Fellow Nigerians, are you poor yet?
You wouldn’t be truly Nigerian if that wasn’t your response, perhaps in your mother tongue. I say a silent “Amen” to your prayers, but we can both agree that there is a likelihood of this happening (if you are unaware that it has happened) and that’s why you are reading this article to see for yourself.
Poverty Capital of the world
Indices used in assessing the poverty (or prosperity) level of nations include GDP per capita and poverty rate. With a GDP per capita of $2,083 for 2020 and a poverty rate of 40.1%, we stand way ahead of a number of nations in not being the poorest nation in the world and not having the worst poverty rate on the continent as we are better than South Africa (55.5%) and a few other African countries.
For a nation that boasts Africa’s largest economy, which has consistently grown its ease of doing business and is ranked as the 11th top producer of oil globally, it seems a misnomer that Nigeria is addressed as the poverty capital of the world, but that seems the lot of Africa’s most populous black nation and for good reason too.
Nigeria has over 84 million people living in poverty. 91 people in every km2 of land in Nigeria are poor, making Nigeria the largest concentration of poor people in the world, hence the poverty capital of the world.
For context, there are more poor Nigerians in Nigeria than there are South Africans (60 million); more poor Nigerians than there are English people (66 million); than there are French (67 million), or Germans (83 million), on the face of the earth.
Nigeria’s population of 211 million is barely 15% of China’s 1.4 billion but Nigeria has 10 times more poor people than China. Nigeria’s poor people are double the entire population of the Australian continent even though Nigeria’s area of 923,768km2 is barely 10% of the continent’s 8,600,000 km2.
The over 84 million Nigerians living in poverty in Nigeria are most likely not poor because they enjoy the thrills of poverty, nor because they are “lazy youths” who refuse to work. Rather ironically, Nigerians are referred to as one of the most industrious and hardworking people on the face of the earth; they are among the best minds in every field of human endeavour. One only has to look at how many Nigerians and Nigerians by origin are doing great things at home and in the diaspora.
While corruption, unemployment, infrastructural deficit, inequality, insecurity, inflation and poor economic planning are generally regarded as the cause of the rising poverty of the nation, they take root in two major factors – a unique blend of the incompetence of the ruling class, and the relative indifference of her citizens.
“Nigeria is too rich to be poor and too poor to be rich.” This statement credited to a top US diplomat in President Clinton’s administration bears witness to how much belief the international community has always had in our ability to either be the best or the worst as a nation.
The present ruling class, despite press briefings to the contrary, have efficiently supervised the return of many Nigerians to poverty. Riding on their campaign promise to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, they have successfully doubled the square of the unemployment rate from 4.31% in 2015 to a forecast of 32.5% in 2021 while underfunding the education sector.
Multitasking, the ruling class was able to achieve this feat while battling two recessions in a 5 year period, worsening insecurity, systematic brain drain of some sectors, worst inflation in decades, massive borrowing, and consistent devaluation and support of the weakening Naira as they seek the elusive dream of maintaining a single exchange rate.
Suffice to say that most of these problems were self-inflicted.
The citizens, on the other hand, have been models of adaptability and stoicism. They have stayed the course failing to realize that their standard of living is consistently falling because they rationalize that they still enjoy the same staples they have enjoyed over the years; wilfully blind to see that FMCG manufacturers have evolved to accommodate them through miniaturization and price discrimination by producing sachet or lower quality goods.
Half loaves of bread, sliced tubers of yam and rotten tomatoes (commonly known as esha) becoming common sights in the markets goes to show how much more adapted the markets have become to the needs of the average Nigerian – the poor Nigerian.
Nigerians who had savings have watched the rates they earn crash in the same way business persons have had to contend with banks increasing rates on their loans while the government continues to levy every transaction, adding to the overheads of these businesses who already find survival difficult.
The indifference shows in the reluctance Nigerians have to speak up about their diminishing fortunes as we all watch the schism between the rich and the poor widen. Most middle-class watch with measured satisfaction thinking they are on the side of the rich not knowing they are on the verge of poverty.
A medical bill, a failed business deal, loss of income, ransom for a kidnapped loved one, false accusation by the police, an accident, an act of God… It could be anything. The push or the drag to poverty comes sooner than later in an already poor economy rife with so many pitfalls.
Take heed and plan your finances. It begins with the question, “Are you poor yet?”