By Ike Abonyi
“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.” – Confucius
It is hard to win an argument that crime does not pay in Nigeria. All the variables and pieces of evidence available prove the contrary. Those who occupy top positions and get stupendous pay are criminals whom we abhorred yesterday. Some of them whose fathers had no good names have become the cornerstone of contemporary Nigeria. There are no incentives for being good, upright, and principled.
The politicians who were denigrated and vilified for their untidy past are today’s soldiers of fortune, occupying commanding heights in the polity. The anti-state actors (militants) of yesterday who attacked government forces are today’s consultants in security matters and are “hired” to guard national assets. They are expected to succeed where national troops failed because of corruption.
We have waited to no end for the police, military, self-styled Department of State Services, and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps to deny Asari Dokubo’s claim that his gang made Abuja-Kaduna road passable. We can recall how notorious the Abuja-Kaduna highway was, how even generals avoided the route and embraced trains and airlines, and how a Chief of Army Staff died in a plane crash while flying to Kaduna from Abuja, a distance of one hour by road. Generals and their families also languished in the forest for months in criminal dens as hostages, abducted in a train by the same criminals on that route. Is it not striking to hear, therefore, that some militants from South South ended the menace? Are we still denying that we are a shithole with all the resources expended on our national security?
The man whose ministry’s probe by the MPs launched “off the mic” into a huge national joke is today heading the federal parliament. The man whose untidy past is wrapped in secrecy presides over the entire estate. Certificate forgers are occupying key positions and moralizing about education. From one contradiction to the other! That is where we are, relegating morality to the background. God, help a country that recruits criminals to man its borders, guard the people, and manage national affairs and resources.
At a time this country is rated as the world’s poverty capital, leaders whose gluttony is very apparent are cropping up. These leaders will do everything possible to massage their greed before thinking of the poor masses.
In a country of about 200 million people with over 100 million of them multidimensionally poor, the new leaders still rushed to remove subsidies from essential petroleum products without caring about the collateral effects on the underprivileged and the victimized in society. Such an insensitive action is causing astronomical price hikes in virtually every need of the poor, recording two-digit inflation already. Besides, a hike in electricity tariff and other forms of taxation are also being seriously contemplated by the authorities.
As a veiled response to public pressure, they are beating their chest and heralding it to the global audience that a ₦500 billion palliative is coming for about 12 of the 133 million Nigerians living in multi-dimensional poverty at ₦8,000 per household. The so-called palliative may be another vote-buying largesse in case the tribunal calls for a presidential election rerun.
Meanwhile, as this smokescreen of a palliative is being flaunted, the ruling class is lining up for themselves increased salaries and huge allowances to the tune of more than N70 billion for less than 500 people in the National Assembly to acquire SUVs and bulletproof cars.
Many had thought that since this regime has been copycatting the wonderful populist idea of the Labour Party standard bearer, Peter Obi, they should have listened to his timely suggestion that sacrifice should start from the top, from themselves, thus cutting down the cost of governance. Not so for the legitimacy-challenged regime.
Bola Tinubu’s expertise in governance is well known; he is not known for frugality with public funds but for more taxes and revenue enhancement. All the noise about Tinubu’s achievements in Lagos State has nothing to do with erecting economic structures or developing any serious infrastructure that will enhance development.
He is proficient in collecting money from the population and spending it not necessarily on physical development but to enhance his politics. It can be said without fear of contradictions that by his antecedents, Tinubu is not a development politician who has the fiscal discipline of tying funds to capital projects. Rather, Tinubu’s main project is politics and what he specializes in is raising funds to oil his political machinery, not to develop people-oriented benefits.
If by a wild stretch of the imagination, BAT survives the judicial hammer, the pressure will be enormous and he will have to come to terms with the fact that Nigeria is not Lagos just as the citizens will also come to realize that the Lagos boy has arrived in Abuja with his Eko formula. Already the populace is having to bear the brunt.
It’s not by accident that Tinubu’s interest and first port of call is the apex bank with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Nigeria Customs Service. The Federal Inland Revenue Service is their baby already and Alpha Beta may be warming up to “appropriate” it. The next port of call will be the Nigerian Ports Authority and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd.
Nigerians who are screaming for subsidy removal without palliative will soon realize that palliative will come heavily laden with politics. More money will be saved and diverted into politicking that BAT knows best. Those who will suffer will be apolitical persons in society and the opposition.
In fact, under Tinubu, the opposition will be so unattractive that there will be glaring witness of the exodus of our principled-challenged politicians moving to the ruling party. Yes, it is a fact that subsidy was an organized crime benefitting only a select few but with the subsidy removal, the crime is still organized but the shareholders have been trimmed and centralised. In the past, few people working as government proxies were making stupendous, now, there is no more proxy, and the revenue commanders are on the throne.
Before May 29, 2023, the entire populace including the downtrodden were benefiting skeletally from the subsidy while the cartel cornered the lion’s share. But in the new arrangement, the huge beneficiaries are limited to the treasury looters.
So, in reality, the people are subsiding the looters’ insatiable and fervid appetite, while defunding and defrauding the poor. No wonder the convoys of the leaders are getting elongated even with the hike in fuel from N195 to N630 per liter. Also, the prices of vehicles have skyrocketed, but the rich cannot stop buying.
As the effect of subsidy removal is shown in the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee reports, the beneficiaries are not the poor in society but the rich. From 1999 till date, the amount shared by FAAC ranges between ₦400 to 900 billion a month. In May 2023, ₦656 billion was shared. Now, a month later, ₦2.84 trillion is shared with the three tiers of government which are more than four times what was shared last month. This is truly a quantum leap, but in whose interest is it? Only the looters are happy at the increase because it will increase their appetite for more, the larger populace is rather getting more impoverished.
This will not decrease the country’s poor status in the global space. No, because youth unemployment will continue, and infrastructural development will remain stunted. Certainly, the notorious gluttony of our leaders will multiply. But we need to know also that poverty-induced crimes like banditry, prostitution, kidnapping, and general insecurity will not be halted by a magic wand. Why? Because we cannot eat our cake and still have it. Let us not bring ant-infested firewood home and express surprise at the visit of reptiles.
The seventh UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan once aptly said, “Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.” And the great Greek philosopher Aristotle describes poverty as “the parent of revolution and crime.”
For us in Nigeria, we have seen poverty and its attendant crimes, we are now waiting for revolution because it’s long overdue. God bless Nigeria.