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Friday Sermon: Poverty and the End of Power

By Babatunde Jose

“What is the essence of leadership if not to better the lot of the populace? What is the essence of power if not to be used in furtherance of the welfare of the people? What is the essence of authority over the people if not to cater for their wellbeing? Why do we surrender our rights to the Leviathan if not that it can guarantee our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, freedom from want and poverty?

The decay and poverty in the country are as a result of failure in governance. It all boils down to the wrong application of power. This is what we call “The End of Power”; when power fails to be used to improve the condition of and create a situation for the betterment of the people. Of what use then is the power we surrender to our leaders? Where is that social contract? There is no doubt, that contract is in the breach and we have returned to the state of nature. Realizing that, the politicos are now back; we are now in the season of promises, a period of heightening of our expectations, the era of oath taking and atonement and the time for false assurances and mouth-watering undertakings of stomach-care proportions.

According to Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) “since there is no summum bonum or Greatest Good, the natural state of man is not to be found in a political community that pursues the greatest good. But to be outside of a political community is to be in an anarchic condition. Given human nature, the variability of human desires, and need for scarce resources to fulfil those desires, the state of nature, as Hobbes calls this anarchic condition, must be a war of all against all. . . . In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” –Thomas Hobbes.  This is the state we find ourselves today.

The desire to avoid the state of nature forms the polestar of political reasoning. This suggests that one ought to be willing to renounce one’s right to all things where others are willing to do the same, to quit the state of nature, and to erect a commonwealth with the authority to command them in all things. This is part of the fulcrum on which stands our constant needs to elect leaders and representatives who will cater for our mutual political and social needs.

Our ubiquitous leaders are here again. But, if we are wise, this is the time to ask questions that have been agitating our minds in the last 19 years. What became of all the promises made during the last five elections since the return to civil rule in 1999: Promises concerning electricity, housing, food security, employment opportunities,  healthcare for all, education for our children, security for our persons and our homes, economic development of our country and many more questions that are begging for answers.

Perhaps the most urgent question that needs to be answered is that of the persistence and growth of poverty in the land. The misfortune called poverty is not an act of God and the solution cannot be found in the mosques or the churches (the Middle-Eastern religions). Neither is the solution in Ifa or other traditional religions. But its festering is a result of glaring leadership failure. “Maybe there is a need to remind ourselves  of what Quran 42 verse 30 says:  “Whatever misfortune befalls you [people], it is because of what your own hands had done . . . “

Therefore, the agony, evils, misfortunes, pains, economic instability, stagnation and backwardness being experienced in the country today are as a result of failed leadership. Our misfortunes and sufferings are definitely not from God, but from ourselves.

Poverty is the oldest and the most resistant virus that brings about a devastating disease in the third world called under development. Its rate of killing cannot be compared to any disease from the genesis of mankind. The United Nations Human Development Report, defined poverty as a complex phenomenon that generally refers to inadequacy of resources and deprivation of choices that would enable people to enjoy decent living conditions. Poverty is a pandemic disease that affects a greater number of people in the society.

A recent report by The World Poverty Clock shows Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the most extreme poor people in the world. … The 86.9 million Nigerians now living in extreme poverty represent nearly 50% of its estimated 180 million population.

Professor Muhammad Yūnus defines it as the denial of human rights relating to the fulfilment of basic human needs.  “However, poverty is not a concept but a condition; a state of being; a condition of human wretchedness, despondency, deprivation and want. A state of lacking in the basic necessities of life such as food, clean water, shelter( even of a crude type), basic health care, basic education and a state of abject impoverishment. Poverty is not only a disease but a state of spiritual rejection. As a condition of deprivation, poverty is a state of economic marginalization and denial of fundamental human rights of fulfilment of basic needs and freedom. Poverty is a political and economic crime that sentences the individual into a social and spiritual prison, making that person cursed as in Joshua 9:23 “Now therefore you are cursed , and some of you shall never be anything but servants , hewers of wood and drawers of water . . “. 

People in a state of poverty are politically voiceless; they are emasculated financially and have no business in the political domain; they are constantly preoccupied with eking a living from the dustbin of society. And they are at the mercy of ‘rulers’ who are supposed to protect their interest and ameliorate their living conditions. It’s as if they were born to suffer.

The million Naira question, therefore, is: Given the country’s enormous resources, why is such a huge portion of the populace living in poverty and squalor?

This vast incidence of poverty in the midst of plenty has severally been linked to the endemic corruption in the country. But is it only corruption? There are many other causes that all relate to the incidence of poor governance. They include, but not exclusively, low economic growth performance.    Another is the incessant unrest and attacks by the insurgency which has created a gaping hole in the society. This also boils down to weak governance. Lack of access to education and healthcare: And many other issues that constitutes debilitating factors to the welfare of the people.

That our people remain poor is therefore a great betrayal of trust on the part of those that have been governing us. Quran 4:58 says, “God does command you to render back your trust to those to whom they are due; and when you judge between man and man, be just…’’

According to Mallam Falalu Bello in a recent interview, he posited rightly that Nigerians have become pauperised by the various administrations in the last 19 years. ”The index of poverty, from whichever source you have, is telling us a story. An index tells us that 92 per cent of people in Zamfara are living below the poverty line, 80 per cent in Jigawa and 82 per cent in Katsina. It tells you and me that these governments in the last 16 plus three years (19) have not helped Nigerians. People are poorer, and if people are poorer, what is the governance all about? What should Nigerians do?  Who is enjoying in Nigeria today – whether you come from Imo, Kano, Jigawa or Sokoto?” What a pitty!

In the next few months we will not rest nor sleep as we will be treated to all the shenanigans of political theatrics and manoeuvres. God help us if we fail again to ask them the necessary questions. Once again our future and that of our children and our children’s children lies in our hands. We cannot afford to fail.

Heaven, they say, helps only those that help themselves.

Barka Juma’at and happy weekend

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