Recently, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, was reported to have announced that the Federal Government had approved $500,000, 350 electoral kits and seven vehicles to facilitate successful conduct of a legislative election in Guinea Bissau, a West African country and member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In a similar gesture, Nigeria is extending over 300 watts of electricity to some other African countries even when domestic supply is at its lowest ebb.
The donations, according to the minister, were within the framework of establishing peace and stability in Guinea Bissau and to enable the government carry out its general election, which is designed to consolidate democracy in that country.
Guinea Bissau is an active member of the ECOWAS sub-region. Besides, President Muhammadu Buhari is the chairperson of the sub-regional group, and he is interested in the political stability of that country.
The country was once hailed as a potential model for African development, but, regrettably, the country is now one of the poorest in the world. Her vital cashew crop provides a modest living for most of Guinea-Bissau’s farmers, and is her main source of foreign exchange. Today, that country has a massive foreign debt and an economy that relies heavily on foreign aid. It has also become a transhipment hub for drugs from Latin American countries; hence, the reason for the Nigerian government’s aids to the country can be justified.
It is on this score that we applaud the Federal Government for extending a helping hand to a brother African country that is in need — a gesture, which we believe harmonises with the dictates of international politics. It is also in line with Nigeria’s policy thrust of making Africa the fulcrum of its foreign policy.
However, while we agree with the Federal Government’s position that we should be our brother’s keeper, especially, a poor neighbouring country and ECOWAS member such as Guinea Bissau, we are also of the opinion that the government should be circumspect in dolling out aids to our neighbours when the country’s domestic needs are begging for urgent attention.
It is really not prudent when viewed against the backdrop of the country’s massive external borrowings, which has assumed a worrisome dimension at N22.7trillion. There is also the challenge of huge infrastructure gap requiring urgent attention, even as workers, including the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), are agitating for living wages and better conditions of services.
At present, there is scarcely any state government in the country that is not owing its workers arrears of salaries, perhaps, on account of paucity of funds. Most troubling is the gap between the rich and the poor in the society and the excruciating poverty level in the country. Nigeria of today is one of the world’s poorest nations on a per capita basis. While there is purportedly a growing middle class, it is still dwarfed by the millions in poverty, living on less than $1 a day.
Last year, Nigeria was reported to have entered the Brookings Book of Poverty index as the country with the highest number of extremely poor people. The Brookings Institution report painted a gory picture of the poverty situation in Nigeria, brandishing data that showed that Nigeria has 87 million people in extreme poverty as against India’s 73 million. The report suggests that the poverty situation in Nigeria is so alarming that six people fall below the poverty line every minute.
The 87 million people recorded by the Brookings Institution report is even lower than the official poverty rate recorded in the report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), which claimed that 112 million Nigerians live below poverty line.
The Africa Development Bank (AfDB) equally shares similar sentiment about the poverty situation in Nigeria. The bank believes that 80 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty line. What this translates to is that 153.6 million out of an estimated population of 192 million live below poverty line.
It is troubling that a country with this high index of poverty would at this time be playing Father Christmas while its people are dying from hunger, a case of the house owner chasing rats while his house is on fire.
A similar gesture, which rankles many a Nigerian is the country’s export of electricity to some neighboring West African countries including Niger and Benin Republic when local consumers hardly get enough supply. The government’s reported reason for doing this was to prevent the countries from damming the rivers, which flow into the Kainji Dam, Nigeria’s main source of hydroelectric power. While this argument sounds plausible, there is the need for the government to intensify measures that go beyond hydro in the search for stable supply of electricity in the country.
While we are not totally against extending hands of assistance to other African countries, we should not do this at the detriment of our country. Charity, they say begins at home.
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