Without euphemistic contemplations, Abiodun Baiyewu refers to them as “the mafia.” They are, he assures, the establishment political-economic of Nigeria. The elites who boast unbridled luxury while 10.5 million children are still out of school in the country. A third of kids in the primary age group. “More than the entire population of many states,” emphasizes – to size the data – this activist, executive director of Global Rights, based in Abuja, the capital of the African giant.
The very wealthy sport extravagant racing cars in residential bubbles like Banana Island, an exclusive man-made island off the coast of Lagos, the country’s economic hub and a great sub-Saharan megalopolis. They decorate their mansions with prohibitive objects. They give them a futuristic varnish by installing the latest pirouettes of home automation. And while, 40% of Nigerians remain without access to basic health, randomly exposed to traditional remedies. “Every ten minutes a Nigerian mother dies from complications in childbirth,” continues Baiyewu, who prefers to embody the coldness of numbers in everyday tragedies.
If inequality is everywhere, in Nigeria it seems to have found a stable home. Its per capita income (about 1,800 euros) places it in the lower-middle zone of the list that the World Bank draws up each year. The country ranks 12th in global oil production and Lagos is emerging as a thriving international financial center. Their lousy public services are not the consequence of a cursed fate. Nor the meager harvest of a miserable land. Other countries with equal income levels have, for example, much higher enrollment rates. Some, far away like Vietnam, bring the colors to Nigeria. Others, like Ghana, deactivate the excuses that emphasize a supposed endemic regional problem.
Says Mma Amara Ekeruche, from the Center for the Study of African Economies, that the epicenter of inequality in Nigeria takes on a human face. It is personalized in the organization chart of the ruling classes, tenacious in skirting the column that – this researcher considers – must support any democratic mandate: to serve the people. “All part of a lack of conscious interest to improve the lives of people, especially the poorest layers,” says Ekeruche. At least 86 million Nigerians are living on 1.65 euros a day, the standard that officially sets extreme poverty.
At least 86 million Nigerians are living on 1.65 euros a day, the standard that officially sets extreme poverty
On October 14, Oxfam updated its Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index (CRI), paying particular attention to West Africa. Nigeria continues to occupy the caboose in this part of the continent. Globally, it is ranked 157 out of 158 states analyzed. Only South Sudan (for many a failed state) falls below the country with the highest GDP in all of Africa. Instead of condensing inequality into one figure – as the gini and palma indicators do – the CRI seeks to weigh the will to tackle it. And this seems, beyond populist rhetoric and bombastic statements, a rare commodity in Nigeria.
Oxfam focuses its analysis on two fields: taxation and public services. Regarding taxes, Nigerian leaders flee in terror at the mere mention of a progressive model. The equivalent of our personal income tax levies ridiculous percentages on the wealthiest. Its VAT relentlessly suffocates the underprivileged, with a 2.5% increase in the midst of the pandemic, including food and other staples. Corporate tax is 30%, above the average in West Africa. But exemptions — legal or unspoken — for large companies proliferate. It is estimated that Nigeria loses around 2.5 billion euros a year in the labyrinth of fiscal benevolence with the main companies that operate there.
Synergy in power
The rumor of systemic corruption floods Nigeria. It is assumed that the economic and political powers enter and leave, completely naturally, through hundreds of doors that rotate at the speed of a top. Vertigo blurs the borders. “It exists as a silent truth, a consensus not to change things, an absolute synergy between the rich and the Government,” explains Ekeruche. From Connected Development – an NGO that combines support for the marginalized with demands for official transparency – its chief executive, Hamzat Lawal speaks of “good friends who do each other favors”, producing constant “interference” in the upper echelons of power. All for the sake of continuing to add zeros to their bulging bank accounts.
With a tax revenue-to-GDP ratio of just 6.3% (among the lowest in the world), Oxfam estimates that Nigeria collects just 12% of its tax potential. The national budget is drained from the root. Furthermore, the distribution of public items shows a design that perpetuates the the status quo. The scant regard for the dispossessed. 6.5% for education (next in line in West Africa is Guinea-Bissau, with 12.6%). 3.6% for health (the penultimate in the region in the Oxfam report, Mali, close to 5%). Nigeria makes a triplet of last places with the percentage of its budget destined to mitigate the impact of covid-19: just 0.6%, when the rest of the countries exceed 1%.
The cost of governance is one of the highest on the planet; our leaders are extraordinarily well paid
Mma Amara Ekeruche, Center for the Study of the Economies of Africa
The dissection of public accounts reveals other priorities. “Defense and security take 15%. And the payment of our debt is around 30% ”, specifies Vincent Ahonsi, director of Oxfam Nigeria. Ekeruche fits another fundamental piece in the puzzle of Nigerian inequality: “The cost of governance [cifrado en un 33%] It is one of the highest in the entire planet; our leaders are extraordinarily well paid. “
Two major parties share power in Nigeria. The All Progressives Congress – headed by the current president, Muhammadu Buhari – theoretically occupies the spectrum of the center-left. And the People’s Democratic Party represents, on paper, the values of the center-right. Between them they hold almost all the seats in the two federal legislative chambers and the 36 regional parliaments that make up the Nigerian political map. “They are basically the same,” explains Ekeruche. “Neither has the intention of creating a more equitable country at all,” Baiyewu said.
The executive director of Global Rights draws a perfectly oiled institutional machine to appease the desire for transformation. An impassive monolith that manages, without exception, to engulf the energy of those who come to power with a genuine vocation for service. “They realize that the system is too big and complex, that there is always someone on top who controls things, who dictates what can and cannot be done.” Baiyewu hints at pressures that go beyond mere discouragement after a reality shower. “If they still try to implement meaningful changes, there will be people, mechanisms that will fight back to prevent it.”
Baiyewu glimpses, however, “a dim light in a tunnel of absolute darkness.” Hope resides in those “middle-class youth who are expanding civic space.” A quarry from which a “cohort of good leaders who really cares about Nigerian citizenship” could emerge. Last year, the EndSARS movement channeled – in its fight against police brutality – anger and frustrations that stem from structural injustice. Lawal sees ties that could be tying the chord of a change in trend: “Everything is connected. The abuses of the security forces refer to corruption, to the feeling of impunity, to the perception among the powerful that the things that one does have no consequences ”.
The scourge of inequality in Nigeria causes thousands of preventable deaths. In the XXI century, it condemns millions of young people to illiteracy. It stratifies by social class and perpetuates gender disparities (affects more women), regional (the north much poorer than the south), arising from the urban / rural axis. The clamor that screams its unsustainable tensions is heard louder and louder. Voices that could converge and throw a seemingly chronic determinism overboard. Like the one in that Leonard Cohen song, Everybody knows, in which everyone knew – because “that’s the way it is” – that “the rich get richer” while the “poor remain poor.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.