Nigeria has been practicing her own brand of democracy since 1999. The basic premise of democracy is that ultimate power should be shared equally by the whole polity. But this idea is not practically true. The conviction that the polity should include the whole population when it comes to dividend of democracy is comparatively a novel idea that was first put into practice, briefly though, in the French Revolution. This idea is imperfectly realized till this day even in the best of democracies in the world.
You may recall that the French Revolution of 1789 abolished the feudal system and all the obligations and dues that it entailed, and it entirely removed the tax exemptions of the nobility and the clergy. But perhaps what was most radical, even unimaginable at that time, was the eleventh article in the French Constitution, which states that: “All citizens, without distinction of birth, are eligible to any office or dignity, whether ecclesiastical, civil, or military; and no profession shall imply any derogation.” Even Article 17 of the Nigerian Constitution expressly states that the country’s social order is founded on ideals of freedom, equality and justice. So, in theory, there is equity before the law for all, not only in daily life and business, but also in politics.
To the best of this writer’s knowledge, the saying that there is equality before the law is a myth created by the political class in most parts of the world. Though, the proposition by Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding father, was that “all men are created equal”. But the basis of that equality and the conditions under which it may flourish have always been a matter of intense dispute because all men are not equal. In the world today, much of the debate about the meaning and purposes of equality arises from two opposing conceptions of it- equal opportunity for individuals versus equal distribution of resources throughout the society. Regrettably, we are in a world where opportunities for individuals and distribution of resources are not equal. The test in our progress as a nation isn’t whether the rich is getting richer; it’s whether we cater sufficiently to the needs of the poor and less privileged in the society.
Increasing inequality in income gives rise to corruption, insecurity, and lack of productivity. When the inequality gap is wide, it retards growth, undermines the fight against corruption and poverty, and slows down the development of both individuals and the country. What the country gets in return for a wide inequality gap is chronic poverty.
The recently concluded 2018 World Economic Forum in Bali, Indonesia, brought out a disturbing report about Nigeria’s growing inequality amongst her citizens. The inequality scale was released in a report at the annual International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meeting. The Report titled “Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index 2018” shows that Nigeria’s ranking has remained constant for two years in a row. Simply put: Nigeria ranks 157 out of 157 in inequality scale in 2017 and 2018. Nigeria, according to the report, is the least among 157 countries on social spending, tax and labour rights.
Nigeria’s social spending on education and healthcare is low. Instead of allocating 26 percent of the 2018 Budget to education as recommended by the United Nations Education and Social Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Nigeria allocates 7 percent to the education sector, while it allocates only 3.9 percent of the 2018 budget to the health sector, according to a World Bank report. The 2018 CRI report shows that one in 10 children in Nigeria do not reach their fifth birthday, while more than 10 million children do not go to school. So, when critics say that Nigeria should spend more on education and healthcare, it is to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. In addition, most Nigerian workers have been denied commensurate wages and compensation schemes coupled with deplorable working conditions.
Combating inequality is not about being the wealthiest country or one of the biggest economies. It’s about having the political will to articulate and put into practice policies that will narrow the gap between the poor and the rich. Nigeria with abundant mineral resources and a population of almost 200 million has not transformed her potentials to greatness. We have a country with high unemployment rate, aging public infrastructure, increasing insurgency and opaque systems of governance. Most rural communities are not connected to national grid, and thus, they do not have electricity. Without electricity, those living in most rural areas don’t have access to the internet in a world characterized by the 4th Industrial Revolution. Some do not have access to portable drinking water and motorable roads amongst a host of other challenges. These are some of the reasons why Nigeria was labelled as the poverty capital of the world sometime in the year by the Brookings Institute, USA. About 87 million Nigerians are poor because the country’s economy is in a “complete mess”. More needs to be done in terms of policy implementation to reduce unemployment and poverty. This is a clarion call on elected and appointed officials in the government to display positive attitude so that policies can work.
According to the CRI 2018 report, countries that have taken steps to tackle inequality in the past year include Ethiopia which came 131st. Although, at the 131st position, Ethiopia has the sixth largest education spending in the world. Chile, at 35th, increased its rate of corporation tax while Indonesia at 90th, has increased its minimum wage and spending on health. The Bretton Wood Institutions advised most developing nations with poor inequality index to develop national inequality action plans and implement same religiously to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on reducing inequality (Goal 10) by 2030. “A nation will not survive morally or economically when, so few have so much while so many have so little”. Thank you.