FOR a country like Nigeria where the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to widen, and government's promises of addressing poverty and inequalities remain unfulfilled, the interventions of the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have become critical in its quest to achieve goal number 10 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
SDG-10 focuses on reducing inequalities in a variety of contexts: income inequality within a country, as well as inequality by gender, age, disability, race, class, ethnicity, religion, and opportunity. It mandates UN-member countries, including Nigeria, to ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and by promoting appropriate legislations and actions, adopting policies – especially fiscal, wage and social protection policies – to progressively achieve greater equality.
SDG-10 seeks to ensure that by 2030, every country would have achieved sustainable income growth for the bottom 40 percent of the population at a rate higher than the national average; and must have empowered and promoted the social, economic and political inclusion of all.
Development experts reckon that CSOs, known for their traditional role of interface between the citizens and policymakers/implementers in government, would be instrumental in fast-tracking the process of actualizing the vision of addressing extreme poverty, inequality, injustice and discrimination in Nigeria.
Expectedly, many CSOs in the country have been deeply involved in the crusade to compel the Nigerian government to reduce the growing economic inequalities. Indeed, they have been working assiduously on inequalities as enshrined in SDG-10 by advocating that the three tiers of governments in Nigeria should promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all irrespective of age, sex, disability, ethnicity, religious status or background.
However, before appraising the role of CSOs towards reducing inequalities in the country, it is pertinent to present the recent data on the inequalities in Nigeria and efforts by government to address the issue.
Nigeria's rising inequality
When President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, one of the key promises he made to Nigerians was that his administration would take action to reduce poverty and inequality in the land. He was unequivocal in his pledge to address the widening gap between the rich and poor in the country, and to ensure equitable distribution of national wealth:
"We promise not to leave any Nigerian behind in our determination to create, expand and ensure equitable and effective allocation of economic opportunities. No matter the amount of wealth we create, it would be meaningless unless it benefits the majority of our people."
Four months after his inauguration, in his maiden address to the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Buhari told world leaders that in line with the SDGs, Nigeria under his leadership would "tackle inequalities arising from massive unemployment and previous government policies favouring a few people to the detriment of the many."
However, after nearly three years in office, it appears that his administration has not made much progress in terms of reversing the trend of poverty and economic inequality. Indeed, inequality has worsened with the brazen display of wealth and opulence alongside abject poverty and squalor in major cities in Nigeria. Cursory checks on key economic indicators show that the country's socio-economic circumstances have not improved as significantly as some would have anticipated. For instance, Nigeria's unemployment rate increased to 18.80 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from 16.20 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Unemployment rate in Nigeria averaged 10.63 percent from 2006 until 2017, reaching an all time high of 19.70 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 and a record low of 5.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010.
Nigeria's GINI Index also confirmed the widening income inequalities in the country, being measured at 48.83 in 2010, up from 43 in 2004, according to the World Bank. The rise from 43 to nearly 49 in six years shows the growing gulf in the country's income distribution.
Recently, Oxfam International had in a report titled: Nigeria: extreme inequality in numbers revealed that economic inequality in Nigeria has reached extreme levels, despite being the largest economy in Africa. It noted that the country has an expanding economy with abundant human capital and the economic potential to lift millions out of poverty yet majority of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. The report gave a damning statistics of the rising inequality in Nigeria:
"The combined wealth of Nigeria's five richest men - $29.9 billion - could end extreme poverty at a national level yet five million face hunger. More than 112 million people are living in poverty in Nigeria, yet the country's richest man would have to spend $1 million a day for 42 years to exhaust his fortune. The amount of money that the richest Nigerian man can earn annually from his wealth is sufficient to lift two million people out of poverty for one year. 79% of women represent between 60 and 79 percent of Nigeria's rural labour force but are five times less likely to own their own land than men. Women are also less likely to have had a decent education. Over three-quarters of the poorest women in Nigeria have never been to school and 94% of them are illiterate."
According to the report, between 1960 and 2005, public office holders stole about $20 trillion from the treasury. "This amount is larger than the GDP of the United States in 2012 (about $18 trillion). Poverty and inequality in Nigeria are not due to a lack of resources, but to the ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation of such resources. At the root is a culture of corruption combined with political elite out of touch with the daily struggles of average Nigerians."
Another consequence of the mismanagement of the nation's resources is the high rate of unemployment, especially among the youths. In 2016, between 12.1% and 21.5% of Nigeria's youth were without a job.
According to Oxfam, for Nigeria to close the inequality gap, the government must work with the international community to get food and aid to hungry people. In addition, Oxfam suggested that government must free millions of Nigerians from poverty by building a new political and economic system that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few.
Corroborating the recent inequality index, Senator Attai Aidoko Ali Usman, Chairman, Senate Committee on SDGs, expressed fear that inequalities that were still constitute a major development barrier in Nigeria and could hamper the achievement of the SDGs if not checked. Senator Usman observed this while addressing a high-level dialogue, which sought to address the imperative of reducing inequality in Nigeria by redirecting the attention of policy makers and implementers of the SDGs-10. He declared:
"From statistics available to our committees, Nigeria seems to be one of the most unequal societies in the world in terms of income, access to basic social services, life expectancy among others. Across geo-political zones, states, population and age groups, we see clear manifestations of social, economic and political inequalities. These should concern all Nigerians and must be addressed."
Similarly, Tijani Abdulkadir Jobe, Chairman of the House of the Representatives Committee on SDGs and Chairman of the African Network of Parliamentarians on the SDGs, also expressed regrets that the country is still bedevilled by various socio-economic and political challenges. He said these are traceable to inequalities in spite of the provisions of Section 42 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution which prohibits any form of discrimination. He expressed optimism that given the array of experts and practitioners at the interactive forum, more efforts should be on international best practices towards addressing inequalities in all its ramifications in Nigeria.
Mr. Shetimma Buka Abba of the Federal Character Commission (FCC) decried the huge gap between the rich few who sit on 80 percent of the country's wealth and the majority poor in Nigeria. He expressed fear that the consequences of such crass inequalities may spell doom for the country if not checked now. He said inequalities in the educational sector manifest in the form of male-female enrolment and urban-rural distribution of teachers, where more teachers are concentrated at the urban areas while most schools in the rural areas have little or no teachers.
Dr. Oladimeji Olayinka of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) averred that inequality cuts across all the sectors in Nigeria and the health sector was not an exception. According to him, Nigeria's development quagmire was traceable to the fact that the wealth of the nation is skewed in favour of the few rich who continue to enrich themselves and impoverish the poor.
There is equally socio-economic inequality between the country's political leaders and the governed; inequality is perverse in terms of women's political participation and representation in government against the Beijing Platform for Action. A large percentage of Nigerian citizens still live below the poverty line of less than a dollar, ninety-cents per day while the political class continues to amass wealth and live in incredible opulence. While a Nigerian Senator reportedly earns a whooping sum of $29 million on quarterly basis, the average Nigerian civil servant earns merely N18, 000 as minimum wage monthly. Worst still, many states are currently owning their workers salary arrears; an indication that some states are not viable as they have to go cap-in-hand to the Federal Government to collect the monthly allocation.
CSOs to the rescue
The people-centred mandate of the 2030 Agenda, points to the critical role of the civil society organizations in ensuring that people are the focus of the SDGs and that the society does not leave behind its most vulnerable.
Currently, CSOs are actively involved in waging relentless campaigns to bridge the inequality gap. Dr. David Tola Winjobi, the National Coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition on Sustainable Development (CSCSD) said that the CSOs in the country have been playing an active role in narrowing the yawning gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria, which is the thrust of SDG-10.
According to him, a good number of CSOs have dedicated their energies and resources to organizing empowerment programmes in order to increase the status of women while some are meaningfully engaging governments in their respective states to ensure that favourable economic policies are enacted. "Some NGOs like CAFSO-WRAG for Development, Farmers Development Union (FADU) and Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) are directly implementing micro-credit schemes in both rural and urban communities essentially for indigent women," he said.
In February 2018, Oxfam, an international non-governmental organization renowned for its enduring commitment to creating a world without poverty where people are capable of building a livelihood, in collaboration with BudgIt Information Technology Network Lagos, held a two-day workshop in Lagos in bid to devise strategic measures for tackling inequalities in Nigeria. The theme of the workshop is: Even it up: Tackling inequality in Nigeria through analysis and advocacy, with Right to Food (R2F) and Financing for Development (F4D).
Mr. Celestine Okwudili Odo, Oxfam's Coordinator for Private and Public sector Transparency and Accountability, expressed worries over the widening gap between the rich and the poor. He stressed that poverty and inequality in Nigeria could be linked to the pressure on limited resources.
According to him, misallocation and misappropriation of limited resources has made the problem bigger, hence the need for such strategic campaigns like Right to Food and Financing for Development, which aims at bridging the inequality gap. He highlighted the critical role of the Right to Food campaign and access to land in addressing inequality in Nigeria. Odo therefore called for concerted efforts to tackle the clashes between farmers and herders and review of the Land Use Act to allow for easier access to land in order to guarantee food security, since majority of Nigerians are farmers.
Odo said that in its efforts to address inequality in Nigeria, Oxfam sponsored the Right To Food (R2F) Bill which has passed Second Reading in the House of Representatives and now on the table of Constitutional Review Committee of the House. It has also mobilized over 40,000 Nigerian youths and small-scale farmers to campaign for increased funding and investment in the agricultural sector.
He further disclosed that Oxfam is equally facilitating the mobilization of small-scale farmers to access loans and has intensified its advocacy for the implementation of new National Tax Policy and the Voluntary Income and Asset Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), geared towards stopping illicit financial flows and revenue leakages for the government.
According to him, Oxfam's strategy includes research, lobby and advocacy, citizens' mobilization and enlightenment, networking and alliance building, capacity building for the civil society and the government.The organization's local partners such as ActionAid Abuja, Niger Delta Budget Monitoring Group (NDBUMOG), BudgIT Information Technology Network Lagos, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), KEBETKACHE Women Development and Resources Centre, HEDA Lagos, Farm and Infrastructure Foundation (FIF) took part in the brainstorming workshop.
Mrs. Emem Okon of the KEBETKACHE Women Development and Resources Centre said that her organization is working towards addressing the challenges that usually hamper budget implementation on the developmental needs of people at the grassroots. According to her, it has been noticed that community needs most often do not get included in the state and federal government budgets. "Therefore, we are training members of communities on how to conduct needs assessment. We also train government agencies, parastatals and ministries on community needs assessment to ensure that the extant or future budgets include the needs of the people," Okon said.
Studies have consistently shown that the Nigerian economy is structured in such a way as to ensure that the rich get richer while the poor gets poorer. This has had adverse consequences on the social well being of the populace as a whole.
Victor Emejuiwe, Programme Officer (Good Governance) at the Centre for Social Justice in Abuja, said that the huge gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria could be traced to unequal in income distribution among workers:
"Income inequality gives birth to corruption, insecurity, lack of efficiency and capacity in the workplace. It retards growth and development of both the individual and the nation. With the exception of a few corporations, income inequality exists amongst large percentage of the workforce in the private and public sectors in Nigeria. The approved minimum wage of N18, 000 is not feasible in the present economy. Workers indulge in bribes and fraud just to meet up with the demands for survival. The low income wage ensnares workers to corruption, hence making a majority of Nigerians guilty of corruption."
Emejuiwe noted that President Buhari's fight against corruption is a welcome development, but added that corruption must be fought on all fronts by addressing the wage disparity that exists between highly placed public officials and the ordinary workers. He noted that the current situation where less than one percent of Nigerians consume much of the country's budget as recurrent expenditure would further increase inequality:
"The National Assembly, 469 senators and House of Representatives members, earn salaries and allowances that can pay the minimum wage of 1000 workers. Nigerian lawmakers, according to one report, are known to be the highest paid in the world, with an annual salary of $189,500 (N101030.6 million) each, which excludes allowances. The Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RAMFAC) reports that the constituency allowances of senators are 250 percent of their annual basic salaries, while the members of the House of Representatives receive 100 percent of their annual basic salaries. There are 1,500 political office holders which include ministers, special advisers and special assistants. The Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc.) (Amendment Act) of 2008 enumerates the allowances of these public officers as follows; (using the annual basic salary of N2,026,400 as the basis) accommodation 200 percent; utilities 30 percent; domestic staff 75 percent; entertainment 45 percent; medical facilities and security are provided by the state and will cover treatment in foreign hospitals; furniture 300 percent; personal assistants 25 percent; motor vehicle loan 400 percent; motor maintenance and fuel allowance, 75 percent; severance gratuity, 300 percent; leave allowance, 10 percent; newspaper allowance, 15 percent; duty tour allowance, N35,000; estacode $900; monitoring allowance 20 percent."
Emejuiwe said that to address inequality successfully, the salaries of all public office holders should be reviewed, with the aim of cutting down some of the unreasonable entitlements.
He added that to address income inequality, the focus should be granting workers access to reasonable purchasing power that meets the competing demands of society:
"In doing this, there must be a real cost computation. Consideration must be given to the market cost for certain living conditions such as cost of education, housing, transport, communications, feeding, health and utilities. This consideration should be reasonable and allotted to all workers despite their level or grade."
Campaign against legislators' Jumbo salary
Worried by the bumper package which senators and members of the House of Representatives receive as remuneration/emoluments, some CSOs have been pushing for a new legislation that would address the jumbo salary for political leaders.
The Citizens for Justice, Employment and Transparency (C-JET), is one of the frontline campaigners for a drastic cut in the wage and expenditure bills of the National Assembly. The organization highlighted the secret manipulations of the national budget by the lawmakers that jerked up its share of appropriations since 2011 on its website — www.jet-cng.org.
C-JET observed in its report that before the lawmakers kick-started their budget tinkering in 2010, its budget was largely recurrent, as NASS' capital projects were rightly being implemented by the Federal Capital Territory Authority (FCTA). NASS' total personnel cost was also limited to N10, 358, 640,069. Management consultants and cost control experts suggest that institutions like the National Assembly, the National Planning Commission (NPC), the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Ministry of Justice, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC), among others, perform similar functions in the same public service, and should have the same cost structure in their service delivery. The C-JET report further states:
"The wide range in recurrent expenditure (notably Overhead Cost) between these other agencies on the one hand and NASS on the other raises very serious questions, and leaves one with the impression that because the legislators have absolute powers over their budget, they have used such powers optimally to inflate their recurrent budgets to the stupefying proportions witnessed all-round the budgets. It was probably in a bid to cover-up this budget bloat that the Constitution was hurriedly amended on the eve of April 2011 general elections, and NASS budget aggregated with effect from 2011."
The organization makes the following startling observations:
From 2011, the NASS' appropriation has been increased to N150billion and aggregated, without the public being able to know the expenditure heads again, in spite of numerous law court orders for NASS to disaggregate its budgets.
Rather than decrease, public outcry against NASS budget soared, with the general impression that the incidence of budget-padding and other irregularities have worsened, considering the sort of expenditure items and amounts appropriated in the last seen 2010 NASS' budget. The general resentment against bloated recurrent budget has negatively affected the public image of the legislators.
Neither the 1999 Constitution (even after the first amendment) nor the RMAFC recommendations provided for Legislative Aides as a separate expenditure head, other than provisions for Personal Assistants and general staff of NASS Service Commission. This unconstitutional importation has become a conduit for perfecting the deliberate act of misappropriation through bloated personnel/overhead budget of NASS.
Concerned groups and activists insist that if the capital budget of NASS is rightly left in the FCTA budget, then in the current state of the economy, NASS' Total Recurrent Budget can be judiciously met with a sum not exceeding N25 billion (to cover total personnel cost of members, aides, and staff of NASS Service Commission) and reasonable overhead cost.
There is also growing demand for Senators and members of the House of Representatives to perform their legislative duties on a monthly total emolument (excluding allowance for constituency) of N500,000 and N400,000 respectively – considering the emoluments of Directors in other federal establishments who live in Abuja and even pay for accommodation. According to C-JET, at the current N150 billion constant budget, the 469 Legislators and NASS as a body are receiving in the excess the sum of N125 billion annually, to the detriment of many poor and unemployed Nigerians. "This amount is much higher than the N96 billion ($600 million) loan which the out gone Finance Minister went to beg from China in 2013 to continue the people-oriented Abuja Light Rail project, for instance".
C-JET insists that in the current 8th Parliament, the legislators are required to effect the cut of this excess N125 billion, and have the moral ground to cut similar excesses in the recurrent budgets of other MDAs, and thus cure the perennial budget plague of unsustainable recurrent expenditure. If this is done, the sum of N800 billion could be saved from the 2015 recurrent federal budget.
The argument from the CSO is that half of the N800 billion saving (N400 billion) can be deployed to comfortably empower about two million NDE graduates who could not get NDE's post-training N200,000 loan for lack of collateral.
Expectedly, the group has demanded that the RMAFC and NISWC review down the pay package and overhead costs of political office holders, especially that of the national legislators. According to the group, "the desirability and constitutional feasibility of factoring in the varying revenue and cost of living indices of different states should also be considered in the current review exercise."
CSOs and the bailout funds saga
The CSOs have been in the forefront of public outcry which trailed the lack of accountability and transparency in the management of the bailout funds dished out by the Federal Government to the states in the wake of the recent economic recession.
It would be recalled that the Buhari administration came to the rescue of the states with N338 billion, when about 26 states were practically bankrupt. This was followed by another N575 billion; $2.1 billion from the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG); N7.85 billion to assist with revenue shortfalls; N3.6 billion from solid minerals savings; N117.3 billion taken from the excess revenue generated from Petroleum Profit Tax, before the latest tranche of the Paris Fund Refunds.
The research by BudgIT released in April 2017 showed that the Buhari administration had given N1.75 trillion extra-statutory allocations to states. These were in spite of the infrastructure fund from which some states got more than N10 billion and the reimbursement for federal projects executed by states.
However, instead of using the funds for the primary purpose of settling workers' salary arrears and reducing inequality, most state governors diverted the funds for personal aggrandizement.
Many civil rights activists are angry that the mismanagement of the bailout funds has further widened the inequality gap and have initiated campaigns against it. For instance, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has taken up the gauntlet, demanding that state governors provide details of expenditures pertaining to the Paris Club refund. SERAP also demanded for the return of over N40 billion allegedly collected by ex-governors, now serving as senators and ministers as pensions from their states.
The bid got a massive boost on June 27, 2017 from a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos. It granted SERAP permission to "apply for judicial relief and to seek an order of mandamus directing and/or compelling the government to publish details of spending of N10388.304 billion London Paris Club refunds allegedly diverted and mismanaged by 35 states", among other requests granted by the court.
SERAP has also taken its battle for public scrutiny of financial imprudence to members of the National Assembly because some of the ex-governors who are now senators have almost turned it into leisure rendezvous. "After milking their states dry, they now seat in the NASS to selfishly stop their prosecution if ever there is any", SERAP said.
On July 15, 2017, SERAP again put the Accountant-General (AG) on notice to institute a legal action for the recovery of over N1040 billion dubiously earned in double payment by those who had served as governors and are now serving as senators or ministers of the federation. About 17 senators and four ministers were reportedly involved in this double pay issue. SERAP urged the AG to use his "good offices as a defender of public interest" to institute legal action to challenge the legality of state laws permitting governors to enjoy emoluments, even while they serve as senators or ministers.
Adetokunbo Mumuni, Executive Director of SERAP argues that "public interest is not well-served when government officials such as former governors and deputies supplement their emolument in their current positions with life pensions and emoluments drawn from their states' meagre resources, thereby prioritizing their private or personal interest over and above the greatest happiness of the greatest majority of the people."
SERAP's legal battle eventually forced Dr. Bukola Saraki, Senate President, to stop collecting pension in Kwara State, where he had served as governor between 2003 and 2011. Saraki disclosed that he wrote a letter to the Kwara State government to stop the payment of the pension after SERAP declared it as illegal.
Mumuni, the Executive Director of SERAP believes that efforts of successive administrations in Nigeria have not been able to address the root causes of widening inequality and poverty in the country because of poor planning and implementation. According to him, government's best efforts have not been enough in reducing economic inequality and poverty among majority of Nigerians because of the slipshod manner of their execution.
He cautioned that if the Nigerian government continues in that manner, it is doubtful whether it will be possible to significantly reduce inequality in Nigeria by 2030.