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Nigeria’s Wealth Disparity Situation Is Only Getting Worse

Poverty is no rare sighting in Nigeria. It is so ingrained into the environments around Nigerians where it is either experienced or seen daily, and consequently, many are insensitive to it, even as they try to escape its grasps. After nearly 58 years of independence, poverty is still one of the leading issues plaguing Nigeria — with no sign of improvement.  The minimum yearly income needed to sustain a healthy living in Nigeria is 1,000 dollars per year in urban areas and around 700 dollars in rural areas. While it says nothing of the quality of the environment, it is manageable, and one would infer affordable, as it is considered by most to be relatively cheap. However, as low as it may seem, 74% of Nigerians live below this yearly income level. While a significant proportion of the population indisputably struggles day to day with the effects poverty has on every aspect of their lives, a small elite percentage of Nigerians lives comfortably with a huge portion of wealth that does much more than simply accommodate their lifestyle. All of this forms the reality of life in Nigeria. The wealth disparity between the rich and the poor remains completely transparent wherever you go, yet nothing is ever done to help improve this. A lack of action would be more understandable if the situation weren’t so glaringly evident in every part of Nigeria, or if the wealth disparity wasn’t truly that large. So how big is this wealth disparity exactly? According to Oxfam, the annual earnings of just one member of this elite top 1% group is enough to bring 2 million people in Nigeria out of absolute poverty and sustain each of them for an entire year. The weight of what the annual earnings of just one man can do to improve the livelihoods of so many Nigerians is staggering. However, most importantly, it sheds light on a very troubling issue within Nigeria.

Nigeria possesses a stark dichotomy of wealth and poverty. Although the country is rich in natural resources, its economy can not yet meet the basic needs of the people. Such disparity between the growth of the GDP and the increasing poverty is indicative of a skewed distribution of Nigeria’s wealth.

Certain statistics do nothing to offset the blame off the Nigerian government or the rich. A 12% increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 2010 to 2014 implies economic growth in the country. Such economic growth should present itself in the state of Nigerians themselves and the Nigerian economy. Instead, the number of those living in absolute poverty (defined as earning less than a dollar a day) increased from 55% in 2004 to 61% in 2014, or from 69 million to 112 million — all while Nigeria’s millionaire count increased by 44% in between those same years. It only seems to get worse from here. 64% of Nigerian households consider themselves to be poor, while 32% report their economic situation to have worsened over the past year. Nigeria is not considered a poor country, especially with the increase in GDP, yet millions are living in extreme poverty. Why? More and more Nigerians are struggling with finding enough food to put on the table, while millionaires get richer and richer.

“I am not sure the government is really willing to address the problem of inequality in Nigeria. If they were, they would have done it a long time ago. When the government itself is paying a very low minimum wage, how can it address the plight of the poor?” — David Obi, Nigerian worker

Taking into consideration of specific factors concerning what the majority of Nigerians face such as “job unavailability” and “inaccessibility to credit and financing,” it is not surprising to see how the wealth disparity situation has achieved the state it does today. 49% of Nigerian youth remain either unemployed or under-employed. The life expectancy has even decreased as a probable consequence, from the 47 years it was back in 1990, to 44 years in 2005. While multiple factors all contribute differently to the increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor, the two issues that seem to have a significant effect consistently, seem to be income inequality and corruption.

The income inequality situation in Nigeria caused Nigeria to rank last in a list of 152 countries on their commitment to reducing economic inequality. The income inequality presents itself when the minimum wage is brought into consideration. The minimum wage is currently at N18,000 (50 USD) a month, which is in no way suitable for a family to survive and sustain a healthy lifestyle of that amount. The minimum wage also isn’t been met by many corporations. Of the 74% of Nigerians living below the income level, 40% are living on less than $1.25 a day. I know of workers who earn as small as N1000 ($2.817) a week, which is enough for me to buy a chicken suya sandwich and a small juice box at my school cafeteria. The income inequality makes it next to impossible for people to advance above the poverty life, or from whatever their current financial status is. All this keeps the poor poor, allowing for the wealth gap to remain as large as it is. The low minimum wage forces workers to continue working even if they aren’t getting their money worth. This then leads to the corruption present throughout Nigerian society.

Income inequality gives birth to corruption, insecurity, lack of efficiency and capacity in the workplace. It retards growth and development of both the individual and the nation.

Corruption is very entwined with Nigerian history and its current government, and it is another primary contributor to the wealth disparity. Nigeria’s long history with corruption can date back to the 1960s. Since, more than $20 trillion has been stolen from the Nigerian treasury by public office holders. That amount is larger than the United States GDP in 2012. A 2014 report found that the Nigerian government lost N800 billion ($2 billion) to tax wavers and concessions to business and corporations in the span of two years.

The overlap between political and economic power in Nigeria is near total. Politicians often use businesses to siphon money from state coffers and many business moguls have grown rich on the back of close relationships with top officials, juicy government contracts or protectionist policies. Nigeria resembles the United States in this way – but with less transparency and minimal independent scrutiny of what are often conflicts of interest. — Mathew Page, former U.S. intelligence leading expert on Nigeria

Nigeria is expected to be one of the top economies in the world by 2030 and this is the current state the majority of Nigerians are living in. There is no doubt in my mind that if that were to happen by that time, considering the current trend, the disparity would only increase with little positive change to the livelihoods of the majority of Nigerians. Nigeria is wealthy in oil and is Africa’s largest economy, yet it’s no secret that its people are starving. It is beyond time for the Nigerian government to act and achieve something tangible that all Nigerians can see the effects of, and most importantly, works towards reducing the gap between the rich and the poor.

Photo: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

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