By Jerome-Mario Utomi
Mercy, in the strict sense of the word is heartfelt sympathy for another’s distress, compelling us to help if we can. But, properly speaking, mercy is a name sometimes applied to a feeling of pity or sentiment.
Indeed, given the above words of Thomas Aquinas, and the sentiment recently expressed by Mr President over the poverty of the people and the elite’s failure to address the welfare and educational needs of the less privileged in the society, the hope of Nigerians that Mr. President will provide answers to the pangs of socioeconomic challenges in the country appear to hang in the balance.
Speaking during the breaking of fast at Aso Villa recently, the President among other things decried the excruciating poverty in the country noting that the elite has failed to address the welfare and educational needs of the less privileged in the society-a state of affairs he added makes him not just uncomfortable but has necessitated the introduction of tradermoni and school feeding programmes.
His words; “When I drive around the country, what upsets me very much is the status of our poor people in this country – you see young people, the so-called Almajiris with torn clothes, with a plastic bowl. They are looking basically for what to eat. “The question of education (to them) is a luxury. I think Nigerian elites are failing. We should have a programme that should at least guarantee some basic education for our people no matter how poor they are.”
Arguably a well-chiselled statement particularly when one remembers that it requires a productive collaboration by the government and well-foresighted elites to build an enduring nation.
To further put issues where they belong, in Nigeria like in other parts of the globe, the asymmetrical concentration of wealth in the hands of a few people, while the majority live in abject poverty is a challenge the world presently contend with.
For instance, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its 1998 report documented that the three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined Gross Domestic Product of the 48 least developed countries. In 2014, eighty-five richest people in the world had the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent (3.4 billion people). By 2015, 80 richest people have the same wealth as the poorest 50 per cent.
The above, coupled with a new awareness that the government at all strata can no longer shoulder the crushing weight of social infrastructure and economic development brought about 2030 sustainable agenda- a United Nation initiative and successor programme to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – with a collection of 17 global goals formulated among other aims to promote and carter for people, peace, planet, and poverty. While promoting smart partnerships, collaborations, ecosystem thinking, co-creation and alignment of various intervention efforts by the public and private sectors and civil society
This may be part of the explanation. But there are other telling proofs that characterize Mr President’s argument more as a mere expression of sentiment.
Regardless of whether the statement was made by Mr President to achieve a particular purpose—such as an increase in the involvement of the elites in salvaging the nations’ educational and socioeconomic sectors or designed to create greater awareness in the troubled sectors, the truth is that the world is in agreement that the lion share of the socioeconomic problems in the country which has resulted in mass poverty is attributed to bad leadership.
And it was similar shirk of the traditional but universal responsibility of providing economic and infrastructural succour to the citizenry which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and the election of leaders confer on them, that currently impedes our development.
Policy inconsistencies and inadequate funding occasioned by the government’s non-adherence to the United Nation Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] budgetary the recommendation that any nation desirous of achieving a hypermodern development must allocate at least 26% of its annual budget to the education sector, are but vivid examples.
Even more important is the awareness that these elites President complains about are but government creations.
To explain this point, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, co-authors of; why Nations fail, pointed out that nations fail because of extractive economic institutions do not create the incentives needed for people to save, invest and innovate.
But instead of creatively destroying such occurrence via the establishment of inclusive economic institutions to prevent the concentration of wealth in the hands of a small group who could use it to increase its powers disproportionately, the political institution supports and cements the power of these extractive economic institutions.
Certainly, it is a moral demand that citizens re-invest in the society, however, what Mr President must be acquainted with is that globally, there is no easy formula for lifting a nation from poverty to prosperity than the government’s payment of attention to areas such as education, infrastructure and health sectors.
Notably, our problem as a nation is not the unwillingness of the elites to help; but that many decisions by the government neither serve the interest of the less privileged nor improves their living conditions.
Pathetically, even the much-orchestrated tradermoni and school feeding initiatives have become but a palliative which only relieves temporal distress, but leaves the disease and its ravages unaffected.
How can one invest in an environment of instability, when bureaucracy is rampant and corruption is widespread, equal opportunity does not exist and most jobs and promotions are obtained through powerful people?
To gain the elites support and that of other corporate organizations, the government must adopt both administrative and managerial restructuring — spelling out vision, mission, purpose, and goal for our educational and economic sectors and remap specific action steps to help achieve these goals.
This should be done not merely for political consideration but from the views of national development and sustenance of our democracy.
Again, aside from compliance with the United Nation’s education budgetary recommendation, the government should learn to recognize, celebrate, and support outstanding Nigerians that have contributed to the human capital development of the people in order to spur others to action.
A typical example of such a personality in my views is Mathew Hassan Kukah- a well-informed, self-contained and quietly influential Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto. Kukah, who recently declared willingness to introduce a skill acquisition, centres in the northern part of the country where about 10 million Almajiri children will acquire vocations of their choices.