The lessons of human nakedness at birth are easily lost to the overestimation in worth and value of both a self-conceited person or over venerated personality. Even though death is meant to humble people, as symbolised in the scanty decoration of a dead Muslim, the adorning of the remains of non-Muslims, like I mentioned before, is analogous to the cosmetic decoration that is done anytime a political leader visits places in most developing countries. Niyi Osundare excoriates such unreasonableness in his play, The State Visit, where he lampoons authoritarianism, and stages a revolt against oppressive political leaders that are cahoots with multinationals and neoliberal agencies. Developing nations are still held down by economic woes that have left them as economic stooges to western economies, that rob the Peter of most African nations to pay their own over-fed Paul. At any rate, human systems are intricately engrossed in the use of material association to attain relevance, amidst possession of natural spaces for dispossession and oppression.
The concept of poverty has different shades, and it is as frightening as it is frustrating. In simple logic, poverty could be material, spiritual, emotional, psychological, the latter being the experience that is found in insanity, that has to do with belongingness to a strange world. Madness is a relative reality between the deranged and the reasonably mentally stable fellow. Poverty has been described as: the state of being poor; the deficiency of something needed; lacking in usually or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. It could also mean scarcity, dearth, inadequacies, insufficiency, etc. To this end, poverty is not just about material content, but it is about social pigeonholing and standard-setting, for the purpose of socio-economic stratification.
There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is rich in terms of natural and human resources, but suffering from the poverty of leadership that should harness the two types of richness to produce needed social-cultural cohesion, economic prosperity and political stability. Emergence of good leaders from the quality mass of human resources would not have been outlandish, when seen against the backdrop that the mouth would speak from the abundance of the heart, but the poor quality in leadership simply reinforces the fact of the Yoruba proverb that a tiger would give birth to a tiger, leveraging on the symbolic meanings in procreation. Riches could then be taken to be the opposite of poverty. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a rich poor nation!
Ola Rotimi, the diminutive framed man with a towering brain, does not mince words with the showcasing of the poverty of most inhabitants in the societies in Hopes of the Living Dead and If, … a Tragedy of the Ruled where various forms of poverty sap people’s hope, livelihood and basic amenities. The water-pipes are dry, stores are empty, and stomachs denied nutritious foods, as hopes could not chase death away from the living.
The impoverished world of satire created by African writers to reflect the material conditions in most postcolonial societies later fully unfolded in actual life, to suggest that the prophet in writers has predilection for doom, in a generation where the people have developed itching ears, and seeking to hear only things that would make them happy. Little wonder that their political leaders have mastered the art of lies, while the people continue to nurture deceits and untruthfulness. The proverb of the farmer that claimed to have planted one hundred yam seeds when he actually planted sixty, who will harvest sixty yams and forty lies at the end, is a good instrument for socialisation in this dispensation.
President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was right to have told members of his cabinet, and other top management staff of the civil service at the closing ceremony of a three-day cabinet retreat recently in Abuja that poverty is not a shameful thing, even though it is an unacceptable thing from which they should collaboratively help Nigerians to dig out of. It may be true that poverty could be found in the trajectories of these privileged Nigerians, it would, however, be very difficult to accept the fact of the matter with PBAT that poverty is not a shameful thing, even as it is evidently clear that sufferers are always ashamed of poverty. Poverty is not only relative but relational, as the attrition it does could also be time and space specific. The realities of poverty in a postmodern city of Nigeria would be different from what is obtainable in a Karoo of post-apartheid South Africa. Just like poverty, the possibility of a snake biting somebody inside water is lower than when outside it.
Contrary to the encouraging opinion of PBAT, who must be positive in his utterances, like that of a chief priest, it runs riot with the confessions of the former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan and the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who both acknowledged that they had no shoes, growing up. The ‘I had No Shoes’ cliché was central to the campaigns of Jonathan when he sought the seat of president in 2010/2011. Using his lowly beginning and eventual attainment of the number one position in Nigeria to portray his dream of the possibility of Nigerians making success in life, Jonathan told the crowd of supporters at the Eagle Square that, as a little boy from the rustic village of Otuoke, he had no shoes, no school bags, no car to take him to school, no electricity or generator, but yet defeated all his inhibitions, and sidetracked poverty to become Nigeria president.
Similarly, Pastor Adeboye has copiously used his challenging background and later privileging placement, as the General Overseer of RCCG, in his homilies to illustrate how one could be taken by God from grass to grace, and from the dunghill to dining with princes and princesses. Baba Adeboye would tell his congregation that he did not wear a shoe for the first eighteen years of his life, and that his father was so poor that the poorest of the poor in his Ife-Wara village called his father poor. He would also indicate that his family resoundingly celebrated the purchase of an umbrella by his father. Even though Pastor Adeboye would always modestly remark that he is not rich yet, it is common knowledge that he is wealthy in every human indices, having caused the church under his leadership to thrive, and expanded in human worth and material resources. If PBAT asked Pastor Adeboye and Goodluck Jonathan what their experiences with poverty were, they would not only tell him that poverty is a disease, but that it is heavily shameful.
The NBS-delineated 133 million multidimensionally poor Nigerians have had new members since the removal of fuel subsidy, with the various palliatives put in place not yet robust enough to arrest their drifts into the poverty basket. In line with the implications of deprivation that poverty entails, majority of Nigerians are presently confronted with inadequate money to; buy foods, basically, for life and not robustness; pay school fees, mostly in privately-owned ones that have since increased their fees, to adjust to economic realities; settle medical bills in hospitals, particularly in privately-run outlets with bogus charges and public ones that have lost their personnel in droves to the Japa attractive syndrome; support aged parents and dependants who laboured in the past for an elusive and unreliable future; succour vulnerable associates that have lost their breadwinners to either temporary or terminal diseases; fix community roads that deplored without any attention from government; pay taxes to bandits and kidnappers, so that they could enjoy whatever is left of their peace.
People who toil hard to make ends meet, academics who have since ventured into other legitimate ventures, artisans and small scale business entrepreneurs whose investments have been debilitated by recession and a weak naira, graduates that chose to remain moral agents when others are into internet scam and money rituals are very ashamed of their poverty within a space dominated by affluent politicians and young people with questionable wealth. Given the stultifying Nigeria economic environment that makes it difficult for Nigerians to dig out of poverty, as quipped by PBAT, a sizeable number of Nigerian youths, as well as some men and women, found escape in transnational movements, funded with the proceeds of their properties and investments they liquidated.
Digging out of poverty might be very easy for Jonathan, Adeboye, Tinubu and others; it is very difficult for a whole lot of other Nigerians that are making unsuccessful efforts to break away from it, similar to the frustrations one faces taking strides in the miry-clay. True to the commitment of PBAT, members of his cabinet must act fast to pull as many Nigerians as possible out of poverty, as they are not only ashamed but tired of their conditions. Nigerians that are exploring the agricultural value chain to stimulate the economy should be supported with funds and beneficial off-taking to remain in, and expand their, productivity, while the business environment is made more friendly for small, medium and large scale investments to thrive.