In 2014, when Marriott International bought Protea Hotel Group, Jonah Ekpeyong, a sous-chef with Protea Hotel Oakwood Park, Lekki Lagos, was among the staff laid off by the hotel, which became self-managed.
But fortune smiled on him when a Nigerian billionaire employed him as a private chef in his sprawling home by the waterfront in Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos.
On settling down in the new job, Ekpeyong was usually sad on seeing two dogs, which the employer spends more than his chef salary every month to feed and maintain.
As well, there has been news in the dailies and gossip on social media of many employers who sent their house-helps to jail for misplacing or stealing their jewelry boxes, which probably are filled with gold ornaments.
At a point in 2019, two Nigerian billionaires were competing with each other on who buys the most expensive cars for their children and wives on birthdays. The social media was particularly awash with Femi Otedola’s car gifts to family members on such occasions.
Moreover, a visit to Legend Hotel Lagos Airport, Curio Collection by Hilton will expose you to the many private jets that take off and land almost every 30 minutes at the Quits Aviation hanger at the Lagos airport.
These are among the many elements of affluence, which many Nigerians flaunt unabashedly in a country that is officially recognised as the poverty capital of the world.
You don’t need a soothsayer to tell you how poor the country is because the data is there, the suffering is obvious and the super rich are more than before rubbing their wealth on the faces of the downtrodden.
In 2020, many argued the World Bank report that revealed that Nigeria had overtaken India as the World Poverty Capital, considering that India has the most people living in extreme poverty.
But with 43 percent of Nigerians (89 million people) living below the poverty line, while another 25 percent (53 million) are vulnerable, what other evidence do one need?
According to Fidelia Onah, a PhD Economics and consultant to African Development Bank on SMEs, poverty is looming more than forecasted in Nigeria because the government has severally refused to heed to advice.
“You cannot fight poverty without creating employment. If you recognise SMEs as the engine room of economic growth, while not supporting them with favourable policies, because these are the largest employer of labour after government,” she said.
She noted that there is so much wealth out there that needs to be redistributed as done in the developed world to reduce the poverty gap.
“But who will redistribute the wealth, this government that is insensitive to the masses plight, politicians that allocate resources to themselves and family members or civil servants who are laying the conduit for government functionaries to loot funds? She wondered.
The economist, however, noted that poverty is very high in Nigeria, but not as high as being quoted by international bodies because of the lack of information on the extremely huge informal sector of the economy, which according to her, is estimated at around 60 percent more of the current GDP figures.
But the poor are also making an effort to shake hands with the rich, who rain money amid lack, hence the high level of crime in the society today.
“You stay in your cozy presidential office and turn blind eye to the plights of millions of unemployed graduates, that is why youths are helping themselves with kidnapping, banditry, internet fraud with Yahoo Boys becoming bolder among other vices, and some are making fortune and crossing from Ajegunle to Banana Island,” Israel Ogunu, a Port Harcourt-based psychologist and NGO administrator, lamented.
He further noted that the implication of naira rain on Nigeria in the midst of abject poverty is obvious. “The youth are on the fast lane and want it now, now. They will join any group, do anything or even risk their lives to make money and be welcomed into the moneybags’ club”, he said.
“Even my little boy wants to spray money on his mother when she is dancing. Everybody needs money to live a good life and that is why we need good governance to ensure equity in wealth distribution, welfare for all and jobs to keep people positively engaged.”
Going professional, the psychologist said that you cannot give a security agent a gun to safeguard money or oil well when he is poor, as he will rather use it to help himself.
Same, according to him, goes for the youth.
“Some of those who rain money are their mates; all they need to do is find out how and where to get their own money. Fraud is quadrupling, kidnapping worse now and robbery has taken an unimaginable trend all because the youths want to escape poverty,” the psychologist explained.
According to a report by SafeYouths, a global tracker of crime committed by youths, illicit drug trafficking is still among the most thriving illegal businesses in the world today and that operators look to poor countries to recruit youths into drug trafficking because of the promise of hard currency and good life.
The report, its sixth edition, which was presented on June 26, 2021 to commemorate the United Nations’ International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2021, revealed that poverty is pushing more youths from Africa into drug trafficking and that half of the recruits from Africa are in prisons across the world for drug trafficking.
Meryline Boash, director of the platform, urged governments across the developing world, especially Africa to give priority to youth empowerment, create employment opportunities and ensure good governance to woo foreign direct investments.
To redistribute wealth, Onah thinks that the Nigerian government only needs to be sincere with governance to ensure that everything is not politics, truly offer a favourable environment to SMEs, get serious with the fight against corruption, tax the super rich more and adopt world best practice in welfare for the masses.
“You cannot close the poverty gap when inflation is rising every day, when the corrupt are getting away with their loot, when youths are seeing violence as a means to quick money. You have to stop all these to close the poverty gap,” she concluded.