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Poverty as the rich’s weapon for cornering power

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povertyMEMBERS of the ruling class have been going about the preparation for 2019 elections as if the views and feelings of the populace do not count for anything. They conduct and comport themselves as though the final decision on what happens at the polls in 2019 lies with them and not the people. Their talk and walk suggest that whatever they resolve among themselves about the election is a cinch.

This is not a slip; it is a deliberate act because politicians believe that the populace is too weak to be a threat to their ambition. They are of the opinion that irrespective of their gross misdemeanours, blatant disregard for the electorate and flagrant waste of the nation’s resources, the masses are so poor that they will dance to the tune of the politicians. Therefore, as far as they are concerned, it is what they want that will happen, not the people’s wish.

It is for this reason that politicians, in and out of government, are not bothered about reducing the poverty indices in the country. Despite the trillions of naira sunk into the poverty alleviation programmes of the various governments at all levels; Better Life for Rural Women, DIFFRI, National Poverty Eradication Programme, YouWin, National Social Investment Programme etc, the number of the poor in the country has consistently been on the rise. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, at independence in 1960, about 15 per cent of the population was poor. This rose to 28 per cent in 1980. By 1985, it had risen to 46 per cent, dropping to 43 per cent in 1992. However, by 1996 poverty in the country had gone up to 66 per cent before climbing further to the current rate of about 70 per cent.

According to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President on National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), Mrs Maryam Uwais, over 80million Nigerians are living in poverty. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also said on March 1, 2018, that more Nigerians are sliding below the poverty line. The bomb came recently from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, which stated that apart from the number of those living in extreme poverty rising to 87 million, six Nigerians slide into extreme poverty every minute.But rather than try to ameliorate the grinding effect of poverty on the people, the political class is not bothered; its concern is the 2019 election as if the poor have little or nothing to do with the election.

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The belief of the nation’s ruling class about the poor is in tandem with the findings of a research conducted by a team of researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick. According to the findings, poverty reduces the cognitive capacity of the poor because poverty-related concerns consume mental resources, leaving less for other tasks. The study concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty.

The poor are so consumed by their poverty that they cannot think about any great idea; they are so caged by their deprivation and destitution that their major concern is how to survive the day, they have little considerations for how to take decisions that will effect a positive change in their lives. This explains why the poor have a poor estimation of their self worth and have no consideration for personal dignity. Their concern is survival, not any exotic ideal. Their focus is the moment, not the future.

So, the strategy of the powerful is to keep the people so poor, bruised and incapacitated that not only will they be unable to think right and take steps that would improve their lot, but they will also be eternally grateful to the rulers for the crumbs that fall from their tables. The elite know that the longer they perpetrate poverty among the people, the better their chances of perpetuating themselves in power.

Therefore, in Nigeria, the elite prefer to give the poor crutches to lean on rather than wings to fly with. They prefer keeping the poor eternally dependent on them to liberating them from their poverty. Rather than give the poor enough to last a month, they give them enough to survive the day so that they will be back the following morning on their knees begging for more. The rich fancy having the poor line up in front of their houses daily for pittance rather than to give a few of them money to embark on a business that would make them become independent.

This is why Nigerian politicians hardly set up employment-generating businesses. Less than 10 per cent of the nation’s wealthy politicians have a company employing up to 10 persons. They invest in treasury bills and the stock market with the intent of making money without any need for value creation. Again, this is deliberate because they know that when a person is gainfully employed and earns decent and honest wages, his perception of himself and his environment would change. He can afford to ask questions and challenge the status quo. He can demand for an improvement in his welfare. But this will not serve the purpose of the Nigerian politician who prefers to keep the poor mum so that he can continue to ride roughshod over them.

But will this continue in perpetuity? The political class believes so. But that is wrong because nothing lasts forever. Members of the ruling class should stop deluding themselves that the trend will never change. Those who are tempted to believe there will be no end to the injustice meted to the poor should remember the Occupy Wall Street poster sign: One day, the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich.

The post Poverty as the rich’s weapon for cornering power appeared first on Tribune.

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