Winning through poverty


IT is disheartening that the level of poverty in the country fails to give members of the ruling class the creeps. That the rich and the powerful are still able to flaunt their wealth, despite the depth of deprivation is indicative that the poor do not matter to them. While the poor are consumed by the weight of getting by day after day, they are already strategising about the 2019 elections. They conduct and comport themselves as though the final decision on what happens at the polls in 2019 lies with them and not the people. Their talk and walk suggest that whatever they resolve among themselves about the election is a cinch.

Sadly, this is neither a slip nor a gaffe; it is a deliberate act because the politicians believe that the populace is too weak to be a threat to their ambition. They are of the opinion that irrespective of their gross misdemeanours, blatant disregard for the electorate and flagrant waste of the nation’s resources, the masses are so poor that they will dance to the tune played by the politicians. Therefore, as far as they are concerned, it is what they want that will happen, not the people’s wish.

It is for this reason that politicians, in and out of government, are not bothered about reducing the poverty indices in the country. Despite the trillions of naira sunk into the poverty alleviation programmes of the various governments at all levels; Better Life for Rural Women, DIFFRI, National Poverty Eradication Programme, YouWin etc, the number of the poor in the country has consistently been on the increase. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, at independence in 1960, poverty was about 15 per cent in the country. This rose to 28 per cent in 1980. By 1985, it had risen to 46 per cent, dropping to 43 per cent in 1992. However, by 1996, poverty in the country had gone up to 66 per cent before climbing further to the current rate of 67 per cent.

The belief of the nation’s ruling class about the poor is in tandem with the findings of a research conducted by a team of researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick. According to the findings, poverty reduces the cognitive capacity of the poor because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. The study concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty.

The poor are so consumed by their poverty that they cannot think about any great idea; they are so caged by their deprivation and destitution that their major concern is how to survive the day, not how to take a decision that will effect a positive change in their lives. This explains why the poor have a poor estimation of their self-worth and have no consideration for personal dignity. Their concern is survival, not any exotic ideal.

So, the strategy of the powerful is to keep the people so poor, bruised and incapacitated that not only will they be unable to think right and take steps that would improve their lot, but they will also be eternally grateful to the rulers for the crumbs that fall from their tables. The elite know that the longer they perpetrate poverty among the people, the better their chances of perpetuating themselves in power.

Therefore, in Nigeria, the elite prefer to give the poor crutches instead of wings. They prefer to keep the poor eternally dependent on them than to liberate them from their poverty. Rather than give the poor enough to last a month, they give enough to last a day so that they will be back the following morning. The rich fancy having the poor line up in front of their houses daily for pittance rather than to give a few of them money to embark on a business that would make them become financially independent.

This is why Nigerian politicians hardly set up employment-generating businesses. Less than 10 per cent of the nation’s wealthy politicians have a company employing up to 10 persons. Again, this is deliberate because they know that when a person is gainfully employed and earns decent and honest wages, his perception of himself and his environment would be impacted. He can afford to ask questions and challenge the status quo. But this will not serve the purpose of the Nigerian politician who prefers to keep the poor mum so that he can continue to ride roughshod over them.

But will this continue in perpetuity? No, because nothing lasts forever. Members of the ruling class should stop deluding themselves that the trend will never change. Those who are tempted to believe there will be no end to the injustice should remember the Occupy Wall Street poster sign: One day, the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich.