Poor voters, rich candidates, By Andy Ezeani

The National Bureau for Statistics (NBS) released a not-so-jarring statistics penultimate week, that 133 million Nigerians at home live below poverty line.


All that the NBS-released fact did actually, was to add a seal of formality to what is already well known.


It is neither a secret, nor contestable, that the poverty bracket in Nigeria has expanded drastically in the seven years of the present administration. Some inveterate prevaricators in public positions, may periodically step out to assault people’s sensibility with hollow arguments to the conteary, essentially in an effort to justify the generous budget allocated to their offices. Reality however, speaks louder than whatever such individuals may contend.


When Nigeria gained the dubious tag about four years ago or so, as the poverty capital of the world, the label spoke poignantly of where the country had found itself. Expectedly, propaganda merchants in government were in public denial. That did not change anything,though.


The National Bureau for Statistics is, as is well known, not a creation of any political party. Facts from its stable can therefore, be accepted as substantially objective. The reality of 133 million citizens or 63 percent of the estimated population of the country, being poor, is, for sure, not the figment of Labour Party’s imagination, or that of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or for that matter, any other political group, including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The statistics can,therefore,be referenced, without anyone accusing anyone of quoting figures from Labour Party or PDP, with the design to diminish the fabled good work the APC government has done in Nigeria.


The NBS statistics, simply put, is a factual summary of APC’s handiwork in the last seven years.


Working in conjunction with such other agencies as the National Social Safety Nets (NASSCO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNIFEF) and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI), the NBS survey focused on such variables as health, living standard, education, security and unemployment.


The survey reflected what is physically felt across Nigeria at the moment.

Although, the survey stated that majority of the victims of what it classified as multi-dimensional poverty, are domiciled in the rural north of the country, the truth is that poverty has become pervasive across the country, with no region spared. The difference between the regions can only be marginal. APC happened on all citizens.


At about the same time of the release by NBS of its statistics, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) came out with its own provisional statistics, indicating that 93 million registered voters will participate in the 2023 general elections coming up in February and March 2023. The figure shows a sharp incline from the 84,004,084 registered voters in the last general election in 2019.


Even with the high number of dubious registrations that the election management body has discovered so far, which entries will hopefully be deleted in the course of cleaning up the register, there is no doubt that the ultimate figure of registered voters for 2023 will still be a healthy increase above the 2019 figure.


Now, for the interesting link in the Bureau of Statistics figure of poverty in Nigeria and INEC’s figure of registered voters. Clearly, if there will be 93 registered voters in the 2023 general elections and there are 133 million poor citizens out of an estimated 200 million population of the country, mathematically, we can talk of an election in which an entire voting population lives below poverty line.


As is borne out by verifiable facts in the society, politics offers the fastest and most assured route to escape poverty in contemporary Nigeria. Ample indicators abound to give credence to this thesis, showing beyond doubt that majority of political office holders live above the poverty line. Clearly, this category of citizens account for a chunk of the odd 37 percent of Nigerians out of the poverty loop. Taken together then, the combined statistics from INEC and NBS speak of a rather bizarre scenario of an animated election by the poor for the rich or well to do. That, to a reasonable extent, is how it has always been, anyway.


Unfortunately, poverty emasculates those it hugs. This explains the curious, if not outrightly pathetic situation in which the poor, which constitutes the overwhelming majority of voters in this case, never surmon the courage to hold their traducers accountable for anything.


Just think about it; 133 million poor, constituting majority of the 93 million registered voters. What can they not do?

Interestingly, it is the other side, the politicians, the purveyors of poverty that are, imperiously and impudently asking; what can the poor do?


This is the question that bluntly resounds whenever APC candidates and chieftains take the public space and stake a claim before impoverished Nigerians, that it is their turn to continue lording it over the people.


Take President Muhammadu Buhari for one. The impression that the retired General creates in his utterances, consciously or unconsciously, is that he lives in an entirely different plane. He often speaks and references a society that seems far away from his impoverished and chastised land, where 63 percent of the citizens are living below poverty line and also live in security bondage. And yet, the common refrain in the President’s campaign comments these days is his desire that APC should overwhelmingly win the 2023 elections, from top to bottom. Clearly, both APC as a party and Buhari as its arrow head, see no link between performance and electoral fortune. Only in Nigeria.


While President Buhari was expressing his wish for the APC to record landslide victory in the upcoming election, the Debt Management Office (DMO), another key government economic agency, came out with the statistics that Nigeria’s domestic debt profile stands at N3.685 trillion for 2023. That is an increase from N3.3 trillion for 2022. The increase arose from unrestrained domestic borrowing by the APC government. The external borrowing is no less astounding.


This is Nigeria at the moment; Poverty is expanding. Domestic and external debts are mounting. The Naira has virtually collapsed. Revenue from oil is still nowhere to be found, as oil theft continues, in spite of recent noises. The cost of living continues to rise on daily basis, forcing more citizens below the poverty line. The foreign missions are now looking like national stadium on a high-profile match day, as Nigerians, old and young take in all indignities, just to escape Nigeria.


This is the setting in which the ruling APC and President Buhari are boldly laying claims, if not insisting, on continuing on the saddle in 2023.


Poverty must, indeed, be a curse. Were it not so,133 million poor in Nigeria, of which 93 million are registered voters, constitute a potent electoral force that can chart a course for their better future. They need no further prodding to respond appropriately in the 2023 elections.


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