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Nigerians Can’t Be Expected to ‘Live Within Your Means’

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The fight against poverty has been a central plank of development planning in Nigeria since independence, yet successive government interventions have failed to achieve the objectives for which they were established.

There has been a complete lack of succession planning with every Government abandoning its predecessor’s policies and introducing their own. Law abiding Nigerians recently went to the polls in the belief that this is the way and manner in which they can address issues of government policy. Unfortunately, what they witnessed was the worst elections in recent history.

Eventually, all the rigging, official connivance, military intimidation, failed security arrangements, killing, financial waste, and litigation will be over, and Nigerians will be told who will be their leaders for the next four years. Whenever this happens the issue of how to alleviate poverty in the most effective and efficient manner needs to be addressed urgently. This is a far more important task than the much-criticized, poorly implemented anti-corruption war. The majority of the ills experienced during the election can be traced to poverty. There are those who believe that corruption has bred poverty, but that isn’t true. Wikipedia defines poverty as a multi-faceted concept which may include social, economic and political elements, while the anti-corruption war focuses only on financial matters.

Poverty reduction or poverty alleviation is supposed to be a set of measures both economic and humanitarian intended to improve people’s lives and permanently lift them out of poverty. Absolute poverty, extreme poverty, and destitution refer to the absence of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs such as food shelter and clothing. There are two types of poor nations; the resource-poor and the resource-rich. The tragedy of Nigeria is that it falls into the category of the resource-rich.

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As far as the World Bank is concerned people earning below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day are living in extreme poverty. The current exchange available to the majority of Nigerians who aren’t privileged to access the discretionary rates routinely granted to friends of those in the corridors of power is $1 equals N360. The international poverty line converts to approximately N684 per day or N20,520 per month and any wage below this should be unacceptable. Wretchedly other than in the oil industry, financial institutions and of course government, the majority of Nigerians earn far less than this amount. Fast food industries, megastores, shops, beer parlors, markets and private clinics all employ staff earning well below N20,000 sometimes as little as N8,000 to N10,000 per month and the workers diligently report every day sometimes trekking to avoid paying transport fare! Regrettably and un-compassionately the assertion that Nigerians should learn to “Live within your means” has now entered the current political conversation raising fears that political leaders are really bereft of ideas on how to fight poverty. They need to reduce their excesses and implement effective economic policies which will reduce poverty.

Government officials and others parroting the “live within your means” phrase are asking long-suffering Nigerians to accept the poverty-riddled outcome of economic mismanagement by ramming it down their throats. Ironically World Bank statistics indicate that the majority of Nigerians, even the educated ones live in abject poverty and don’t have any “means” in the first place! It would appear as if those in power are either so out of touch with reality, or simply living in denial as all available statistics paint a very disturbing and bleak picture of the economic situation in Nigeria. The “live within your means” mantra is simply a further entrenchment of poverty, income inequality, and capitalism. Nigeria has already become the “poverty capital of the world”. The level of inequality in our society is so glaring that despite the nationwide abject poverty, the number of billionaires in Nigeria is increasing and the “richest man in Africa” is a Nigerian!

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The problem with asking Nigerians to live within their means is that it puts the onus on citizens to get themselves out of the politically-induced poverty and basically abandons the idea of holding political leaders responsible. If political leaders truly believe that people should be content to live within their means, then why during elections do they share bags of rice, salt, and money to the electorate? Surely voters should be content and not susceptible to financial temptation? In Nigeria, it’s possible to have a job, drive a car and even own a house and still be unable to live within ones’ means. Poverty reduction doesn’t only mean the absence of money it also means being unable to live up to ones’ expectations. It means the inability to take care of the aspirations of wife, children, and family. The question which needs to be asked is should Nigerians deprive their families of the basic necessities of modern life simply in order to live within their means?

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