Poverty as a killer of democracy

Professor John Keane contributed to scholarship by writing a book he stylishly titled: The Life and Death of Democracy.

In one of the chapters he delved extensively into the deep reverence the Athenians gave to their deities and copiously reported about the public execution of one of the world’s greatest Philosophers, Mr. Socrates for allegedly corrupting the youth apparently because of his effort towards radically transforming the youth to their better selves. 

The professor wrote thus: “Citizens invested great hopes in deities. They also feared them. The public trial and execution of Socrates in 399 BCE for importing fake gods into the city and for impiously corrupting its youth, confirmed to many that individuals who snubbed the deities would suffer harsh punishment.

“The priests and old men of the city loved to reinforce the same moral. They had a habit of reminding citizens who mingled in the agora (the story was taken originally from Homer) that at the entrance of the home of Zeus, the god of freedom, stood two large barrels, from which he dispensed ill to some newcomers, good to others and to the rest a few ladles of good from one barrel and, from the other, a bit of ill.” 

He continued thus: “Tales like that put the whole city on edge. We may scoff at these deep feelings for the sacred. But again, the reality was that many citizens of Athens thought of themselves as members of a community of worshippers who believed that deities like Zeus would punish them collectively if they or their leaders behaved unjustly.”
 
“Zeus and other deities were thought to enjoy the power to ruin democracy, for instance, by bringing bad weather or failed harvests, or the death of oak trees, or the disappearance of fish from the nets of fishermen operating from the nearby port of Piraeus.”

The above narratives of how important deities are to the Athenians is exactly how good governance is to democracy even as widespread poverty amongst the citizenry is the killer of democracy.

In Nigeria of our time, particularly since the advent of the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari, the thematic issue of poverty, unemployment and insecurity are major indices that characterize the situations of millions of Nigerians. In the last two years, all the essential services in the health; education; roads; electricity power and Agriculture have virtually collapsed. 

For over two years under the current administration, most Nigerian homes were bombarded by the negative impacts of economic recession and the expanding frontiers of poverty. Poverty is brought about by the absence of good governance. The sacred fact is that the skyrocketing asking prices of essential commodities have dangerously impacted on the living conditions of millions of Nigerians. Currently, the pump prices of premium motor spirit and other essential products such as diessel and kerosene have gone far beyond the affordability of millions of Nigerians thus multiplying the rate of poverty in Nigeria. Not fewer than 112 million Nigerians now live below poverty level as global poor hits one billion mark.  

According to the latest poverty report by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, about 112 million Nigerians (representing 67.1 per cent) of the country’s total population of 167 million.

On 18th of October 2016, the world marked International Day for Eradication of Poverty, International Labour Organization, ILO, did raised the alarm that number of poor people in the world has hit the one billion mark.

In a statement to mark the occasion, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, said though work should be the best route out of poverty, but 327 million working men and women live in extreme poverty and 967 million in moderate and near poverty.

Poverty is really a big challenge in Nigeria because there can be no hiding the fact that a hungry man is an angry man. 

The majority of the masses and the youth, statistics have shown, are poor. Poverty is the cause of many of our problems. It has led many Nigerians to attach no value and regard to life itself. This sociological fact means that poverty is at the root of most social crimes in the country. The rate of violent crimes of armed robberies, kidnappings, car jackings, murder and such social crimes of sexual violence have increased as the rates of poverty widens. The nexus between mass poverty and increased violent crimes are too close. Poverty seems to have started walking on four legs in our current period. As far back as the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo poverty was seen as a strategic social menace. 

According to the former Senior Special Adviser (SSA) to a former President on Poverty Alleviation, Dr. Magnus Kpakol, in a paper titled, “NAPEP Programmes as Enabler for Rapid Economic Development in the South-South Region,” presented at the South-South Economic Summit in Calabar, the Cross River State Capital, 74 million Nigerians are poor. The figure, which was so as at December 2008, dropped by one million from 75 million in 2007. He said the population of the nation’s poor people was 80 million in 1999, i.e., when Nigeria returned to democracy.

According to him, the poverty rate was higher in the northern part of the country. His analysis showed the following percentage of the poor in all the six geopolitical zones of the country.

North West – 72.2% of its population; North East – 71.2%; North Central – 67%; South East – 26.7%; South-South – 35.1%; South West – 43.1%.

This figure which was contained in the 2010 poverty profile report of the agency represented 69 per cent of the country’s total population.

From our investigation we found out that apprehensions hovered that the figure might increase to 71.5 per cent in 2011 as the 2010 figure showed data collected from 20 million households having an average of between four to six family members.

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