I had used the term “mass poverty” in a recently published article in The Guardian (Nigeria: The absence of Common Good 21/5/07).
A popular online dictionary defined mass in the noun sense as a large body of persons in a compact group. The same dictionary defined mass further as the great body of the people as contrasted with the elite. It is from mass that the commonly used plural form “masses” was obtained. Poverty describes the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. The Merriam Webster dictionary informs that poverty may cover a range from extreme want of necessities to the absence of material comforts.
These introductory definitions reveal that mass poverty without doubt is prevalent in Nigeria. Simply, mass poverty is the poverty that affects the masses of a population who have extreme want of necessities. Mass poverty in Nigeria epitomizes this definition plus the aspect that expatiate on the almost complete absence of material comforts. In general, mass poverty is an expression with broad implications that goes beyond the limitations of the amount of money or material possessions that the people have.
A quick trip round Nigeria like the one that changed Pat Utomi’s life and views on the perception of Nigeria can reveal much. It is very annoying actually to see the reality of life in everyday Nigeria in contrast to the deceitful jingles and praise singings that the government and sycophants orchestrate. What we see and what we get as Nigerians is not what we deserve. We deserve a better life.
Poverty in Nigeria has many indices. This discussion on poverty may actually have been overflogged yet it is still been addressed and treated locally and internationally. Nigeria is a country with over 140 million people therefore the dimension of mass poverty in Nigeria is both dreadful and shocking. Many citizens of Nigeria cannot afford to live a decent life. Several millions of Nigerians do not have the usual or socially acceptable amount of money or materials possessions. Only a few people are comfortable.
The situation is made worse because of the absence of basic infrastructure of life. It doesn’t seem that successive governments in Nigeria are involved in providing houses for masses in Nigeria after the 1970s. Some states governments have been involved in building houses that are affordable by the few and more privileged persons, the elites. Beyond the textbook editions or verbal policy, what are the roles of the Ministry of Housing? The masses are invariably always out of the poverty alleviation or eradication question.
Commonly, drinking water does not flow in Nigerian homes. People have to buy water as many bore holes have run dry and the public taps have virtually disappeared. You begin to wonder what the functions of the Water Corporation are. Even cities like Lagos that is lineated by the Atlantic Ocean plus a number of internal lagoons cannot get water to its inhabitants. Yet, every election year the people receive promises from desperate politicians that they will be provided with water. Lies upon deceits you may say.
There is nothing more serious to express the physical mass poverty in Nigeria than the prevalence of hunger. Food substances are the cheapest things you can lay your hands on in some other countries. In Nigeria, common and staple foods are now very expensive and many people have devised different formula to survive daily, weekly or monthly. Stepping into a new year is seen as a miracle in Nigeria. What is the significance of the Agriculture Ministry when there are no clear policies on how to put food on the (dining) table of the masses? To what use are the vast fertile lands across the length and breadth of Nigeria?
Food, water and housing are 3 important parameters to measure the values of our lives and these things have become elusive to the masses in Nigerians. However, mass poverty in Nigeria has other ugly faces. For example, the purchasing power of the Naira is extremely weak. In some very bad situations, some people do not have money at all.
There has not been efficient or functional power supply even if you can conveniently pay for it. There may be no fuel to run the noisy and environmentally unfriendly generators. Nigerians have no known options to blackouts. It is a hard reality of life. It depicts cruelty. This deficiency of power supply has aided the mass poverty as thousands of people have been put out of job since many companies can no longer sustain their operations in the absence of it.
The situation is very demoralizing and still there are worse things that define the intensity and seriousness of mass poverty in Nigeria. The Nigerian masses and elites cannot travel on safe roads. The masses are more affected because there is constant chaos in the public transportation methods. The conditions are dehumanising to say the least.
Mass poverty in Nigeria is further displayed in the health schemes. There are no solid or clear cut health care policies to care for the population especially babies, pregnant women and old people who are more helpless than other groups of people. The cost of getting good treatment at the hospital is prohibitive and the access of modern health facilities is greatly hindered. I am not sure if there are handicap friendly facilities in public places in Nigeria. The poor and helpless masses are always at the receiving end of all the misgivings of the politicians and policy makers.
The overall consequences of poverty are diverse. Quickly, some of these things have spiral effects and these have obviously spun down to the upcoming generations. For example as a result of the range of extreme want of necessities and the absence of material comforts, the children of the masses no longer have access to quality education. They do not have adequate recreational facilities and their social orientations are falsely modified by various things around them and those that they are unduly exposed to. What is going on daily in Nigeria as a way of life shows very sorry states of things. It was not even that bad 10 years ago.
In place of studying hard for examinations or challenges, people are now stereotyped that they can always cut corners as typically exemplified by the widely condemned and shameful selections (there were no elections) of 2007. They are suffering from the poverty of good knowledge and many have completely lost hope in the system that begot them.
Mass poverty can also result from high rate of unemployment. There has been an upsurge in armed robbery in recent years. It is not uncommon to find school drop outs and unemployed graduates among the criminals who have become very merciless in their operations. In addition to this, it was a rude shock for me to discover recently that many primary school and secondary students now have some form of allegiance to other persons in their localities or areas. I could not believe that secret cults are no longer secrets.
True stories have been told how some young people have been killed by what seemed like cults activities in broad day lights. I was told that some were shots dead in unsuccessful robbery operations at other places. These stories are told nowadays like “it’s one of those things”. Things have really gone from bad to worse. Many years ago in Nigeria, the emphasis was on academic excellence and sporting activities at leisure. Indeed, things have changed and very worryingly too. Could all these be due to the spiral effect of poverty in action? What role does poverty play in other neglected aspects of our lives?
I know that a few people consider my stance very hard and extreme but they are mistaken. As a matter of fact, living abroad does not mean that one has escaped the poverty in Nigeria. Each time I find myself in Nigeria, I still find myself living the life I’ve always lived before I travelled out. I go to the same places that I know and the conditions are very bad. I go to places like Oshodi, Mile 2, Ojuelegba, Agboju, Okokomaiko and other areas like Mushin, what I see is poverty and suffering like I’ve always known. I see the struggle called Life and I live it too. My lucky friends and some other lucky people who work in Banks and oil companies no longer share my views. They have forgotten that Nigeria is big and that majority of the people are still living below the poverty line. They think that other people are lazy or destined to be poor maybe!
My personal experiences and observations showed that Mass Poverty accelerated by absolute rot of governance over the years may have taken its toll on virtually all aspects of the Nigerian life and the issue cannot be treated in one piece of writing or essay. It will be interesting to see how the issue of mass poverty will be tackle by a new and legitimate government in Nigeria.
Ordinary Nigerians (especially those who cannot treat their leg ache, head ache and stomach ache abroad) have gone through a lot of life excruciating and traumatic experiences especially in the last 8 years when all the hopes raised at the onset of the new found democracy were suddenly and completely dashed.
The Nigerian masses are obviously suffering from poverty inflicted on them mainly by very bad governance but they are not dimmed and they should not be taken as fools because the resiliency in the typical Nigerian is simply a focal indicator of hope for a brighter day and a better tomorrow.