By Appolos Christian
Worried over the worsening state of inequality and poverty and the seemingly inaction of governments in Western Africa region against the hellish situation, some non-state actors; led by Oxfam, Nigeria Labour Congress, Trade Union Congress (TUC), have urged heads of government within the region to take a decisive action to bridge the widening inequality gap.
Speaking at a sensitization rally in Abuja last week, NLC’s focal person on tax justice, James Eustace, expressed concerns that the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider every day.
Following a study on inequality in west Africa and public presentation of the Fair Tax Monitor and the Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index Reports by Oxfarm, Comarde James noted the widening inequality crisis can be seen in the rising insecurity and other social issues within the region.
While he called on the heads of government within the region should put in place policies to address this and lift the burden off the shoulders of the poor, he said that the report recommended that nation states should take urgent step to ensure that these inequality gap is reduced.
“Basically, the report is talking about increase in countries spending on social services. That is, issues around public education, health, social protection, having a decent labour market institution, decent living wages for workers.
“So we are here to march to ECOWAS headquarters to submit this report for onward forwarding to various states, urging them to be committed to reducing inequality so that we can have better countries in our region.” He said
He said further, “A study that was conducted by Oxfam on inequality index in some countries in west Africa. This study looked at how countries are committed to reducing the inequality gap. When we talk about inequality gap, we mean the gap between the rich and poor. The study show that the gap between the rich and poor is getting wider by the day.
“And the statistics shows that 1% of the richer persons in these countries own more than the other 99%, and this has gotten to a point of crisis. The inequality crises in West Africa is alarming. And that is why the pockets of crises we experience in these countries are on the increase, and evidence that the down trodden have started to react to the unfair distribution of common wealth.
The delegation stressed that in order to still meet revenue targets for development, the government opts for aggressive taxation of the informal sector. This sometimes leads to imposing differentiated taxes according to needs. As a result, SMEs and workers in the informal sector face multiple taxations. This unfortunately puts a big burden on the people who are least able to pay.
ON GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON EDUCATION AS % OF TOTAL BUDGET
Analysis of national budgets between 2011 and 2017 shows that education expenditure is an average of 8.7% of total budget. This is far below the 10-25% benchmark set by UNESCO for developing countries. Comparative analysis at the continental level shows that Nigeria ranks among the lowest countries in terms of spending on education as percentage of GDP.
Available data shows that the country trailed at 3.06% far behind Lesotho with 11.36 %, Botswana with 9.63%, Zimbabwe with 8.43%, Senegal with 7.4%, Niger with 6.71% and Ghana with 6.18% to mention just a few.
GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON HEALTH AS % OF TOTAL BUDGET
In spite of the recommendation of National Health financing policy that mandated all tiers of government to allocate at least 15% of their budgets to healthcare, Nigeria is spending quite less than that prescription. According to BudgIT, a civic organization aiming to simplify budget and public data, Nigeria spent 4.13% of its total budget on health in 2016 .
This is not only very little compared to the recommended amount, but it is also very low compared to other African countries. A study on a cross country review of total health expenditure as a percentage of GDP for 2014 shows that Nigeria expenditure on health for that year stood at 3.67%. The country ranks among the lowest in Africa at a distant 38th position out of 47 African countries, far behind Sierra Leone with 11.0 %, Liberia with 10.04%, South Africa with 8.8%, and Mali with 6.86% to mention just a few.
GOVERNMENT SPENDING ON AGRICULTURE AS % OF TOTAL BUDGET
In Nigeria, as in most developing countries the poorest segment of the population gets its livelihood from agriculture, therefore, government interventions in this sector is a powerful instrument to address social inequality and poverty through strategic interventions that redistributes the common-wealth.
It therefore makes economic sense that the Nigerian government should spend more percentage of its tax revenue annually to redistribute public values in favour of the poorest through focused public policy interventions to address poverty in its agrarian population.
Country members of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) initiative on agriculture (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme – CAADP), including Nigeria, pledged to allocate at least 10% of their national budgets to the agricultural sector in an effort to boost the growth of the sector by at least 6% annually.
The Africa-wide Annual Trends and Outlook reports how countries are performing against the Maputo Declaration benchmark of 10%. The discovery was that compared to many African countries, Nigeria’s government expenditure in agriculture as a percentage of total government expenditure and in proportion to agricultural GDP is very small.
We call on ECOWA to pressure national governments at all levels to prioritize these sectors towards inclusive fiscal regime, transparency and accountable public private sector processes, especially as it relates to curbing inequality in our system.