Mahatma Gandhi once said: “poverty is the worst form of violence”. This is very true of Nigeria. Our political and economic leaders continue to inflict violence on millions of Nigerians. This violence is being done by rich Nigerians to the poor by the systematic exclusion of the poor from the political and economic life of our country. No one hardly wins a ticket at the primaries of political parties without it being given to the individual as concession from the stakeholders in that party. This goes all the way from local government council elections to the presidency. No one receives opportunity to make money, acquire wealth without those on top. Our so called democratic elections are nothing but honours being accorded those proclaimed winners.

In 2014 the World Bank reported that Nigeria had the third highest number of poor people in the World. The then President Goodluck Jonathan was quick to react ofcourse contesting the statement by arguing: “if they talk about ownership of private jets, Nigerians will be among the first 10 countries, yet they are saying that Nigeria is among the five poorest countries in the world. To demonstrate his point, he pointed out that Aliko Dangote, a Nigerian businessman was then recently classified among the 25 richest people in the world. This of course was a ludicrous response from Jonathan which aptly illustrates that the ruling class and economic powers in Nigeria are out of touch with the reality of poverty, hunger and deprivation faced by millions of the Nigerian citizens.

It is in this light, that one can say that privileged and opportune Nigerians are downplaying poverty because it makes them feel and look bad and uncomfortable before western nations and other rich countries. The actual poverty and suffering rarely elicits as much outrage as the fact it is being exposed for the whole world to see.

It is often claimed by rich people in Nigeria that the country is making progress by reducing the number and percentage of poor people in Nigeria. This would mean in absolute terms that Nigeria has fewer poor people compared to 20 to 30 years ago. This seems to be even the impression of most ordinary Nigerians, not least the poor themselves. It is claimed that the Millennium Development Goal’s target of reducing global poverty was achieved, with more than 1 billion people lifted out of poverty globally. Now, lets us consider what statistics say about poverty in Nigeria. 62. 6 % of Nigerians are currently living in poverty, compared to 27.2 % in the 1980. Of course individual successful people can always brush inconvenient statistics aside. Yet, the hardship that has visited Nigerians since the advent of president Muhammadu Buhari, can hardly be denied. Even the rich are experiencing a pinch of the turn of events. The days of wine and roses are fast fading for many local politicians who have help past governments to squander our national resources and wealth.

Some studies have shown that 85 richest people on earth possess the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people in the world. Our Founder, Chikezie Onuoha, often say that “God has nothing to do with money”. Statistics on poverty in the world in deed support our founder’s view. Nigerians tend to think and believe that prayers to God unlocks the keys to material prosperity. Experience has always proved this not to be the case. One’s genuine faith in God, worshipping God in spirit and truth does not necessarily translate into wealth. Being rich and wealth are determined by predictable circumstances. The number one is opportunity. God must be the most unjust being if he is responsible for making 85 people on earth possess the same wealth as 3.5 billion people on earth. How could God be responsible for the deaths of millions of people who are dying yearly from preventable diseases because they lacked few Naira notes to consult a physician and have themselves treated? Being rich is like a science, wealth creation is an art and those who have mastered this art through the utilization of the opportunities presented to them continue being richer and amassing unbelievable wealth.

When we look at the list of rich and wealthy people in Nigeria, one can comfortably say that none of them have actually brought anything into Nigeria. They are not rich because of their creativity, ingenuity, inventions. Their wealth is the result of some privileges bestowed on them by the Nigerian state. They have been given more than their fair share of the national resources, be they Alhaji Aliko Dangote – Dangote Group, (Manufacturing, oil & gas,), Mike Adenuga – Conoil, Globacom (Oil & gas, Banking, Telecom), Femi Otedola – Forte Oil and Gas (Oil & gas), Orji Uzor Kalu – Slok Group (Aviation, Shipping, publishing, manufacturing), Cosmos Maduka – Coscharis Group (Automobile, manufacturing), Jimoh Ibrahim – Nicon Insurance, Global Fleet (Insurance, transportation, oil & gas), Jim Ovia – Zenith Bank, Visafone (Banking, Telecom), 8. Pascal Dozie – MTN Nigeria, Diamond Bank (Banking, Telecom), Oba Otudeko – Honeywell Group Nigeria, Pivotal Engineering, Airtel (Manufacturing, oil & gas, telecom), Alhaji Sayyu Dantata – MRS Group (Oil & gas, construction), Umaru Abdul Mutallab – former Chairman First Bank Plc, Mutallab Group), Prince Samuel Adedoyin – Doyin Group (manufacturing, pharmaceuticals), Dele Fajemirokun – Chaiman Aiico Insurance, Xerox Nigeria, Chicken Republic, Kings Guards (Insurance, Security, Technology, Food retailing), Chief Cletus Ibeto – Ibeto Group (Trading, manufacturing, oil & gas) , (Entertainment), Tony Ezenna – Orange Group (Pharmaceutical, oil & gas), Chief Molade Okoya Thomas – Chairman CFAO Nig and other six french companies (Automobiles) (Oil & gas) LLeo Stan Ekeh – Zinox (Computer, technology), Fola Adeola – GTBank (Banking), Chief Ade Ojo – Elizade Motors Nig LTD, Distributor of Toyota cars (Auto retailing), 22. Abdulsamad Rabiu – Bua Group (Oil & gas, manufacturing), Folorunsho Alakija – Famfa Oil (Oil & gas), High Chief O.B. Lulu Briggs – Moni Pulo (Oil & gas), Hakeem Bello Osagie – Etisalat Nigeria (Telecom), Sani Bello – Amni Petroleum (Oil & gas), Mohammed Indimi – Oriental Petroleum (Oil & gas), 28. Sir Emeka Offor – Chrome Group (Oil & gas, marine), Chief Arthur Eze – Atlas Oranto Petroleum (Oil & gas), Vincent Amaechi Obianodo.

This is a list of some Nigerian billionaires. One can observe that more than 99% of them have oil and gas as their major sources of wealth. Even those who are not directly in the oil and gas have received enormous support from this sector. If you also look as the list of multi – millionaires in Nigeria, you will see also the same story. The original sources of their wealth is from oil and gas or the misappropriation of the resources of the nation placed in their disposal as government functionaries.

The global community has adopted a new set of Sustainable Development Goals,(SDGs) 17 in number where again the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030 is paramount. President Obama in his State of the Union speech to the American people in 2013 made the call for elimination of extreme poverty and hunger by 2030. To effectively fight poverty and reduce it in Nigeria, there must be reformulation of the common project of Nigeria and the way business is done. The consequence is that this partner of development in Nigeria will end up with almost all the wealth and resources of the nation concentrated in the hands of a few people. Marginalized and poorest people continue to be excluded as anti-poverty programs continue not to ask for their participation in programing and execution.

To eradicate poverty and achieve the SDGs target on global poverty all people must participate. The poor need to own the project of anti-poverty policies and programs. Each individual has a unique opportunity to contribute to the development of their community. Development actors need to ensure that no group is left behind. It may be argued that only poor people can truly tell us how to overcome the barriers that they face and how to bring transformational change in their lives. In our fight against poverty, we need to always work in partnership with the poor and marginalized. This is what SAID Entreprenuership Centre in Ikenanzizi Obowo is all about.
Ethel Odinakachi. (SAID Director of Development)