The Anger of the Poor

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No more free money”. Some of us deployed this cliché with excitement when Buhari won the Presidential election in 2015. It has since become a mantra for Buhari’s most ardent followers who use it derisively to signpost their anger and disdain of the elite, as the economy bites harder. To his supporters, President Buhari can do no wrong and bears no blame for the tottering economy as long as he says he’s fighting corruption. In the last two years, the country has become one huge slaughter slab. Death by the dozens no longer moves anyone. It feels like there is a conspiracy to democratize poverty with the rising insecurity across the length and breadth of Nigeria, dwindling incomes and escalating living costs due to lack of basic infrastructure. From the frustrations of Nigerians, is an emerging powerful, uniting common factor – the anger of the poor. All over the world of politics, there is an emerging understanding, perhaps I dare float it as a theory; The Rule Of The Tormented. We see it in Buhari’s cult following. It is also the driving factor in Trump America. It is evident in Italy, in France and we saw it in as the unseen hand in Brexit. The tormented are angry, they have the numbers and they are bent on tormenting their tormentors.

The talakawas of the North and many Buhari voters elsewhere took an informed position and cemented their position long ago. They understand politics more than they are given credit for. Their current psychology is derived from years of suffering and neglect. The economy is bad right? Has the economy been good to the Nigerian poor before Buhari? What was the tangible benefit to the poor when the economy was good? The poor have always been poor in this land. The poor, the Buhari voter, is deprived, overlooked and even despised. He sees Buhari as the tormentor of his tormentors. He knows his tormentors are suffering mass squeeze. He is prostrate but he has always been. He has nothing to fear again because he has been robbed of his dignity long ago. He is helpless, but he has one wish, let my tormentors have and enjoy their own torment.

Like we have seen in many places around the world, the working poor vote proportionally more than the middle and the upper middle class. In like manner, voter turnout as we have seen in the last election, is generally higher in rural areas than in cities. The reasons are not far fetched; it is because the poor have higher expectations of the state. Who are the state? The elite! The Nigerian elite are the world’s most insensitive and greedy. Ostensibly, they deserve whatever is thrown at them at this time. For long, most of them became rich due to patronage and unearned income. They are used to revelling in ill-gotten wealth and abundance with a sense of freedom and independence from deprivation without a care for the working poor. To them, greed is good because it is beneficial. They even try their best possible to justify it and see it as morally defensible because they give handouts to those who crawl to them.

How long can President Buhari hold his coalition of the tormented? Rising insecurity and hunger is a bad mix. Throughout the land, the unease cannot be missed and the President’s silence in the face of killings and kidnappings is deafening. The right to vote a candidate of our choice imply some degree of equality irrespective of our economic position. Democracy ensures the poor has the right to be heard but the right to choose does not necessarily translate into a government’s commitment to equality, fairness and justice. The President just approved an increase in the minimum wage, increase in minimum wage is an inadequate bandaid for this festering wound. At this tough time, poverty alleviation is not just an economic imperative. It is a political necessity for the All Progressives Congress (APC). President Buhari needs a more robust approach than the minimum wage. The country needs to review the outrageous salaries and allowances of legislators, ensure fair play through market regulation and improve the tax base by implementing a progressive tax policy.

Resentment is growing in Nigeria because Nigerians know they are not equal before the market nor the law. Every day, they are confronted with unequal opportunities and the perpetuation of inequality through the subordination of opportunities to social and political institutions. Increasingly, inequality of opportunity is influenced by political, social, and cultural institutions like ethnicity, gender, and religion. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, parents are better off than their offsprings. Nigeria’s secularism is under threat, education quota has become a way to promote mediocrity and the President himself has used public sector employment to create an incestuous architecture of indolence.

In the long run, political opportunism will not save Buhari from the harsh judgement of history. On his watch, every economic indicator on growth and inequality is getting worse and there strong indications that the authority of the government as a promoter of economic growth and income redistribution is facing further erosion. The rentier mentality developed over years of addiction to crude oil has killed the creative ability to think out and stick to sustainable economic solutions to support an exploding population. It cannot continue.

The ingredients of violent agitation are threatening to come together. The populist posture will soon wear out. The government must take active steps to guarantee legal right to basic needs like food, health and education. Failure to act will threaten Nigeria’s corporate existence.

Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú a farmer, youth advocate and political analyst writes this weekly column, “Bamidele Upfront” for PREMIUM TIMES.

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