloody criminal attacks of violent bandits and armed robbers who have continued to go on unrestrained rampage in Ogun and Lagos. This is one of the factors that the well-respected erstwhile governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi, envisaged when he warned against not providing for the poor and disadvantaged in the current lockdown.
The vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Peter Obi, had expressed concern over the plight of vulnerable and unemployed Nigerians whose survival is tied to their day-to-day activities.
Obi who was reacting to the imposed total lockdown of the country being announced by federal and state governments, said that while all possible measures should be deployed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, appropriate measures should be taken to mitigate the suffering of the very vulnerable in our midst.
According to Obi, in a statement from his media office, there is several millions of our populace who are unemployed and underemployed, whose means of livelihood depend on daily income, which the present situation will definitely worsen.
Obi said that in locking down the country, such vulnerable people should be factored into government policies, as is the case in other countries, by putting measures in place to cushion the effects of the lockdown on them.
Peter Obi, a philosopher, noted: “It would be counter-productive to keep only the elite in mind when taking such far-reaching decisions as closing down markets without having some cushioning measures for the traders.”
Obi also tasked elected leaders in the country as follows: “This is the time to be with your people in your various constituencies.”
He said it does not make sense that elected public officials, especially the legislators, should be observing the stay-at-home in various places outside their constituencies at this trying time, instead of being with their constituents to help their people to find solutions to their problems and challenges.
Obi said that by being in their constituencies to monitor the situation, the elected leaders will be in a position not only to support their people in their time of need, but to also properly advice government on how to address the fallouts of government policies.
Finally, Obi called on leaders of all segments of society to make sacrifices and show commitment at this critical period in the history of our dear nation.
What this means is that the Nigerian government must design a home-made solution to the all-important issue of containment of the Covid-19 Ailment in Nigeria and stop borrowing Western models, even without following the complete steps adopted by those advanced societies to care for their citizens and to reduce the financial burdens of the lockdown.
So hunger, poverty and widespread violent crimes, which have inevitably eclipsed the worrying Covid-19 challenge in Nigeria, must be confronted with precision and measures put in place to provide solutions to them.
President Buhari – as someone who spent considerable amount of time living as an average citizen in Kaduna and interacting and interfacing on regular basis with the wretched of the Earth before he was financed by rich politicians like former governors Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Rotimi Cibuike Amaechi, among others, to ascend the presidency in 2015 and for the irrevocable final four years in 2019 – must listen to the voice of reason and introduce humane measures for combating the coronavirus pandemic without pushing millions of our citizens to their untimely death.
•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).
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