Since poverty crushes the spirit quite effectively, a talk about patriotism on an empty stomach becomes very difficult if not impossible. Poor citizens feel powerless to change their circumstances. Often, they are powerless to change their circumstances because they do not have the tools it takes to succeed financially and politically.
Generational poverty is the worst if you live in a country such as Nigeria where you are surrounded by images of success. These images crush the spirit while not having access to what you need to improve your life. A man in a Hummer Jeep splashes you with flood water while you are waiting for a commercial motor cycle.
Education is the usual road out of poverty, but if a poor citizen, even when educated, brings his broken spirit along with him, as they usually do, they are often less successful than others who had humble beginnings but were shielded from the spirit-crushing nature of abject poverty.
Nigeria remains a sad example of countries where pauperization is vigorously pursued as a public policy, since policy itself is best defined, according to Thomas Dyle, as what government chooses to do or not to do. In Nigeria, government pays only lip service to poverty alleviation and has deliberately chosen the path of profligacy, which reinforces poverty in the land. For example, top government officials in Nigeria choose to have ‘jeep farms’ to ride the roads than push to repair the bad roads or construct new ones. With the jeeps they cruise around as they please with only minimal impacts from the highways that have been better described as death-traps! Nigerian roads are extra dangerous but the authorities don’t give a hoot.
In Nigeria, too, public officers are paid much less than a living wage, forcing most of them to cut corners and engage in open, brazen corrupt practices to survive. Or how else do the Nigerian public officers pay for their children’s school feels abroad? Another clearer example of this means-end inversion are the police officers many of whom are often implicated in crimes they are poorly paid and ill-trained to prevent such as armed robbery and kidnapping.
Poverty is a direct correlate of many negative psychological factors that constitute inertia of social forces that reinforce themselves. The chief among them is dehumanization. Poverty reduces man to his lowest ebbs and forces him to accept a fate of the same kind as what he would wish only his enemy. Its first victim is the depersonalized man whose self esteem and confidence are crushed and without which man is but a shadow of himself.
Poverty is so strong that once it attacks and destroys self-esteem, it asserts itself over the person’s life and gradually eats him up until nothing is left. Even the physical self is eaten up by poverty, leaving often only a mass of bones covered with discoloured skin. Poverty is therefore the worst thing that can happen to a man and that is why the entire life struggles are but to escape it but the majority never succeeding without intervention. This is where and why government must step in: to help citizens, especially the disadvantaged ones, to rise above poverty and live a decent life.
According to John Locke, government is there to make greater happiness available to a greater number of the citizens. He was so sure of this that he counseled that any government that fails in this primary responsibility should be overthrown by the people through any means available. Yet, in Nigeria, government is never there for its citizens. People are just eking out a living whichever way they can, providing virtually all social amenities for themselves including security, light, water, schools, food, housing, clothing and even roads.
Leadership in Nigeria is one of the worst kinds you can find in many climes. The sharp contrast existing between poverty and opulence is so incredible and crushing. If you go the Niger Delta, you can see Oil Companies’ yards with all imaginable luxuries (uninterruptible power supply, hospitals, water, etc.) existing side by side with ghettoes that are without water, electricity, schools and so on. Community schools may be all you can see where there are schools at all, with children milling around stark naked with potbellies filled with worms instead of good food.
Such brutal sights in the Nigerian ghettoes and rural dwellings are so appalling. Students sit on bare floors, many public schools are without roofs, windows without shutters and pupils have no standard text books or even black boards. Of course the unmotivated teachers can’t teach. Yet, it does not bother those in power. They can afford to send their children and wards overseas for studies with public funds, so why should they? Even in Abuja ghettoes the children and youths (the so-called leaders of tomorrow) are condemned to the same fate.
Poverty is so stressful and stress is in itself the foundation of all ailments, without exception, starting with malnutrition and ending in cancer or schizophrenia and dying education and values. Prostitution is booming all around Nigeria and the nation exports surplus to Italy and parts of Europe and Americas. No thanks to the increasing crushing poverty in the land.
No matter how much we pretend or pontificate, directly and indirectly, prostitution is produced by poverty. Whereas a sprinkling of well-to-do children may be found amongst prostitutes for other extraneous reasons, the whole bulk belongs to the poor homes, where parents can no longer assert themselves in child upbringing and care-giving, which invariably goad such girls to the gutters of life.
Homes are breaking up in Nigeria mainly for poverty. Fathers now helplessly watch men pick up their little daughters and drop them at odd hours and do nothing because majority of them are no longer in a position to meet the needs of their families. Survival being more imperative than morals, fathers are no longer fathers as we used to know them.
All this is happening simply because politicians are stealing the funds meant for development in large lumps. A lawmaker will prefer to walk home with 2 billion naira per annum and join in the contract bazaars in the ministries/agencies that he should oversight rather than work on laws to jumpstart development, check executive tyranny and free the people from the shackles of poverty. The police man can now join forces with robbers and kidnappers rather maintain the law and fight crime. Teachers sell question papers and sleep with their students to pass them even when they know such students can hardly write their names. NYSC just sent some illiterate graduates away from their camp. Nigeria is working so hard on its own banana republic but the question is: why?
Nigerians are being killed by their governments in installments as scientists have known for years that citizens living in poverty have poorer health and shorter life spans than the more affluent. They have identified several key mechanisms that may help explain how low socio-economic status takes its toll on health, psychologically and physiologically. In some of the longitudinal studies on the physiological effects of poverty in children, researchers report that the longer the children have lived in poverty, the less efficient their bodies become in handling environmental demands. The implication is that majority of our citizens now condemned to absolute poverty are ill-equipped to fare well into the future.
These mechanisms may be related to the fact that children who grow up in poverty have a steeper life trajectory of premature health problems than other children, regardless of their socio-economic status in adulthood. What this means is that even if a poor child makes it in future, he or she is still disadvantaged despite his breakthrough. This is an informed position of experts and not a conjectural personal opinion of this writer. Such studies show that these muted responses of stress, not only compromise the ability of the poor’s body to respond to such stressors as noise, poor housing and family turmoil but also indicate he/she is suffering from more stress-induced physiological strain on their organs and tissues than rich citizens.
Government and mean-spirited citizens especially those in positions of authority, need to understand that not leveling the playing field when it comes to poverty costs everyone. It’s very costly to society that low-income children end up getting sick prematurely and die younger than other citizens. Many researchers over the years have shown that childhood poverty affects long-term morbidity (frequency of illnesses and diseases) and mortality. The reason for this is simple: man starts dying the day he was conceived and the power to ward off death in order to live long enough depend on how well psychologically and physiologically one is equipped from birth.
The Nigerian nation needs to make a square facing to contrite efforts for poverty eradication. Efforts should be geared towards agrarian revolution and micro credit financing so that citizens can be empowered to fend for themselves. Government must come up with deliberate policies and legislations to end voodoo banking in Nigeria, where banks accumulate deposits for its own sake through their created highbrow prostitutes they call marketers while taking no part in real financing of economic growth and development.
If patriotism means dying for one’s country, Nigerians are already dying in advance. But this manner of dying is in vain since the citizen’s death for his country should be to edify the polity and not to pollute it. The country has a complex war in its hands, fire raging but nobody seems to be running. May God give us men to address these clear leadership deficits, men to chart a new course for our fraught nation and reduce the inevitable consequences.
Law Mefor is an Abuja-based Author, Journalist and Forensic Psychologist as well as National Coordinator, Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM) Abuja.
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters