The combined wealth of five richest people in Nigeria, estimated at $29.9 billion, could end extreme poverty in the country and stop about five million citizens living in the North-east from going through looming scorching hunger, a new report published by Oxfam Nigeria has said.
The report titled, ‘Inequality in Nigeria,’ was presented to the media Wednesday in Abuja. It exposed the large and growing gap between the rich and the poor in the country, revealing how the benefits of economic growth have been captured by a small wealthy elite at the expense of ordinary Nigerians.
According to the report, economic inequality has remained a key factor behind the terrorism-inspired conflict that has led to the severe food crisis in Nigeria’s North-eastern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa.
It quoted the United Nations to have estimated that up to five million people in the region will suffer from severe food shortages this year.
Also, it referenced the Forbes list of the five richest Nigerians who include Aliko Dangote, with a net worth of $14.4 billion; Mike Adenuga – $9.9 billion; Femi Otedola – $1.85 billion; Folorunsho Alakija – $1.55 billion; and Abdul Samad Rabiu – $1.1 billion.
This list, however, is outdated, as one of the persons named by the report has fallen off the current Africa Forbes Rich List.
“Nigeria’s richest man earns 8,000 times more in one day than a poor Nigerian will spend on basic needs in a year. More than 112 million people are living in poverty in Nigeria, yet the country’s richest man would have to spend $1 million a day for 42 years to exhaust his fortune,” said the Oxfam report.
It added: “Despite a rapidly growing economy, Nigeria is one of the few countries where the number of people living in poverty increased from 69 million in 2004 to 112 million in 2010 – a rise of 69 per cent.”
According to it, the number of millionaires increased by 44 per cent during the same period.
The report also highlighted significant levels of inequality between states in the country, adding that 69 per cent of people now live below the poverty line in North-eastern states where the food crisis is severe, while 49 per cent live in the South-west.
It also showed that women, who according to it, represent 79 per cent of Nigeria’s rural labour force, are least able to capture the benefits of economic growth because they tend to be employed in low-skilled, low-paid informal jobs.
“Women are also less likely to have had a decent education; for example, over three quarters of the poorest women in Nigeria have never been to school,” added the report.
The report further explained that poor people in the country are unable to benefit from Nigeria’s wealth because of high levels of corruption and the excessive influence that big businesses and a wealthy elite have over government policy making.
“For example, public office holders stole an estimated $20 trillion from the treasury between 1960 and 2005. And while multinational companies receive tax incentives worth an estimated $2.9 billion a year – three times more than Nigeria’s entire health budget.
“Despite being Africa’s biggest economy, the share of the national budget allocated to education, health and social protection is one of the lowest in the region.
“In 2012, Nigeria spent just 6.5 per cent of its national budget on education and just 3.5 per cent on health. By comparison, Ghana spent 18.5 per cent and 12.8 per cent respectively in 2015,” the report further explained.
Speaking on this, the coordinator of Good Governance Programme for Oxfam in Nigeria, Celestine Odo, expressed concern that the richest Nigerian had amassed more money than he can ever hope to spend in a country where five million people will struggle to feed themselves in 2017.
Odo noted: “Extreme inequality is exacerbating poverty, undermining the economy, and fermenting social unrest. Nigerian leaders must be more determined in tackling this terrible problem.”
He further said that the government could end such poverty by building a new political and economic system that works for everyone and not just a fortunate few.
“The government can make a start by tackling corruption, ensuring big business and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of taxes, investing in vital public services, and protecting the rights of women,” said Odo.
But in its reaction to the report, the federal government refused to address the issues raised in it and instead faulted its structure.
Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, who was represented by Mr. Eloho Samuel, a Director in the International Co-operation Department of the ministry at the meeting, said the report failed to define the key concepts it used.
“I was worried by the language, tone and style of the report and this made me to ask, what was on the mind of the authors when the report was being written.
“The methodology used in the report also raises some questions: is it for empirical or theoretical purpose? Oxfam needs to tell us in the report what it intends to achieve, what data was gathered, where it was gathered, the sample size and the uses of the data,” said Ahmed.
She further stated: “When I looked at the report, I was worried about certain concepts, such as ‘who are the elites?’
“There was no definition of terms, such as elites and poverty. More worrisome is if the report falls into the hands of aggrieved individuals, how would they react?”