Arit Okpo: Supporting Africa’s urban poor [NEW VOICES]

by Arit Okpo

I had the opportunity to attend the TED Lagos event that held in Lagos (obviously) a few weeks ago. Guys…let me take one minute to talk about how refreshing the event was. No long welcome speeches, speakers spoke within their allotted time, there was a refreshing and powerful dance interlude and break times were positioned just right to ensure that we – the audience, didn’t suffer idea fatigue. I loved it!

And the speakers, the speakers blew my mind! I can’t really remember how many speakers there were, but I was enraptured, inspired and energised by conversations that covered everything from virtual reality in Nigeria to the need to end fake news in Nigeria. I listened to talks on incorporating our culture into our art, a conversation on owning our names, a talk on the need to care for our urban poor…
Ah…our urban poor. Now that was a talk that gave me a great deal to think about.

The Rural Poverty Portal informs me that more than 218 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty. That is the number of people living on/under $1.25 a day. I also found out that 589 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa live without electricity and that Sub-Saharan Africa has 37% of the total number of people living without access to clean water around the world. These statistics are just as worrying for access to education/healthcare/housing/sanitation – name it.

Now, the continent has about 1.2 billion people all together, Sub-Saharan Africa just under a billion so maybe that’s why some of these statistics don’t worry us as much as they should. Except…it’s a real shame that in a continent touted to demonstrate remarkable yeast like capabilities, we still seem to think that poor people should be seen and not heard.

Across the world, governments are working hard to provide sustainable solutions for the urban poor. These solutions range from affordable housing to solar powered electricity, water and sanitation solutions and free education and healthcare. The fact that these solutions are for the poor doesn’t minimise their standards, and while poor people still exist, their numbers are dropping in most of the world…except here.

I listened to Olutimehin Adegbeye talk about the need for the Lagos State government to become more cognisant of and responsible for the urban poor, and I was struck by how blind we (myself definitely included) have become to the plight of people for whom a daily meal is not an assurance. Urbanisation means population growth across socioeconomic strata and more and more, the poor are pushed out of the way to make space for those who can afford all the amenities consistent with 21st-century cities. We act as if poor people have no right to exist.

In Nigeria, it is still very much the responsibility of non-governmental organisations to offer solutions and assistance in education, healthcare and social development. Citizens gather funds to provide food, clothing and medical assistance. We understand that our governments cannot do everything, but there is a problem when citizens are doing the job of the government.

The population of a country is not its rich tax payers alone. It includes the ones with wages so small (or non-existent) that the option of taxation doesn’t exist, and while we might all do our best to wish them away, our urban poor are a responsibility that we cannot close our eyes to.

The countries in Africa must stand shoulder to shoulder with countries around the world in all areas. In other words, we must not just become equal in income generation, technological advancements and governance. We should also be able to discuss, create and implement effective and sustainable policies to support, empower and improve the lives of our very present urban poor.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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