The name Mohammed Bouazizi might not necessarily ring a bell, like an innocuous Arab name. Oh, yes! It doesn’t share the same phenomenal even poetic ring of the cataclysmic chain of events that toppled governments from the Northern plains of Africa to the picturesque minarets of the Middle East. Bouzizi is the man who set himself on fire when his fruit cart was confiscated an event which heralded the Arab Spring. So also in Gwarimpa a man has re-enacted Bouzizi’s exit, albeit without the resounding echoes of revolution that the latter brought.
Amongst the countless sombre points of this death aside the irreplaceable loss to Mrs. Uchechukwu Onigbo and seven children, the alleged suicide of Fred Onigbo due to “harsh economy” is the nonchalance, the business continues body language of Abuja residents and Nigerians at large, in this isolated incident of self immolation are the signs that things are indeed very bad.
Citizen Onigbo lived in one of those shanties that have become ubiquitous on the periphery of Abuja, inhabited by the lower rungs of Nigeria’s capital that serviced the city but cannot afford to stay in its hallowed boy’s quarters. It is ironic that colonial housing designed such for lowly man servants but those who service the capital dare not dream of paying for such housing.
Citizen Onigbo’s house today still holds his family, comprising his seven kids and beloved wife Uchechukwu. As at the time Fred Onigbo set himself on fire, his mother’s body was still at mortuary awaiting burial.
In spite of Nigeria’s economic growth, poverty rates have remained high in Nigeria, particularly in rural areas. These rates declined between 2003-2004 and 2009- 2010, although not nearly as fast as would be expected from the pace of economic growth in the country, says the World Bank in its ‘Nigeria Economic Report’ of May, 2013. So also job creation in Nigeria has been inadequate to keep pace with the expanding working age population. The official unemployment rate has steadily increased from 12% of the working age population in 2006 to 24% in 2011. Preliminary indications are that this upward trend continued in 2012.
“While the officially reported growth rates of GDP well exceed population growth in the country, the pace of poverty reduction does not, this implies that the number of poor Nigerians living below the poverty line has grown measurably,” the report stated.
Nigerians are quick to trace the trajectory of poverty in Nigeria; with time on our hands we trace it to the early days of the Udoji award, the metaphor of our profligacy. When in the last quarter of 1974, following the 1973 Arab-Isreali war the price of oil had galloped suddenly from $12 to $48 a barrel -this also coincided with an ongoing reform ordered by the then head of state Gen. Yakubu Gowon who implemented part of the recommendation of the Jerome Oputa Udoji panel on public service organisation, management and remuneration. This singular policy led to a massive inflation in the economy as public servants at then had their emoluments backdated several months, the spending spree was unimaginable as everyone went out to buy anything money could buy. Twelve years later there was the structural adjustment program SAP, which also features prominently in the blame game.
These days the government is trying to reduce poverty by initiatives like YouWin, one of the most pragmatic ventures initiated by the government to provide jobs, no doubt it has continued to modestly change the facets of small businesses around the country, young people are becoming more daring and responsible in beginning businesses. Most importantly they are realising that legitimate government jobs once regarded as the most secured jobs can no longer guarantee them their dream lives as such they need to take their destiny into their own hands. Youwin has given them the knife, the butter and the bread. However, 26,000 thousand youths as pointed out by President Jonathan as the beneficiaries of the scheme are not enough in a country where unemployment is rife and hope is fast fading, surely the project needs to be radically expanded.
Beyond initiatives like NAPEP, NDE, YOUWIN, SURE-P, we must as a country come up with practical strategies to bring millions of people out of poverty. We must localise the visions of Lula da Silva the shoe shine boy who became the president of Brazil and lifted his country out of poverty. During Lula’s tenure Brazil became the world’s eighth largest economy and 20 million people were lifted out of poverty.
So also in China according to figures released by the State Council Leading Group Office for Poverty Alleviation and Development, the number of people in China living under the state poverty line of 2,300 yuan (374 U.S. dollars) per capita a year has been lowered from 166 million people at the end of 2010 to 98.99 million people now.”China has entered a critical phase of poverty reduction as its urbanization rate had reached 52.6 percent by 2012 amid furthering economic restructuring,” said Chinese vice Premier Wang Yang
In the end there is a running thread in the countries that have effectively battled poverty, a sense of purpose in reducing the suffering of multitudes, a deep commitment to fight corruption and waste, viable economic policies and political stability, an affirmative action to impart specialised skills and a monomaniac drive to improve and develop critical infrastructure. These indeed are some of the ingredients if we must brew the broth to cure this acute poverty that bedevils our land.
Alkasim Abdulkadir is a multi-media journalist, he has worked as a Producer for BBC Media Action and as a news contributor for CNN, Aljazeera, France 24 and Guardian UK. He is Contributing Editor at The Trent.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.