Hon. Jimoh Wahab is the Deputy Majority Leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly. He represents Apapa Constituency 2. He is concerned about the level of poverty in Nigeria, which has gained world attention. his worry is that despite the situation there is nothing much concerned citizens can do to remedy the situation. He recently spoke with some journalists about how he thinks Nigeria can better address the situation. PATRICK OKOHUE was there.
********** There is a recent Oxfam assessment report which puts Nigeria and India low on the rungs of the ladder on inequality, citing the imbalance spotted in our national wealth distribution networks, this is despite that Nigeria have the richest man and woman in Africa, how best can you help us understand this paradox, why we still have the highest number of extremely poor?
Well, it is very difficult to understand how imperialism works, you claimed that somebody said somebody is the richest man in Africa, citing Dangote and Alakija, richness is measured by the people that you have impacted positively and I think that is the argument of labour that if you are 200 million and there is no human to turn it over, if you keep it somewhere in the bush, it would not increase, it needs the contribution of labour, increase the volume of that wealth, so if there are some persons that have claimed that some people are rich, I don’t know the yardstick of their measurement. In human living index richness is measured by the totality of the people within a confined area, but because we don’t know how imperialism works we take it for granted, though I may not agree with the analysis and the method of evaluation, but the point is that imperialism came in to cripple our people, deliberately few people will be empowered and disempower, some others in the majority, that is the evil of capitalism and a lot of people have been shying away from this because I may also be thinking that one of these days I might be as rich as Dangote, so that concept, that myth that we do think of that maybe it could be my turn next, but the fundamentals of the distribution and redistribution of wealth is not being addressed and the moment you don’t address it we will be making a lot of mistake.
That is what imperialist want, they just need few people around you that they can negotiate and relate with to the extent that we don’t know the volume and quantity of oil that is being taken from our shores, it’s only what they declared and any government that is not interested in knowing the quantities and volumes of crude oil that is being taken from our shore that may not be interested in development of the people.
That is the fundamentals that is affecting us, I am not expecting the 200million Nigerians to be as rich as Dangote, but a minimum condition for us to live, so the problem is highly protracted, it is far away from what we are seeing at the surface, but we must address the fundamental issues, there is nowhere in Nigeria that the UNESCO standard are met in the nation’s budget for education, now we have not met half of it and that is what UNESCO and other teaching unions are shouting and making noise about, that we should even raise the bar to bolster our educational system.
You won’t be surprised that we are churning out graduates that cannot even demonstrate that they are university graduates, there are so many we are producing in the institutions that cannot even fit into the system, any qualified engineer now will be looking for a white collar job in the bank.
***********So with this level of inequality starring us in the face and equally fueling insecurity, don’t you think it is time for us to begin to rethink our economic structure, like what obtains in those Scandinavian countries, it is not possible for you to be so rich while ratio of those poor keeps increasing, they will use tax to create a balance and provide basic amenities of live for the poor?
In the Scandinavian countries you highlighted like Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark in the entire Scandinavian axis what they do is to moderate their economy by redistributing wealth, by introducing neo-welfarist programmes that the tax being paid by the rich in conjunction with government funds augment for the needs of the poor, so there won’t be absolute poor and I think they relied on the principle which Aristotle have postulated in his book -The Politics, virtue lies between two extremes; the extreme of undue luxury and the extreme of self torture.
What Aristotle is pointing at is that the quality of life, the quality and good of human being that you want to see lies between the two extremes cited, the highest rich and the poor of the poor at the base. The virtue that man should be respected is to be retained. That is what the Scandinavians have been maintaining, it is not only the Scandinavians, if you go through the Balkan’s region now the Eastern Europe though they are not as rich as the Scandinavians but they also demonstrate a welfarist agenda, depending on the quantity and the volume of money in their possession, it is just the way Cuba is doing it, Cuba is not fantastically rich, but you can’t be poor, your needs will be met. In fact Cuba has demonstrated it, virtually everybody in Cuba now is educated, how did they come about it? Over 60 per cent of Nigerians are still illiterates yes, even in government schools, people don’t even have access to basic educational needs in the 21st century, you feel like committing suicide when you see things that are happening around us and you can do nothing to help the situation, so these are the predicament Africa continent has. Every 25 minutes Malaria still kills an average Africans on the continent.
**********In that report it is said that Nigeria and India is not actually making effort to reduce these inequalities?
There is poverty in India too, when you get to their international airport you see this local dogs moving about as if you are in Ajegunle, their population is huge, they are almost one third of the world.
**********A set of rich representatives representing the poor is seen by many as a misnomer, what is your view?
You see I said the problem is protracted and I won’t tell you lies, I will tell you this from my background and I understand the import of what you are saying, but do you know you get the form, the endorsement from people, the campaigns, logistics, the request of people if you are not financially buoyant you can’t withstand it, so how do you get money to run for an election? If you demonstrate it there are other parties you can go to and tell them that you are going to do social amenities and more, average Nigerians would not listen to you. Let me cite the example of Nyerere, Nyerere went back to the house he was before he became the President of Tanzania, so it is not by accident when he died in 1999,virtually all the serving Presidents in the world were present at his burial. They want to see where Nyerere would be buried, that is the virtue of human being, but a lot of people don’t believe in that and it is not that they don’t believe, they see it as a long walk to freedom, a long walk to success, that is what they see, they don’t see virtue of seeing somebody like Nyerere that didn’t accumulate anything, they can be abusing you they will even instigate your children against you, they will become your enemies, these are the predicaments which we are now, it is more than ordinary periphery, saying that the poor will represent the poor, how will he go about campaign? You are going and they expect you to dole out some money and other items and you want to tell them that you are the Messiah that they expecting, they won’t listen to you, yes because to a hungry man food is God.
You can’t preach the gospel to somebody that is hungry. Jesus Christ demonstrated it when he was preaching to the disciples, one of them told him we are hungry he provided them food first before he started his preaching, that is why they could listen to him, so what do you want to tell Nigerians who are hungry, we must not pretend.
***********There is the belief in some quarters that the N30,000 minimum wage which is still in contention and the jumbo pay earned by lawmakers, may be the kind of issues that is widening the gap of inequalities?
You can look at it from that angle, but as a representative you can’t go into your community without being loaded with finances and everyday it is request upon request and if you don’t do it you are seen as a bad person, they have alternative to go to and you should thread with caution since you are in it you should be able to maneuver and find your way around it, because even those who are criticising you while in office they are also eying your position, they will criticise and all that but the moment they have opportunity they put in, the minimum wage is what people should live with, I am an Apostle of the need for people to live well, whether jumbo pay or not but they also consider when you leave office you are not going to apply to any company for employment, you survive within what you could get while in office all in pursuit of survival and consider the fact that they are also human beings.
************Looking at the 2020 budget, a whopping sum of N125bn is appropriated for the National Assembly and N45bn for education, how do we bridge the gap?
The margin will be too much, I don’t know what is in the omnibus, so I can’t really criticise that, I don’t know because when you consider the fact that the state universities, colleges of education are not captured, but they generate money from the university and it is not taking from them.
I am not expecting the 200million Nigerians to be as rich as Dangote, but a minimum condition for us to live, so the problem is highly protracted, it is far away from what we are seeing at the surface, but we must address the fundamental issues, there is nowhere in Nigeria that the UNESCO standard are met in the nation’s budget for education