Brand Nigeria: Rich Country, Poor People


The Nigerian oligarchy has significantly progressed its emasculation of Nigerians from anesthetically cutting off the balls to nefariously indiscriminately crushing them with pestles while wearing jaunty smirks on their indifferent faces. It is almost like inflicting pain on the people has become a favourite sport, and this looks like a well-thought-out conquest strategy; I mean, who can resist being flogged while nailed to the four wings of a cross when the one is not another Christ?

In the past, at least let us begin to count when the malevolent oligarchy was morphing in Nigeria beginning from the mid-80s, attempts were made at pretending to coat bitter policy pills with some saccharine toppings. We got familiar with expressions like, “giving SAP a human face in the 1990s when then military president Ibrahim Babangida launched the Structural Adjustment Programme, an IMF-inspired economic cauldron in which the country hasn’t stopped stewing. Even of late, people have been compelled to believe that hanging onto the rapidly fraying thread of a new buzzword called “Palliative” would awaken the fast-fading hope of a divinely inspired social and economic reordering.

Having been reduced to the proverbial drowning man that cackles, Nigerians have found a way to endure the pains of their steady and painful emasculation by muffling their cries under the din of crude jokes – we now make jokes of everything, and when the world sees the smirk pinned to our faces, they give us the awards of the happiest people on earth.

The other day, the government in power increased the electricity tariff by 300 percent, and as a reaction to their hurt, the country’s suffering poor started making jokes about the bands into which electricity consumers have been categorized. Many of them expanded the Bands A to E into which consumers have been categorized, depending on the frequency of supply by suggesting additional categories such as “Rubber Band” and “BAND-it.”

Such coinages trend on social media and make people laugh. For the purveyors and consumers of those jokes, there is also a fancy buzzword for it – catching cruise. What sort of cruise is somebody catching when he is not like the cricket in the Igbo proverb who proclaims in excitement how much oil his body is producing when in fact, he is being barbecued?

The prosperity of any nation is directly proportional to the living standards of its people. This has been so everywhere in the world, from the early Western developments to China, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, to mention but a few. But the case of Nigeria is one in which the country and its people exist at the different extremes of social and economic divides

Psychologists call such actions coping strategies, but I doubt if Nigerians haven’t had their fair share of coping with adversities and have reached a level where they should justifiably express extreme provocation rather than pretending to be happy when grief hovers over everyone like a ghoulish halo.

Nigerians are not the happiest people on earth; we are not even happy. We were not there when Demos Shakarian founded the Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship, whose members call themselves the happiest people on earth. A line must be drawn between the “cruise” we are catching in Nigeria and the burning hades which life as Nigerians means daily.

You see, Nigerians shouldn’t make jokes of the skyrocketed electricity tariff regime, just like they shouldn’t have made jokes of the collapse of the Nigerian currency on the feet of nearly all the major and minor currencies, just like they should have made jokes of the increase in the prices of petroleum products.

History has proved that the wealth of Nigeria has an inverse impact on the well-being of the people while her poverty has a predatory effect: when the government is swimming in abundance, they drift towards all manner of elite projects and abandon sustainable development projects that benefit the people, but when there is economic crunch, they turn their proboscis on the people, sucking them with all sorts of taxes and levies.

The recent increase by 300 percent of electricity tariffs by the federal government rings like an intentional instrument of emasculation by the government. Like most they have habitually reacted to most cruel policies, Nigerians grumbled, murmured and quickly began to joke about it, even while they are bearing the crushing weight.

I live in a neighbourhood that, from my reading, falls into the band A. But in the past few days, I have heard neighbours exchange ideas on how to adjust to the new regime, after, as one was overheard lamenting, the N3,000 he paid for electricity ran down after two nights.

“I no get A/C for house. I no dey use electric cooker. How many times I dey iron cloth in a month? Na only fan and bulb I dey use, so how N3,000 go finish for two days?”

This is the third time I heard this kind of conversation in less than a week and it is a pointer to how widespread the burden of the electricity price hike is, leading to the question of how the government planned for the people to cope when policy after policy has rendered then progressively poorer?

Although no one needs official reports to appreciate the magnitude of policy-induced poverty in Nigeria, a World Bank report released on April 9, 2024, ranked Nigeria (alongside Congo Democratic Republic) as the headquarters of extreme poverty in Africa.

One of the papers that carried the news quoted the World Bank as saying that the average inflation in Nigeria will remain elevated at 24.8 per cent year-on-year in 2024, meaning the impoverishment would continue. Continuing, the paper wrote:

“By February 2024, about one-third of the sub-Saharan African countries with monthly available food price information (14 of 40 countries) had double-digit year-on-year rates of food inflation, with the fastest increases experienced in Ethiopia, Malawi, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe,” adding that the rate of poverty reduction in the region “is slow and that Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo account for one in three of those living in extreme poverty. The region also faces the triple challenges of high extreme poverty, high inequality, and low transmission of growth to poverty reduction. The speed of poverty reduction has decreased tremendously since 2014.”

By the 29th of May, it would be one full year since the nebulous and questionable subsidy on petroleum products was removed. The removal of fuel subsidy, it will be recalled, coincided with trial-and-error hopscotch the government played with the Naira, which resulted in value erosion of more than 120 percent over a short period of six months.

With this regime, a Nigerian with one million naira in his bank balance (and there were not many people in this category) suddenly discovered that amount could no longer buy what N400,000 could afford him hitherto. People who struggled to spend N35,000 on a bag of rice realised they would need to find an extra N45,000 to afford the same 50kg size, and the few rich ones that went with N4.5 million to buy a 2015 Toyota Camry found, to their consternation, that even N10 million would only be able to buy for them either an accidented or a stolen one.

Government’s response to the progressive impoverishment has been customarily cosmetic, senselessly insensitive and culpably annoying. At the peak of the damage control thrown into the fuel subsidy removal, the Federal Government announced a N5 billion gift to each of the state governments to cushion the effects of the hurting regime, but I do not know how much this otherwise huge sum has been able to help ameliorate the situation in any of the states. In Lagos where I live, and in Enugu where I come from, the effect of this money was rarely felt by those who needed it. In Enugu State, apart from the photos taken while inaugurating the committee that would supervise the distribution of the palliatives by the governor, nothing further has been heard of the “palliative fund.” The government, as far as the people know, has further subsidized the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.

While Nigerians were worrying about how to come to terms with the electricity tax regime, the Nigerian government was deciding to spend N90 billion to subsidise the trips of an otherwise stupendously rich segment of society to Mecca for personal religious fulfilment. As cruel as this was, Nigerians made jokes of it by creating tonnes of memes ridiculing governemt and creating social media humour.

Poverty, and here, I mean state-sponsored deprivation has had the effect of not only rendering millions of people impoverished but has also made wags out of a greater number: People no longer take anything seriously; they now make jokes of otherwise potentially fatal situations. The consequence of this is that rather than sit to reflect on issues, people joke, laugh, sometimes snigger and then wait for the next crude entertainment.

It seems the government is aware of the fleeting consciousness and temperament of the people of Nigeria to the point where they do not believe there’d be any adverse policy would trigger repercussions and dire consequences. The gauge with which the government measures the pulse of the people, which includes spontaneous aggregation of discontent or excitement appears to have permanently had its needle broken, replaced by a humour industry that makes jokes of death, dearth and deadly deprivations

The prosperity of any nation is directly proportional to the living standards of its people. This has been so everywhere in the world, from the early Western developments to China, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, to mention but a few. But the case of Nigeria is one in which the country and its people exist at the different extremes of social and economic divides. Nigeria is rich but its people are poor, and when the country wants to get richer, it finds a way, often unintelligent, to tax the already impoverished lot, who, rather than ask questions or even resist, would murmur like Clover in the Animal Farm and take no counteractive action. As this murmuring becomes predictably characteristic of the people, so has the country’s Sugarcandy Mountain continued to fade into the untenable distance.

In February 2024, the three tiers of government share a total sum of N1.152 trillion, out of which the Federal Government received a total of N352.409 billion, the State Governments, N366.950 billion and the Local Government Councils, N267.153 billion.

This activity, which happens monthly has assumed the form of sharing of the spoils of war, with the government being the conquerors, while Nigerians, the defeated watch with subdued disgust, the plundering of their resources. Nobody asks questions of what the government does with this money. Perhaps nobody can afford to ask those questions anymore. The risk, many have come to believe, is too high.

“It is not worth it, you go jus die for nothing” many would say in dismissal of any suggestion to query mismanagement by the government, and looking at it, you wonder if this pessimistic view is not the best.

If we are to return to Animal Farm from which we drew the example just a few paragraphs before this, you would want to ask what became the fate of Boxer, the hardworking horse; what became the fate of Moses who initiated the animal revolution; how did Snowball, one of the leaders of the revolution end up in a regime where Napoleon was the leader and Squealer was in charge of the propaganda machine?

The country will keep getting richer while the people, sadly but truthfully so, will get poorer.

Expecting it to one day become otherwise would be delusional.


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