In a lecture entitled, “Oil and Peace: Capability for Sustainable Growth in Nigeria”, delivered in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, some five years back, two time presidential aspirant in the United States of America, Rev. Jesse Jackson, had identified lack of economic justice as the most potent factor causing social tension in Nigeria. Jackson, a renowned civil rights activist, said that widespread economic inequality occasions violence, greed and jealousy which are responsible for the downward trend in the socio-economic and political development of the country. The activist whose lecture was part of the colloquium of the 2013 Isaac Adaka Boro Anniversary organized by the Bayelsa State government, argued that there would be continuous agitations and unrests in Nigeria until the country’s system was able to guarantee economic justice and equality to the people, stressing that poverty in the midst of plenty was unacceptable. More than four years after the lecture, the situation is even getting worse.
The great civil rights crusader could not have aired his view at a more opportune moment. His postulation that, it is not the lack of resources that hinders Nigeria’s development, but greed, jealousy and violence, was apt. With this, the African – American, who does not suffer fools gladly, once again, exposed the soft underbelly of the Nigerian governing elite. This class of self-centered rulers who have cornered Nigeria’s vast wealth into their private pockets, has made the good people of the country to regret the attainment of political independence fifty seven years after the exit of the colonialist. In fact, when the basic needs of the people are not met, when over 60million youth who constitute the active population, are unemployed but live in a permanent state of despondency, inequality and tension would be the ultimate result. When there are two nations in one country- the extremely rich and extremely poor- there is bound to be acrimony and rancour.
We therefore recommend that more people of Rev. Jackson’s ideological persuasions are needed here who will tell the truth to those that need it most. But why do we have this army of unemployed youths in spite of the sale of crude oil? The answer to this poser is quite simple. The naira exchange rate mechanism is currently driven by the monopolistic posturing of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the forex market by unconstitutionally capturing distributable dollar revenue and substituting same with naira allocations as proceeds from the sale of crude oil. The CBN controls more than 80 per cent of the dollars traded in the foreign exchange market. This creates those economic distortions peculiar to monopolists everywhere. The outcome is that the naira gets weaker as there is too much cash in circulation. This fuels inflation and the cost of borrowing is abysmally high as the monetary framework engenders high interest rates. This is because managers of the national economy have refused to see reason with the fact that the common denominator between inflation and interest rate is the existence of too much cash in the system.
Again, we have collectively failed to appreciate the fact that this shortfall in our economic management means that we are simply sustaining the governing elite at the expense of the poor majority of our compatriots. It is this excess liquidity that is responsible for the level of corruption which is speedily killing the country. Rev. Jackson’s choice of the word “greed” was most appropriate because the word embodies a moral consideration, a term very scarce in the dictionary of our governing elite. Yet part of being moral is respecting ourselves as well as respecting others. Respect for others is bound up with self-respect since we cannot respect ourselves as moral beings unless we value our respectful treatment of others. As greed becomes the reigning ideology amongst members of the ruling cast, government now indulges in internal and external borrowings to service the high taste and desire of the few in political positions.
The worsening social tension in the country would appear to have no end confirming a World Bank report in 1995 that predicted that it would take Nigeria 30 years to return to the standard of living that its citizens had enjoyed during the Shagari administration in the defunct Second Republic. A data released in August 1998 by the Washington – based Population Reference Bureau also said that at $240 per head, Nigerians had the ECOWAS’ lowest income against $510 for the sub-Sahara and |$650 for Africa. The picture has not changed drastically in spite of the unprecedented earnings from oil export in the last eighteen years. It has even gone worse under the current Buhari administration. So, where is Nigeria degenerating into?
With the prolonged power outage and the grounding of the nation’s four refineries compelling government to import all the refined petroleum products being consumed in the country since 2005, Nigerians have never had it so bad, not even in the civil war years have Nigerians experienced this level of poverty. The nation’s industrial sector is also groaning from the rising cost of production that has decimated the factories by more than half since 2015. There is less tension when people are assured of where their next meal will come from. There is no society where there is no disparity in income distribution. But in stable economies, allowances are paid to jobless people to ease off social tension. But the total abnegation of the welfare paradigm in Nigeria by our heartless and sadistic ruling class while its members indulge in outright looting of the national patrimony is the bane.