According to the 2018 World Inequality Report, rising wealth inequality within countries has helped to spur increases in global wealth inequality. If we assume the world trend to be captured by the combined experience of China, Europe and the United States, the wealth share of the world’s top 1% wealthiest people increased from 28% to 33%, while the share commanded by the bottom 75% oscillated around 10% between 1980 and 2016. Poverty could start revolutions, as a Yoruba saying states: Whoever is hungry cannot hear any plea or preaching. Interest rates over the years have risen. Hunger could emerge a dangerous phenomenon for the whole world if left. The global wealth middle class will be squeezed under “business as usual.”
TACKLING INEQUALITY: Nelson Mandela attached so much attention to the subject matter under reference such that he established a Foundation to deal with the issue. The Mandela Initiative is a multi-sector platform to investigate and develop strategies to overcome poverty and inequality. Mandela argued that: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest. “In this new century, millions of people in the world’s poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. In the final analysis, Kofi Annan’s observations are very valid ‘’When contemplating global challenges and injustices, Mandela remains a constant source of inspiration. As we celebrate the centenary of his birth this year, let us take heed of his words and follow his example to create a freer, fairer, and more just world for all: “The real makers of history are the ordinary men and women; and their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom.”
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DEVELOPED & DEVELOPING WORLDS: How do the affluent behave in the First World and how do they behave in developing countries? How do the poor feel and manage their affairs? Do governments owe the poor some obligations? The answers are not far-fetched. Inequalities have wide-ranging effects that mainly translate into under-development, poverty, hunger, and frustration, which could cause negative occurrences. Citing examples of the effect of inequalities, Kimberly Moffitt, Canadian relationship therapist notes that: ”children from poor families are three times more likely to die from disease, accidents, neglect, or violence during the first year of life than those children born to wealthy families. In addition, on average, wealthy people live five years longer than those less fortunate. Politics also follow class lines. Because the wealthy benefit from the way society is organized, their wealth tends to encourage them to be more conservative on political issues, but more liberal on social issues. The opposite pattern seems to be true for people from poor backgrounds.
Moffit canvasses the argument that children from poor homes tend to be more conservative on social issues, but more liberal on economic issues, tending to favour government-sponsored social programs that benefit them. Another relevant pattern is that children from lower-class families tend to be raised to conform to conventional values and respect authority. Children from middle and upper-class families are taught to express their individuality and imagination more freely.” All these account for why the global community has united to fight the scourges of poverty and inequalities on a global scale through the United Nations policy on Globalization. The importance attached to globalization and its effects is gauged by the fact that two former Secretaries-General of the United Nations: Kofi Annan and Boutus Boutrus-Ghali, both Africans; have produced landmark Reports on the activities of the United Nations on this very important subject.
CAUSATIVE FACTORS: The personalities named above both agreed independently, that without peace, there can be no development; and without sustainable development, there can be no durable peace. Additionally, they have contended that without respect for human rights, democracy, and credible elections that reflect the will of the people, there will be neither peace nor development. In his valedictory address at the conclusion of his duty tour at the United Nations, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan identified four factors that could promote globalization. According to him, ”First, we are all responsible for each other’s security. Second, we can and must give everyone the chance to benefit from global prosperity. Third, both security and prosperity depend on human rights and the rule of law. Fourth, states must be accountable to each other, and to a broad range of non-state actors, in their international conduct. My fifth lesson if that we can only do all these things by working together through a multilateral system, and by making the best possible use of the unique instrument bequeathed to us by Harry Truman and his contemporaries, namely the United Nations. In fact, it is only through multilateral institutions that states can hold each other to account. And that makes it very important to organize those institutions in a fair and democratic way, giving the poor and the weak some influence over the actions of the rich and the strong.
INEQUALITY AS A STRONG HINDRANCE — REVERSING THE TREND … NELSON MANDELA, In an address delivered in the United Kingdom (2005) stated that: ‘’As you know, I recently formally announced my retirement from public life and should really not be here. However, as long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest. Moreover, the Global Campaign for Action Against Poverty represents such a noble cause that we could not decline the invitation. ‘’Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times – times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation – that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils. The Global Campaign for Action Against Poverty can take its place as a public movement alongside the movement to abolish slavery and the international solidarity against apartheid.’’ Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. ‘’And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom’’.
BILL CLINTON: President Bill Clinton of the United States supports the foregoing as evidenced by his declaration that ”We live in the most interdependent age in history. ”People are most likely to be affected beyond their borders, and their borders are increasingly open to both positive and negative crossings: travellers, immigrants, money, goods, services, information, communication, and culture; disease, trafficking in drugs, weapons and people, and acts of terrorism and violent crime.” But the modern world is too unequal in incomes and access to jobs, health, and education. It is too unstable as evidenced by the rapid spreading of the financial crisis, economic insecurity, political upheavals, and our attempts to empower people globally. Humanity still faces serious challenges that cannot be overlooked. Inequalities, political, and social persist as some of the greatest problems all over the world. According to Clinton in his publication cited above, ”responding to these problems affecting the lives of people in every nation effectively presents very different challenges to poor and rich nations. Poor nations have to build systems that those of us in wealthy nations take for granted economic, financial, education, health-care, energy, environmental, government service, and other systems that make prosperity and security possible and provide predictable rewards to citizens for hard work and honest dealings.’’
SCALE ON INEQUALITY STAGGERING & SHAMEFUL: Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan in his treatise on inequality themed: ‘People are seduced by the siren songs of cynical populists’ noted that: The scale of global economic inequality is staggering and shaming. According to recent research, over half the world’s population lives on between $2 and $10 dollars a day. The 2018 World Inequality Report shows the share of wealth held by the top 1% of earners in the US doubled from 10% to 20% between 1980 and 2016, while the bottom 50% fell from 20% to 13% in the same period’’ This chasm between wealth and poverty both between and within countries is a space in which violent tensions and resentments foster; where avarice and corruption supplant compassion and solidarity; and where political courage to confront systemic failings is too often trumped by leaders’ self-interest to court oligarchs and line their own pockets. Anger is further fuelled by the growing realization that those at the top of the economic pile do not “earn” their wealth in the traditional sense of the word: Their fortunes are less the reward for their talent, hard labor, or risk-taking, and more the product of inheritance, monopoly, or cronyism with political elites. ‘’It is not realistic to think that some people can go on deriving great benefits from globalization while billions of their fellow human beings are left in abject poverty, or even thrown into it. We have to give our fellow citizens, not only within each nation but in the global community, at least a chance to share in our prosperity. Here too, Harry Truman proved himself a pioneer, proposing in his 1949 inaugural address a programme what came to be known as Official Development Assistance.
HOMEGROWN SOLUTIONS AS RECIPE: It is tragic that the values of the society over the years have not helped the situation. For instance, preference is largely for expenditure on such matters like funerals, purchase of goods and services which confer class distinction on the privileged rather than on those things which could positively impact the society and by implication, the standard of living of the general citizenry. Globalization with its challenges is, however, effecting some visible changes in the attitudes of the governed and the governments. The awareness is being created that things must change if the country is to be returned on the path of sanity. New economic initiatives have been formulated by the Federal Government of Nigeria, that are intended to enthrone the best practices of democratic governance, sanitize the economy and create a generally conducive atmosphere for rapid socio-economic growth and development.
GOVERNMENT, WELFARE & SECURITY: The 2001 Kuru Declaration embodies the vision of the Nigerian Government as: ”Building a truly great African democratic country, politically united, integrated and stable, economically prosperous, socially organized, with equal opportunities for all, and responsibility from all, to become the catalyst of (African) Renaissance, and making adequate all-embracing contributions sub-regionally, regionally and globally. Furthermore, government is working strenuously to create a Nigeria that Nigerians will be proud to belong to and grateful to inhabit; a Nigeria that rewards hard work, protects its people and their property and offer its children better prospects than those they may be tempted to seek in Europe or the United-States. All citizens, regardless of gender, race, religion or politics, should feel that they have a stake in Nigeria’s future and that their loyalty and diligence will be rewarded.
Beyond the foregoing, it is important for the affluent to do more with their resources in order to put smiles on the faces of the poor. It is true that several rich businessmen and women are getting more involved in charity or philanthropy. But the affluent could still do more at this critical point in history. One of the principal reasons people steal and cheat is to take care of the future and generations yet unborn because of instability. Again, our values, norms, and cultures need to be ordered in a manner that would discourage the unrestrained demonstration of affluence in societies that are afflicted by poverty. Regrettably, the younger ones copy what they see the elders do in all spheres of human endeavour. If elders spend extravagantly, the young ones too will certainly do the same and perpetrate all sorts of vices since they too would love to live big in the future. This is apposite because personalities are combined products and nature and nurture.
COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY: A simple example is how people travelled to the United Kingdom in droves in the 1970s and early part of the 1980s because that was the trend a sort of class distinction. Then, Nigerians secured entry visas at the United Kingdom border posts. At that time, the Naira was accepted in trading spots like the Liverpool Street Market, London; and even in other parts of Europe like Germany and Spain. Then, Naira was at par with the British currency in terms of strength. Immediately Nigeria’s economy took a downward plunge, the visa on arrival policy was scrapped by the United Kingdom. We cannot really blame them because that action was in the national interest, to protect the economy and infrastructure of Britain. But all hope is not lost with good governance and proper conduct by the populace in Nigeria.
COMBATING INEQUALITY: Governments also have gigantic roles to play in guaranteeing the future of the masses through the implementation of policies, programmes and plans that deal with the welfare and security of the populace, in a manner that would make the masses believe in government, democracy, and political governance. Otherwise, we could be going around in circles, with no achievements. We certainly require proper reorientation of the populace to change their mind frames of pessimism and cynicism to that of hope in the beautiful future of Nigeria; if the citizenry and governments decide to implement the social contract they signed, for the good of the society.
But we could do more to show the citizenry that those in government in the Executive and Legislature truly empathize with the impoverished masses; who could literally pass away in millions; if belts are further tightened around them without addressing the question of poverty.
Nigeria’s dry bones will surely rise again.