“Papa, do you care to know how poverty which is ravaging you and I is being institutionalized by your darling governments, ancient and modern?” I answered that I was listening which seemed to annoy him and he sprang to his feet, standing over me with such threatening stare that seemed like a laser beam and for once I felt anxious to call off the interaction but noticing my discomfiture, he mellowed down and explained that he had been provoked by my seeming complacency in the face of slavery as he called my condition. According to him the worst enemies of what he called civil society are those ignorant of their position and condition in any system, and who could not even understand that they are in slavery. Such people are the most dangerous group of people in any country and according to him; this ignorant group are most prominent in the educated class, especially the socalled university graduates.
Then he shifted his plastic chair nearer to me, and resumed the lecture. “Papa”, he said, “do you know that all governments from Balewa to Buhari have been institutionalizing poverty in Nigeria?” I answered that I do not know.
“Yes, you wouldn’t know, otherwise why would you be a supporter of this callous government which is institutionalizing poverty through formalization of the ‘almajiri’ mendicant system whereby you distribute petty cash to people largely for consumption and budgets billions of naira to feed the poor’s children in dilapidated schools instead of economically empowering their parents to care for them in a more organised and sustainable way?
Which modern government does a thing like this except you are living a feudal enclave whose system has failed irretrievably? Under Balewa, the system was still functioning as built by the British but the leaders instead of improving it chose to take their children to London and America for their education while the leaders take their health care needs to London or America.
Through their politics, the rulers impoverish and visit outrageous violence on the people and made the country ungovernable. This is the worst aspect of impoverishment. Between 1964 and 1966, Nigeria was quaking and convulsing when the Tivs were being pacified by the Nigerian Army, the West (Yoruba) were being forced to accept a set of rulers they have rejected in an electoral contest and the Niger Delta was seething with rage.
Containment of Tiv riots, the Yoruba’s operation ‘we tie’ and the Ijaw restiveness in the Niger Delta wreaked more havoc than a thousand poor economic policies would have unleashed because through the army occupation of Tiv land and the associated brutalities, the Yoruba-upon-Yoruba violence resulting in deaths of people and destruction of property actuated the January 15, 1966 coup which led to the counter coup of July 29, 1966, the pogroms and the Biafra War that devoured the poor and fundamentally changed Nigeria from a precariously created British neo-colonial entity to an internally recolonised polity whose rulers are above the law for they are the law themselves and subjected the people to the worst kind of slavery being that the people no longer have power to decide how to govern themselves except as determined by military laws. This is the bedrock of your impoverishment.
This autocracy unfurled by the soldiers is the root cause of poverty in Nigeria. Every other policies you see being implemented by Gowon, Mohammed, Obasanjo, Shagari, Buhari, Babangida, Abacha, Abdulsalami, Jonathan down to the present government were (and still are) mere tokenistic palliatives just like the present palliatives offered in developed countries to cushion the effect of coronavirus attacks. It does not cure the disease. So it is with poverty in Nigeria. The poverty virus remains.
Palliatives offered victims never extirpate the disease.” “I do not know if you were already born in the early 1970s when General Gowon pretending to populism by commissioning one Jerome Udoji to advise him on a salary structure for Nigerians? Mr. Udoji heeding Gowon’s boasts that Nigeria was swimming in petrol dollars and did not know what to do with it, advised a jerking up of salaries and allowances which were made to take retroactive effect.
The implementation led to an inflation not seen anywhere else in that recent memory. The currency (Naira) became useless in the hands of the workers. That gamble put paid to any effort to better the lot of the Nigerian workers. In 1976/1979 Generals Murtala Mohammed/Obasanjo government, designed to effect certain policies which it hoped to benefit Nigerians by way of sanitizing the polity embarked on draconian anti-corruption that purged the public service (Civil Service, University, Judiciary etc.) and ended up introducing confusion which has marked the development of Nigeria to date as that purge destroyed job security thereby inducing all public sector workers to make hay while the sun shines by utilizing their offices for private gain. The introduction of Operation Feed the Nation was a sham that only benefited the ruling elite and their acolytes.
The compulsory takeover of universities and secondary schools, a policy copied from Administrator of East Central State, Ukpabi Asika who had forcibly seized missionary and other private schools only led to the destruction of the little merit still present in the system as the Universal Free Primary Education only led to the corruption and bastardization of quality in the education system thereby leading to the present rot that has produced examination malpractices starting from 1976 WAEC EXPO, and now university ‘sorting’ culture, ‘gangsterism’ otherwise called cultism in tertiary and now even more pronounced in secondary institutions.
This confusion was capped by a callous change of the legal order. General Obasanjo exhumed the Indirect Rule System’s Native Authority Ordinance and transformed it into Uniform Local Government System which recreated the Warrant Chiefs as composed of the Emirs, traditional rulers and politicians and made this autocratic ruling scheme the governance template in Nigeria. These rulers deriving their powers from without are beyond the control of the people and they administer the localities according to their whims and caprices. When you talk about poverty, this is the springboard.
This autocratic system is impregnable and devastating with the introduction of the Land Use Act copied by Obasanjo from the 1914 Native Land Ordinance which the British in their wisdom and reasonableness spared the South and applied to the North which was largely a feudal society.
This piece of law transformed every Nigerian into a mere “occupier” or “holder” of land as the radical title was forcibly cut out from his hand and transferred to the governor of each state and local government chairmen who hold it in trust.
This law has impoverished Nigerians more than any other measure as they cannot easily deal in land as collateral for loan facilities from financial houses. Babangida’s People Bank was a failure until Abacha used it to some appreciable success in his Family Economic and Advancement Programme which liberalized loan facilities for the poor people. For the first time in the history of Nigeria loans were transparently and liberally made available to the poor through their families or cooperatives. Every other poverty alleviation policies and programmes have been a sham from President Obasanjo to President Buhari.
I can tell you that all the measures adopted by these presidents have rather institutionalized poverty than alleviate it. That is why poverty has overwhelmed the nation and it is beyond solution.” And I asked him, what is the solution? He answered: “Change the system because it devours its own people. Simple.”