Rising poverty index;agriculture the only panacea – Hon. Jimoh Wahab

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Hon. Jimoh Wahab is the Deputy Majority Leader of the Lagos State House of Assembly,who represents Apapa Constituency 2 reacting to Oxfam’s report on how low Nigeria has gone in handling the wide inequality amidst the haves and have-nots and 40million unemployed youths ,posited that only deliberate venture into agriculture can safe the day,he is however disturbed that the situation seem intractable due imperialists infiltration in time past. He also proffers panacea on the issue while chatting with Olanrewaju  Adesanya in his Lagos Assembly Complex office. Excerpt:

A recent Oxfam assessment report puts Nigeria and India low on the rungs of the ladder on inequality between the rich and the poor,citing the imbalance spotted in our national wealth distribution networks, this is despite the fact 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 have 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 to 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 you disempowered 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,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 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.

What do you think this portends for the country if these level of inequality continues unchecked?

We have been seeing it, insecurity, the fear of what to eat and drink is now the beginning of wisdom, nobody is taking care of others, might is right, we are going back to Hobbesian theory of state where man’s life is short and brutish, the survival of the fittest and that is what trickles in corruption, there is deep corruption everywhere in the world anyway, even when Adams Smith was writing his book and enquiring into the nature of economies of nation 1776,the year America got independence, one of the reasons he itemized in the preface of that book was the deep corruption in the British society, but they could move away from that gradually, I am not saying in totality they have wiped away corruption but at least they have the academicians, the intelligentsia who are thinking for the society and they’ve identified the problems. We have interpreted our problems here in Nigeria in so many ways, what is left is to tackle it, but we have not really done anything about it, including the citizens, it is not by accident. When Francis Fanon said everybody must be compromised for the struggle of the common good, there is no sitting on the fence, no innocent, every onlooker is either a coward or a traitor. So we must address the problems, Awolowo (Obafemi Awolowo) also said similar thing that problems are like plants, you need to look at the root, because if you don’t tackle the root, it is going to grow another leaf, so we must address the fundamentals, I should be able to see you as my brother, I should be able to see you that what you need is three naira and if I have ten naira, if I can’t spare the entire seven naira I should be able to spare him three naira as the minimum need that he requires, instead of that I will continue accumulating for the fear of tomorrow.

I see recently the pictures of retirees in US or UK, it was tagged Europe and Nigerian retirees, they were shown queuing to take their benefits, whereas retirees from Europe were seen caressing with other retirees enjoying themselves, we say that is how life should be, if you consider that after your service, you will be queuing to get your benefit, eventually you will die on the queue. With this, you will be thinking of how to loot while in office, that is because of the fear of what to eat and drink, so it is very alarming and the rate which the society is going. Recently, I travelled to Edo State and between Ore and Uromi town where I went, there are over forty check points because of report of insecurity and it is an opportunity to exploit, to make request for what is not necessary to ask for, motor vehicle particular and what have you, because it is an opportunity to take them out of the barracks to really give them assignments to do, despite that kidnappers are still attacking people, it was barely after a week a  judge was kidnapped and ransom was paid, so these are the issues.

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 are 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 further?

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.

On the budget I don’t know what is input for the entire National Assembly 306 in all,it depends on what is in the budget,I am not holding brief for anybody,budget is not just figures but what is inputed in it,the break downs,the omnibus is what you see people pick on social media and that is why I have been saying it is not addressing the question, it doesn’t stop the National Assembly to itemize the constituency projects for every 306 members in both chambers,vis a vis projects that are attached.

Unlike me now I want Fadaini Obade road in my area an abandoned world bank project that has been there since 1998 to be tarred only that project will take almost 25bn, I am not saying the Governor is not taking action,it is not my duty but I should be the advocate of the people here, to advocate that it enters the budget and for the Governor to do it. I can tell the people there I facilitated it,I am not saying you should give me the contract,it may even be in the executive’s budget but it would be under works and it would be on record that I facilitated it.

In totality it is the budget,I can’t criticise it if I don’t know what it entails,I didn’t study accounting but when I got here I know that I have to get the knowledge of accounting to be in tune,all this virement and reordering,helicopter factor we talk in the chamber are accounting jaggons we have to learn on the job,so for you to be a balanced legislator you must have an idea of some of these things, so it is not sufficient to make a comparison between the budget for education and that of the National Assembly,when what UNESCO said is 13 per cent  of the total budget must go for education but it is difficult for Nigeria now with the level of poverty to meet that UNESCO standard.
Poverty is having foothold here,if you don’t know we are in crisis,almost 40million Nigerian youths are unemployed and you think it is a joke,we are talking of insecurity, we are in problem the kind of employment that will mop up this youths in this country,the only visible alternative is farming, make it attractive,all this DSTV if they want it make it available on the farm lands and let them be productive because you can’t go into my community now,I will just fight because the expectations will be too high no matter what you have is not sufficient for the people there. Is it the old people that you know,that you are even given birth to in their presence or the youths,the shenanigans or the various categories we are in serious crisis.
What is the way forward?
We must continue conscientising and educating our people as well,engage our people in serious farming that would take hunger out of the land and it would also boost productivity,it serve two purposes,it address the question of hunger can you imagine briefly after independence Malaysia was here took some seedlings of our palm kernels and today they are one of the best producers of not just red oil in the world but palm kernel oil,the electric transformer uses palm kernel oil,some other lubricants are also made from this palm kernel seeds.
Malaysia supplies to the rest of the world,you can see how economically it is good for the people of Malaysia but it is dying here,even republic of Benin as small as Lagos produces palm kernels that entire Nigeria can use,the one we sell here is adulterated we mix it with other things it shows something is wrong with us and we are not doing anything, we would need to address the concept of how we must live as human beings,are we thinking right? This short cut to success is it really addressing the context in Nigeria,the problem is hydra headed,many who invested monies into business had them run down by people eventually, forgetting that it ought to bea fall back mechanism for the brain behind the business,the Guinness,Ford,Honda and more started as family business now going transnational,which one can we point out here. Many of the press medium except Tribune since 1948 that is still subsisting, none other so the problem is protracted.