Temie Giwa: Conversation on class (Y! FrontPage)

by Temie Giwa

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….the fascinating conversation died out when the proponent of the ‘Child not bride’ initiative focused on moral outrage while ignoring the huge elephant in the room: inequality and poverty.

What does girl child marriage, deportation of destitutes in Lagos, and many other major conversations Nigerians have been having recently have in common? On the surface it would seem that nothing really ties these conversations into a unique story of social change and perhaps even a social revolution in the works but is it possible that this is not the case. What these issues have in common is the state of poverty in Nigeria and how the rest of us, who are fortunate enough to have our needs met, react to these issues.

If we hold that all parents love their children, daughters included, and that they want the best for them, and if we believe that most reasonable adult can see that a 9 year old cannot carry a child to term without horrible damage to her physical well being, then how do we explain the rampart child marriages happening in some parts of our country? Could it be poverty and the horror and lack of dignity that brings? Often, young girls are sold into terrible marriages they are not ready for in order to save their family’s home, perhaps farm or even lives.

Many well to do families in the same region generally wait till their daughters are past puberty before giving them to husbands, not so for poorer families. The boys are turned out into Almajiris while the girls are married off in order to give the family a chance to regroup and survive.  Unfortunately, the fascinating conversation died out when the proponent of the ‘Child not bride’ initiative focused on moral outrage while ignoring the huge elephant in the room: inequality and poverty.

Likewise the recent uproar that greeted the Lagos State Government’s dubious humanitarian act of rehabilitating destitute Nigerians to their states of origin.  Many people were gathered from Lagos and sent back to Osun and Anambra states and because they were destitute and homeless. The recipients of the dubious kindness feel differently however, they claim that they were imprisoned, and forcibly deported back to their state of origin. The conversation got heated when the governor of Anambra state objected to this treatment of Igbos. And soon the conversation had been derailed to an intractable Igbo vs. Yoruba fight where local champions spouted their ethnic bigotry in ignorance. Were the deportations about ethnicity as they will have us believe? Or was it about something much bigger? Something we aren’t paying attention to? It would be difficult to prove that the Lagos State Government hates Igbos or any other ethnic group. But what would fit the ethos and pervious and current actions of this administration, is a remarkable contempt for poor people. It is not Igbos they hate or people from Osun State, but people who were unlucky enough or not sharp enough to be poor. Yet, we allowed the conversation to get derailed into an intractable ethnic fight that no one could win. That was the end of that conversation.

The gap between rich Nigerians and poor gets bigger and bigger with each job lost, each contract given to those who know the right people, and each oil well given out to a government crony. Gini coefficient, the tool used to measure the magnitude of difference in income between poorest and the richest in a population, has been telling this story ever since.

Although the economy has been showing remarkable growth consistently, this growth fails to trickle down to the poor. Unemployment is high, remarkably so, purchasing power is trapped in the higher income bracket and lives and dreams are getting lost. The rural area is worse off. Lack of good schools, good health services, and good infrastructure keep most Nigerians out of the loop of economic growth. Capital projects are heavily skewed in urban areas and the quiet desperation of rural poverty continues. Those who make it out are caught and sent back and told to farm non-existent lands in places devoid of promise.

But what can we do to contract this gap in inequality? Is there a role for the state? Or should we depend on the private sector to save our country? Those are important questions we must answer if we are to prevent ourselves from constantly getting stuck in petty rivalries that hurt us all. We must elevate the standard of our discourse and focus on what works.

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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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