1st June, 2014
According to the latest data from Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics, NBS, 100 million Nigerians live below a dollar a day, and 112 million of an estimated 168 million Nigerians are poor. The poor are in overwhelming majority and should matter most in a democratic regime; after all, these numbers hold the electoral power. So the important question we must ask today of Nigeria 2014, the ‘Transformed Nigeria,’ is; what is in it for the poor?
Cars and Transportation
This week, the president of Nigeria celebrated the release of the first assembled in Nigeria cars. Assembling cars in Nigeria is touted as one of President Jonathan’s chief accomplishments; we are developing, or is this not so? But what is in it for the poor? Nigerians have been succeeding in begging and protesting for the postponement of the Tokunbo (used) car importation pseudo-ban. Very surprisingly, there have not yet been any serious riots. With this ‘ban,’ the increased tariff on importation will as much as double the cost to import cars. This regulation was a deal Nigeria’s government via its transportation ministry struck with the car assembly plants to entice them to assemble in Nigeria. Goodluck Jonathan is peculiarly advertising the production as an export initiative. ‘We will soon be exporting cars,’ the President says. But this is definitely not the main expected source of customers for the Nigeria assembled cars. The big companies want to force the sale on Nigerians. While forcing new cars on Nigerians cannot be outright condemned as exclusive oligopolistic extortion; the issue here again is, what is in this for the poor? How will the poor who purchase and share vehicles bought at about 1 million naira get vehicles tomorrow? For the rich, they will still import fancy vehicles, not flustered about pay the new hiked import tariffs. The rich after all import cars often by air freight, willing to pay as much as $30,000 to get their cars to Nigeria a week or two faster than by 19 day express container shipping that’s one twentieth the cost; so the rich will not be adversely affected being able to afford the brand new assembled-in-Nigeria vehicles and still importing their fancy rides; but the poor? Will we be condemned to walking? Are the assembly plants making cars like the Indian TATA, cheap, yet reliable cars that will sell for under a million naira? Is a state- and city-wide metro rail transport system available to ferry the Nigerians who will no longer be able to afford cars? It will be interesting to watch the coming weeks and months to see how Nigeria’s masses will react to any possible actualization of the ban on their only source of affordable vehicles and transportation.
Indeed we do see housing initiatives in most states; low cost housing estates being constructed to allegedly make housing affordable for the middle class Nigerian. This is commendable, but again, the question is- what is in it for the poor? Can Nigeria’s poor afford loans to instalmentally pay toward owning these ‘affordable homes?’ In ‘developed’ societies like America, we have what is called ‘Projects accommodation.’ In America, Great Britain, Europe, we have rent stabilized housing welfare programs that enable the poor obtain and retain affordable rented apartments in the heart of big cities. They do not have to live in huts on the outskirts and commute for hours a day to the cities where they earn meager living. Are there ‘project buildings’ in Lagos or Abuja? Projects are not homes to own, the poor are not set up to own homes, remember over a million Nigerians make less than a dollar a day; they will never own homes. Projects and rent stabilized city housing plans are designed to work based on the assessed income of any and all disadvantaged citizen to make sure that as long as he has no work or earns peanuts, he is accorded the ability to rent decent accommodation in the heart or near enough to the centers of city activity. This welfare and ‘projects’ housing is essential in any progressive society to reduce the effects of social inequality and dampen crime. Is there any such agenda in the current ‘transformation’ Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy is embarking on? Will the poor continue to be ostracized and relegated to the fringes of society?
Boko Haram in the north; MEND, oil vandalism, armed robbery, high sea piracy and what have we, all over Nigeria, are globally recognized crippling insecurity challenges that continue to make life meaningless in Nigeria. Billions are being committed to allegedly battling insecurity. But what is here for the poor? Nigeria’s wealthy are huddling closer together, living in fenced, protected communities in Abuja and Lagos. Today there are two Nigeria’s, far apart in every ramification. The wealthy of Nigeria are insulated from crime and terror. They drive in bomb proof vehicles and never use public bus stops; hence seriously tackling and curbing the terror menaces plaguing the nation are really not crises they can relate to. It is the poor who are at risk of getting robbed and killed every day they go to bus stops, public markets or sleep at home. So, the question again in Nigeria of today and tomorrow is – in terms of security, and the political maneuvers in Nigeria’s States and being processed from the capital, Abuja, what is in it for the poor?
This conversation can unfortunately be extended to almost all social constructs including employment, health, credit and even sublime social, government governed opportunities like hope and happiness. As we analyze our existence as the powerful majority subjects of the current political disposition and decide what to do politically, if politically, and how to poise ourselves in our best interests, it is important we are hyperopic (far-sighted) and ruminate over the pressing question: Nigeria of today and tomorrow, what is in it for the poor?