By Aare Afe Babalola
AS Nigeria celebrates yet another anniversary of her independence from colonialism, it is necessary to continually examine aspects of our development and national life. As a philosopher once wrote, the unexamined life is not worth living.
I, therefore, expect that all Nigerians, and particularly the leadership, will take the time to reflect on all things pertaining to our social, economic and political development, with a view to not only understanding why the country has failed to live up to the dreams of its founding fathers, but also coming up with ideas and positive actions to take Nigeria to its rightful place in the body of nations.
In keeping with this and in further reinforcement of my long held view that no government is capable of single-handedly bringing about full development without the contribution, sacrifice and assistance of the citizenry. While this can come in various forms such as payment of taxes as and when due, it can also take the form of philanthropy or giving, a feature which unfortunately is yet to take full hold among the country’s rich.
The recent example of Allen Onyeama and Air Peace
When at the height of the recent xenophobia crisis in the South Africa, the management of Air Peace, through its Chairman, Allen Onyeama, announced an offer to airlift Nigerians from South Africa at no cost to the evacuees, the move was met with immense praise and appreciation by Nigerians.
This selfless action brought with it patriotic fervour amongst Nigerians of different tribes and ethnic groups comparable to the euphoria of independence 59 years ago. The high point of the evacuation was when the evacuees upon their arrival broke into a rendition of the National Anthem. The airlift which reportedly cost the airline millions of Naira is perhaps unprecedented and has rightly brought about calls for the conferment of a national award on Chief Onyeama. However, more importantly, it shows just how philanthropic actions, if properly harnessed, can contribute to nationalism and national development. By this singular action, many of the evacuees and countless others have had their faith in Nigeria and their fellow country men renewed. But as stated earlier, this is an area where so much more still needs to be done.
Nigeria is a country endowed with more enormous human and material resources than most of the developed countries of the world that have per capita income of $300,000 and above and also life expectancy of 70 years. However, per capita income in Nigeria is only about $300 while life expectancy is 52 years. About 70% of Nigeria live in abject poverty with less than N500 per capita. This large population lives in squalor, unlike developed countries where less than 10% are poor. For a country with massive wealth and huge population to support commerce, a well-developed economy and plenty of natural resources such as oil, the high rate of poverty is disturbing.
Poverty in Nigeria is getting worse by the day. Why is this? Are the poor people to blame for their predicament? Have they been lazy? Have they made poor decisions? Have they been responsible for their own plight? Is their poverty due to lack of capital or funds to start a good business? Is it due to mismanagement? Is it due to non-availability of resources at individual, corporate or national level? Is it due to lack of good priority setting? Is it due to economic, monetary and banking policies of the government? Is it due to excessive interest charged by CBN and commercial banks? Is it due to the education system which was not designed to turn out entrepreneurs and industrialists?
Why Nigeria is different
Many of the above-stated factors can and have actually been adduced as partly responsible for the state of poverty in Nigeria. Who, after all, can argue that poor management of a country’s resources or poor policy formulation or implementation by its monetary regulatory agencies can aide the onset and elongation of poverty. These are factors which cannot be regarded as unique to any country and indeed can be said to be present in most countries of the world. What then makes Nigeria the difference from such other countries? What makes poverty so endemic here when other countries can be said to suffer the same malaise of maladministration which over the years have stunted our country’s economic growth?
In my estimation, the answer is partly the poor disposition of Nigerians to giving. Nigerians, and I mean wealthy Nigerians unlike their counterparts in other parts of the world, who have established endowment funds, foundations, charity organisations etc, seem unable to understand just how important giving can be when used appropriately.
In a lecture I delivered on the 4th of November, 2010 at the occasion of the alumni of Ibadan College of Medicine Association World -wide, University of Ibadan titled: “Philanthropy and Sustainable development”, I stated as follows: “Much as successive government world over have been dedicated to the formulation and implementation of policies aimed at bridging the gap between the rich and the poor and the outright eradication of poverty, it appears that their efforts have yielded little results. The rich, it would seem, have simply become richer while the poor have become poorer. Whatever is the cause of this, be it ineptitude, incompetence or corruption, one thing that is crystal clear is that no single government can by itself adequately meet each and every need of its citizens.
Government alone cannot reasonably be expected, particularly in the light of the world’s current economic realities, to improve the quality of life of everyone to the level which most people expect. Government alone cannot fix and repair every bad road or replace every worn out desk in every school or provide every single child or individual with the best medical facilities required. I must not be mistaken as saying that these are not objectives to which every government anywhere in the world should seek to achieve and surpass. My contention simply is that our present realities make the attainment of such ideals difficult in the extreme. As one philosopher once said: “The way we live is so far detached from the way we ought to live”. So what is the way out? The answer is philanthropy.
What it was like in times past
In order to fully appreciate the extent of poverty in the country, it is necessary to firstly examine what life in Nigeria was in its pre-independence days.
In the 50s and 60s, the economy, although subsistence farming was stable. There were only two classes of people: namely the White men, the Obas and Chiefs regarded as the upper class, while the others were in the lower class. There was no poor class.
Between 1952 and early 70s, three classes of people had emerged namely: the Politicians and the Obas in the upper class; the middle class consisting of professionals and businessmen; and the working class.
Since the 80s however, new classes of people have emerged namely:
*The super rich
*The politicians including Presidents, Governors, Ministers, Senators etc
*The middle class consisting of civil servants and professionals.
*The very poor
The emergence of these new classes and the attendant economic and social consequences was brought about by many factors, including the discovery of oil, reliance on oil and the almighty revenue earner, the policy of government to export crude oil and import refined oil for local consumption, instead of refining enough oil for local consumption.