Nigeria’s minister of transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has blamed poverty and inequality for the challenges currently threatening Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Amaechi said a poverty-riddled state with unequal access to the good life is the image of the Hobbesian state of nature where man has no dignity and hope is a mirage. In that place, life is short, brutish, and nasty.
Speaking during a graduation ceremony at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Amaechi, who was governor of Rivers State for eight years and speaker of the state House of Assembly for eight years prior, said there cannot be genuine democracy in a society divided by unequal access to the good things of life.
“The only possibility in that horizon is anarchy which currently stares us in the face as rival mobs and their lead thugs now scramble for primacy on how to divide the country into tribal republics and personal estates.
“The democratic state must rise to the occasion by taking on the challenge of fighting poverty and inequality as a matter of urgent priority. The survival of the state and its very security are implicated in that necessary fight. In all of it, politics and leadership have roles well cut out,” he said.
The minister admitted that some past administrations had fought against poverty but said much of it still threatens Nigeria. He claimed the present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari has lifted 10.5m out of poverty through different schemes and packages. He made it clear that the ills of Nigeria did not start with the present administration nor with any single administration.
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Taking some cues from other countries such India, China, Brazil and Russia that successfully fought poverty over the years, Amaechi said some facts are clear and inalienable.
“Government must confront inequality through conscious, well-thought-out, sustained and sustainable policies. Such policies must be informed by the realities of the Nigerian situation which I daresay remain unique and peculiar,” Amaechi said.
“In summary, there are areas that we must address if we hope to overcome our frightening inequality and poverty. We must free our policies from an urban-based focus. The poorest urban Nigerian is many times better off than the most well-off rural Nigerian. Therefore, we need to emulate the Chinese and Indian examples in focusing on the rural majority if we must end the increasing marginalization of our rural compatriots.
“Our current land title and tenure systems have continued to consign our rural land owners to peasant holders of acres of farmland without commercial value. We need to reform our land title system by removing encumbrances on rural land titles so that rural farmers can use such land to access credit from the banks and credit unions,” he said.
Amaechi said the digital revolution in the world offers Nigeria a unique opportunity to use technology to reduce poverty and inequality.
“Through the Apps on our cell phones, a psychological inequality has been attacked. We should now use those very Apps to transact business between the urban and the rural domains, to transfer funds, administer credit and fire aspirations.”
Harping on inequality of man, the minister said UNN was founded on the noble ideals of nationalism, national unity, and the promise of national greatness. He advised the university to beware of competition.
“In a competitive world in which the frontiers of learning continue to expand exponentially, no institution can relax in its past glory. Innovation and rapid technological advancement make institutional complacency a luxury.
“The Great Zik of Africa who founded this university was not a man to be lost in the quest for tradition and enabling philosophy. Zik was confident that beyond emancipating himself from slavery and colonialism, the black man had a valid civilization and a worthy contribution to make to the march of human civilization,” he said.
The minister warned those trying reduce other humans to nothing, saying, “Interestingly, the world has come to the rude awakening that every act of indignity against black people is a further degradation of the dignity of the racists themselves. Racism is no longer just a blight on those discriminated against but more a devaluation of the dignity and humanity of the racist as well.”
Amaechi said among the factors afflict human dignity today are poverty, inequality, wars and their ravages, climate change, environmental degradation, the digital divide, diseases, pandemics and access to medical care, poor governance, terrorism and general insecurity.
“Man caught in any of these catastrophes can easily lose his dignity. So, we are in a time and place where human dignity is constantly assaulted from every direction. The battle to restore the dignity of man is now universal.
“Wherever any of these afflictions confront humanity, the dignity of man is degraded. I am prepared to argue that those who are not sure where the next meal will come from have no dignity left. Similarly, that army of humanity that has been reduced to cannon fodder by the contest of power among nations and factions of power have no dignity left. Those who blow up their fellow humans and those who are blown up in terrorist upheaval have neither humanity nor dignity.
“A youth bulge has resulted in stratospheric unemployment figures while secondary and tertiary institutions have increased exponentially and continue to spew out unemployed youth onto the streets of decaying urban centres,” he said.
The minister said that inequality has produced an anarchic population as life has become a scramble and a hustle among the many.
“Poverty-induced criminality has sent crime statistics through the roof nationwide resulting in the culture of perennial insecurity that now haunts the nation. A resource-poor treasury has led to considerable decay in the capacity of the state to equip the armed and security forces adequately to contain an upsurge in crime and militant nationalism and regionalism. Our hospitals and healthcare delivery system are in desperate disrepair just as our public infrastructure has continued to decay by the years.
“Given this multidimensional decline in the revenue capacity of the state, there is no wonder we have such a heavy burden of poverty and inequality to contend with,” Amaechi said.
He said he has a personal conviction that of all the challenges facing Nigeria’s actualization of nationhood, none is more urgent than the scourge of increasing poverty and the threat of massive inequality.
“Nigeria must attack and conquer extreme poverty and inequality or the poor will overrun the rest of Nigeria. Let us take the threat of mass poverty seriously and elevate inequality to the status of a perennial national emergency in the years ahead. Nearly all the troubles that confront us as a nation can be traced to either direct poverty or the fear that the ogre of poverty could rise one day to devour the fortunes of the rich and prosperous,” he said.
Amaechi said perhaps the reduction of desperate poverty should be the first step in fostering genuine national unity in the years ahead.
“Only then will most Nigerians speak the same language and understand each other better. Left alone in their present poor and hopeless state, people will tear each other apart and feed on each other’s entrails in an endless war over nothing in particular,” he said.