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Posts Tagged ‘Inequality in Nigeria’

Trends1So some weeks ago, I got to trend on twitter. Calm down, before you start shouting, iz a lie, let me clarify. To be very sincere, it was not me as in me that hit the trends map, it was, a random tweet of mine that made it to the top of Nigeria’s hyperactive tweetosphere. The object of my stardom, yes stardom, stop beefing, was a line dropped carelessly by a taxi driver who I had struck a conversation with. He just said it like that as he was giving me gist on how someone he helped one time was now doing him anyhow now that he had been met with some hardship. I suspected the whole gist was to make me add something extra to our agreed fare but given the kind of ear that I have, I knew once I heard it, that it was packed. So I tweeted it sharply. Before we got to the airport, it was already being retweeted like the wisest words since God said “let us make man a helpmate.”

So what did he say? “This world na standing fan. If e blow you small. E go blow another person small.

The reaction to the tweet was just spontaneous, and the engagement, organic. Okay that’s me trying to sound like all these social media consultants. In simple English, a whole lot of people quite naturally connected to those words and there were all sorts of interesting comments which in themselves were equally packed in their commonsensical wisdom.

One of the comments that caught me was to the effect that in Nigeria unfortunately, the leaders have kuku pinned the head of the standing fan so that it is no longer rotating and is now only blowing them, their family and cronies. Kai! Flesh and blood could not have revealed this fact to the person who posted it. In a way and if you really think deeply about it, you will come to agree that, that is essentially a summary of the trouble with Nigeria.

The Nigerian standing fan is pinned to a spot. E dey blow only some people forever and ever.

And the rest of us are sweating in the heat. Or drenched in the rain… on the other side. Suffering and smiling like Fela sang. In fact, it doesn’t even seem these days like we are also entitled to the air from this fan. Somehow the gods of Nigeria have ensured the natural law of nature as epitomized by the rotating standing fan or as captured by other lines like “everything na turn by turn,” or if you like “chop I chop”,  does not find expression in these parts. They have confiscated the fan by themselves and for themselves.

So yes, we have our own adaptation of Animal farm’s “All fingers are equal but some fingers are more equal than others

Trends map

In no place on planet earth is inequality and marginalization of a section more evident than in Nigeria. Any place worse than us must be hell fire. Sincerely, I can’t imagine such a place exists. I saw a picture that brought tears to my eyes the other day on twitter. Somebody had placed side by side the picture of a man carrying the lifeless body of his son (killed by a stray bullet during the commando style invasion, sorry demolition of the Owerri main market) and that of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo hugging and smiling to the camera with his son who had apparently just accomplished an academic milestone at some foreign university.

And need I remind us that Universities are currently shut down, the public ones that is. The children of those who pinned the fan to themselves are enjoying summer in the abroad and uploading their Instagram pages with their farts and vomitus, sorry, that is hate speech. I meant, their filtered pictures and vain videos.

Staying on the topic of demolitions, it would appear those who have monopolized the enjoyment of the fan are often irked by the sight of the sweaty bodies of the rest of us on the other side that they want nothing more than to make us disappear. Think Otodo gbame. Think Okobaba. Think. Think again. Sigh. I am tired of thinking.

Let’s not even talk about the pay disparity in this country. Let’s not even go there. Do you know that in this country, some people are collecting salary and allowances as Senators (the retirement home for governors) and also collecting very fat pension which they fixed for themselves, from their states? Meanwhile some others are collapsing and dying on the queues waiting to get trickles after serving this country all through their most productive years, with absolutely nothing to show for it. But like I said, let’s not even go there. Somebody can just get angry for nothing over it.

But wait a minute. It is not only the politicians that have pinned the fan o. Your pastors too have perfected the act after all, it is only them that deserve cushioned sits in the front row in church. Have you seen your pastor’s summer vacation pictures? The Lord is really good. While he is cruising in his limousine and stepping out in those suits whose prize tags run like telephone numbers – all evidence of tithe payers money in action, you are jumping danfo and stitching your old trouser to make it to your umpteenth job interview in a month, harassing God for not locating you. Listen up, it is not that the grace of The Almighty has refused to locate you, it is just that the place you are standing, the standing fan is not reaching that side.

Oh did I just cross the red line? I better be on my way before these children of anger come for me. But seriously, we need to do something to get the Nigerian Standing fan rotating as it ought to, again. The first step is to observe that the fan is actually not rotating and to get angry about it. But it shouldn’t stop there. Anger alone is not productive. Anger must turn into a resolve. Something that translates into “our mumu don do.” And then action. Your voter’s card. Yes. That is the answer if we are ever going to then that fan to turn in our direction.

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stiglitzOne of the festival books of the just concluded Lagos Book and Arts Festival was Joseph E. Stiglitz’s The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do about Them.  I had gone to the Freedom Park, Lagos Island, venue of the Festival over the weekend with the intention of only attending the Cassava Republic Press organised session featuring Toni Kan reading from his new work, Carnivorous City. But then I sauntered by chance into another session where a discussion on Stiglitz’s book was ongoing, one which I found very interesting especially for its implications for Nigeria, and the emerging new world order following Brexit and the election of Trump in the United States.

The book, published earlier this year is a gathering of Stiglitz’s essays and articles in various popular channels, written over the past seven years and is summarised under three major themes. Stiglitz put the blame for the 2008 financial crisis squarely on President George W. Bush, bankers, deregulation and inequality. Secondly, he highlighted the very wide income divide in America, and thirdly, he opined that he, Stiglitz had answers for the world’s problems and the world would be well, if he could run it.

I was new to the book, but not to the author who was the former World Bank chief economist and an Economic advisor to former president Clinton. I was also familiar with one of his recent and very popular books The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future. From what I could gather immediately from the discussion and from my personal readings since, Stiglitz in this new book expanded on his thoughts around inequality. He goes into detail about ineffective and poorly thought out policies such as deregulation, tax cuts especially for the top 1 percent and the bailout of the rich after the economic crises which has left many Americans behind and is fast eroding anything that is left of the proverbial American dream.

bookPerhaps the result of the recent elections is a vindication of Stiglitz’s thoughts. The division in America which has largely been glossed over and ignored by the media was brought to the fore. This divide is not necessarily a race thing or conservative/liberal parallel, it is simply an Economic Divide, a big rift between the haves and the have nots with the latter staging some kind of revolt to make their voice heard and by extension advancing anti trade and anti-globalization ideologies which have varying consequence for the world as a whole.

The solution according to Stiglitz includes: increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy; offering more help to the children of the poor; investing in education, science, and infrastructure; helping out homeowners instead of banks; and, most importantly, doing more to restore the economy to full employment.

I cannot think of any other country that needs to take Stiglitz’s advice more than Nigeria, for nowhere else is inequality more glaring than around here. Stiglitz talks about a 1% in America, we have ours too but while theirs is made up of individuals and corporations who care about their image and go to great lengths to smoothen the narrative, ours is made up of persons (and corporations or maybe cults) who are happy to puke and fart on the remaining 99% with impunity. Indeed it is the goal of this group to continue by whatever means possible to advance the gulf between them and the rest of us and the easiest way of advancing such an agenda is to take away access to opportunities that could help us and our children climb out of where they would rather we remain.

For example, while in America the cost of education is expensive and puts a ceiling on the educational attainment of many; a way of keeping the great divide in place, here our own 1% have ensured education is simply nonexistent. A few days ago the Academic Staff Union of Universities served notice of a strike action which will commence on Wednesday 16 November, effectively taking life out of what is a comatose system. The bone of contention is a 2009 agreement which remains unimplemented. The implication is the advancement of the inequality with the dreams of the children of the 99%, deferred for longer.

This is just one example of many. We see this inequality in every facet of our national life. From access to health care, affordable housing, multiple taxation, absence of incentives for SMEs, to insecurity and the likes. Economic inequality is the bane of the Nigerian society and one we must begin to treat as the political and moral issue that it is.

The challenge however is that while America has scholars like Stiglitz, who are actively advancing thoughts and economic theories, constantly questioning their systems in order to refine it, persistently holding those in power accountable and keeping a robust conversation alive, here in Nigeria, the conversation hasn’t even started. There is a complete disconnect between the political leadership, the economic bigwigs, the knowledge base and the masses. Everything is simply ‘under alarm’ with no control in sight. Everyone is so preoccupied with keeping ‘Food on the table’ today, that we don’t bother to wonder if there will be any for us to eat tomorrow.

I must end by commending the Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA), organisers of the Lagos Book and Art Festival, for the hard work and commitment to promoting literature, arts and scholarship in Nigeria. In a country where good thing don’t last, it is uplifting to see that they have carried on with this laudable annual event for 18 years now and by the evidence of the just concluded festival, they do not seem to be losing any steam. Well done!

First published here on 16 Nov 2016

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