An essential part of Catholic Social Teaching in Nigeria must increasingly emphasise the fair and just distribution of resources. In keeping with the Holy Father, Pope Francis, the Nigerian Church, as well as the Universal Church. must embrace the option for the poor.
Following our report two days ago which highlighted the growing inequality in Nigeria, we have done some additional research and have discovered statistics that are alarming.
Economic inequality in Nigeria has reached extreme levels, despite being the largest economy in Africa. The country has an expanding economy with abundant human capital and the economic potential to lift millions out of poverty.
So how can this happen? What makes Nigeria so unequal and how big is this inequality gap?
OXFAM offer the following statistics:
The combined wealth of Nigeria’s five richest men – $29.9 billion – could end extreme poverty at a national level yet 5 million face hunger. More than 112 million people are living in poverty in Nigeria, yet the country’s richest man would have to spend $1 million a day for 42 years to exhaust his fortune.
The amount of money that the richest Nigerian man can earn annually from his wealth is sufficient to lift 2 million people out of poverty for one year.
Women represent between 60 and 79 percent of Nigeria’s rural labor force but are five times less likely to own their own land than men. Women are also less likely to have had a decent education. Over three-quarters of the poorest women in Nigeria have never been to school and 94% of them are illiterate.
Between 1960 and 2005, about $20 trillion was stolen from the treasury by public office holders. This amount is larger than the GDP of United States in 2012 (about $18 trillion).
Poverty and inequality in Nigeria are not due to a lack of resources, but to the ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation of such resources. At the root is a culture of corruption combined with a political elite out of touch with the daily struggles of average Nigerians.
In 2012, Nigeria spent just 6.5 percent of its national budget on education and just 3.5 percent on health (by comparison, Ghana spent 18.5 percent and 12.8 percent respectively in 2015). As a result, 57 million Nigerians lack safe water, over 130 million lack adequate sanitation and the country has more than 10 million children out of school.
Another consequence of the mismanagement of the nation’s resources is the high rate of unemployment, especially among the young. In 2016, between 12.1% and 21.5% of Nigeria’s youth were without a job.
The Government must free millions from poverty
Nigeria is not a poor country yet millions are living in hunger. The government must work with the international community to get food and aid to hungry people now. But it can’t stop there. It must free millions of Nigerians from poverty by building a new political and economic system that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few.
The role of the Church and Catholic Social Teaching in pushing this agenda will be crucial in future years. Closing the inequality gap and helping the millions of marginalised Nigerian people to achieve lives of dignity, enlightenment and security is what the option of the poor is about. This is not about communism, Marxism or any ideological imperative. It is about justice, fairness and the basic rights that are enshrined in the UN Charter for Human Rights. Nothing more, nothing less.