Protecting the Poor: A priority in need of prioritizing

by | December 27, 2017 1:17 am

The year 2017 will end in four days. It will end willy-nilly, even if it were a wonderful year. It does not matter whether we as individuals or Nigeria as a country has met the goals we set for ourselves in 2017. Besides, it won’t even make any difference to the dwindling hours of 2017 that Nigeria has been busy chasing all manner of troublemakers, the whole year round, and failing to do the needful to save its rising army of the deprived, excluded and marginalized poor citizens. The year will still end in four days’ time. There will be no extension of time. And truly that seems to be what we have done during most of 2017 – chasing all kinds of things and people to the extent that it begins to look like we do not care about the consequences on the poor.
In line with the avowed commitment of the Buhari administration to fight corruption, so much resource has been deployed in 2017 to confront that evil. As a result, many public officials were either arrested or interrogated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Although, not much seems to be accomplished by way of convictions, there was a lot of activity in the anti-graft sector. This activity came with a price; one that impacted the poor even more grievously than it did those involved – often arrested and released on bail. The ranks of the poor not only enlarged it widened and deepened as a result of the collateral consequences of these actions.
The reason is simple. Economic crisis worsens the instability in the daily routines of the informal sector. This sector is home for the deprived but determined and energetic members of our society. It is characterised by suboptimal provision of services – public utilities and other civil requirements for an economically active life, including legal services. Members of this sector depend on daily hand-to-mouth activities for their upkeep and survival. In this sector also, “there is no food for the lazy man”. In that regard, a break in their daily work routine could very easily spell doom for their family members. Indeed, hunger and starvation are always just a stone throw away. With most people oscillating between hunger and minimum food intake, the consequences of even the slightest economic disruption could be magnified. This is why the sector is the first to get hit and the one that suffers the most in times of economic crisis – the same reason why we must weigh the impact of our actions on it before we take them.
The pursuit of the many alleged criminally-minded people in the civil service by the EFCC was a source of pain not only for the agency but for the poor in Nigeria in 2017. Once the EFCC gets on the prowl, chasing its suspects, economic activity slows down as most politically exposed persons become cautions and watch their steps more carefully. This signals the curtailment of their spending, and this affects the income of the poor. That is exactly what happened during most of 2017. In the pursuit of the army of alleged corrupt public and even private sector officials, security operatives have disrupted the lives of many more Nigerians, especially in the informal sector. The question is how we could have allowed ourselves, by fighting the agents of corruption, to worsen the plight of the people we seek to protect.
In law, we say that it is better that ten guilty persons go free than one innocent man wrongly convicted. That dictum does not appear to guide the work of the anti-graft authorities. Time and time again, they have disrupted the lives of innocent people in the course of their activities, thereby amplifying the existing poverty level. Yet, there is not much in their work that suggests strongly and convincingly that they are truly confronting the scourge of corruption culture. The case of Maina and his widely acknowledged and practically admitted pension scam, involving billions of Naira, his disappearance from the civil service and return for enthronement in the same service bear reference. The man has since been “at large” but operating largely freely though under cover and probably within Nigeria. Meanwhile, the activities of some well-respected private companies that employ hundreds of Nigerians have been disrupted by security operatives.
While nobody in Nigeria can speak against the idea of going against corrupt officials, many have made bold to say that the strategies we have adopted so far to deal with the scourge is faulty and poorly implemented. In almost all cases, the arrest of suspects is effected in commando style, with tear gas, gun shots and intimidation as frontline instruments. At the end of the day businesses are stalled with serious consequences for employment and family incomes. Nigerians have accused corrupt public officials of causing much of the economic crisis we have today by looting the treasury and providing no socio-political benefits to the people. Our priority is to eliminate corruption and boost employment. Unfortunately, this priority appears to have been reversed. We tend to leave a trail of more jobless youths along the path of our economic recovery activities, especially by the anti-graft agencies. This, perhaps, is one of the reasons why we seem not to dent the number of the unemployed despite our efforts.
Protecting the poor is an agreed essence of government all over the world, including Nigeria. If it is still a priority of this government to protect the vulnerable, then it must be treated as such – a priority. Current activities of government agencies tend to point to a different direction. To create more poverty in the course of chasing those who made us poor is to reprioritize our objectives and to down grade the protection of the poor – a kind of indirect policy reversal. This should not be encouraged.


Emeka Osuji