By Johannes Tobi Wojuola
“We must recover the whole sense of gift, of gratuitousness, of solidarity. Rampant capitalism has taught the logic of profit at all costs, of giving to get, of exploitation without looking at the person… and we see the results in the crisis we are experiencing!” – Pope Francis
The portraits of globalization and neo-liberalism are oft painted as very attractive and propitious. In reality they are for some – who are just a handful.
Two big words and two big problems that have been responsible for creating a large margin of inequalities and concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. Big businesses continue to benefit from globalization and neoliberal policies; they have become stronger and more powerful. But at the expense of disadvantaged groups and the poor – who are in the majority.
Globalization is the unfettered interchange of products and ideas around the world. Its cousin, neo-liberalism is that economic philosophy that favours a free-market. One that is preferably undisturbed as much as possible by the state.
The nexus of these two concepts has created a situation where those who control the resources of a society’s economy have concentrated a large percentage of society’s wealth in their hands. And consequently, inequalities have grown wider by the day.
Fact: 62 individuals own half of the world’s wealth.
This is symptomatic of the ills of a world daily drawing closer towards capitalist ideologies with no social buffers.
I am not anti-liberalism or anti-globalization. However, I am an advocate that with growing inequality numbers and rising unemployment figures caused in large measure by these; government must intervene to fill in the gap through principles and policies of economic justice. Like me, many argue that these inequalities can be managed through the right social investment programmes.
A balance must be struck through conscious government policies and affirmative action for the underprivileged and disadvantaged. Every serious government must invest in the lives of its people – especially the poor, who it must protect from economic shock.
This is what every, and particularly Buhari’s social investment programmes seeks to do: Giving handouts to the poorest Nigerians; providing youths with necessary skills and stipends to be able to create jobs after a short while; making loans accessible to local traders whose income are merely subsistent; giving free food to children in public schools and bursaries to poor and promising students in tertiary institution.
Some questions may resonate in the mind of commentators on this issue: would these programs have the needed impact to fill in the gap? Would 5,000 Naira change lives? Or will 30,000 Naira and skills to young graduates change their fortunes?
In fact, these programs don’t just have immediate effects on the lives of the beneficiaries, but long term impacts. Skills are intangible assets that can always be called on; so also education – a broad target of these programs.
Also, with more disposable income to the household of beneficiary families, through the Conditional Cash Transfer to the poorest Nigerians, there would be improved living standards and more cash at hand to boost their purchasing power and nutrition.
Five thousand Naira to the poor seems a paltry sum. But the needs of the elite and those of the poorest families in the hinterland are a world apart. While the former may only need that to purchase recharge card, 20 percent of that amount could be survived on by a rural family for a week. Yes: these families only need to buy basic condiments and food items to augment what is already on ground.
And with the quid pro quo precondition for benefitting from this program – where beneficiary families are required to send their children to schools and show evidence of same before they can access the grants – increased attendance and higher completion rates at school would be expected.
Most of the beneficiaries, who live in agrarian communities, are also likely to invest in agric businesses. For instance buying and rearing chickens; which is argued by the world’s richest man, Bill Gates as a guaranteed way out of poverty.
The Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme – GEEP – also known as Market Moni, another scheme of the Buhari administration’s social investment programmes is providing small loans as low as 10,000 Naira to as much as 100,000 Naira to millions of small scale traders at no interest rates and with no collateral requirements. Accessing capital is a big challenge for this demography of the lowest cadre of businessmen. High interest rates and rigid collateral demands have chased them from accessing loans to expand their businesses and employ more labour. The fear of interest rates is the beginning of wisdom for every borrower. Dowsing this is critical to developing and supporting small businesses.
A truly fair society is fashioned in a way that benefits all, especially the least advantaged – and that is what economic justice is. By and large these programmes would boost productivity among the disadvantaged population; rising inequality would be watered down; living standards would be improved and economic activities would be stimulated across the country.
Government has a paramount duty to its citizens: to improve their lives and well being.
And in the face of concentrated wealth among a few, and a raging recession, it has a responsibility to focus its policies and programs on the redistribution of this wealth in bridging the divide.
Social Investment Programmes may seem like the tale of Robin Hood. But it is a better ballad: with no one getting robbed, it is lowering the raised social bar to give economic protection and opportunities to disadvantaged populations – victims of growing inequalities and the effects of neo-liberalist policies.
Johannes Tobi Wojuola, a Lawyer and Member of the Abuja Global Shapers (An Initiative of the World Economic Forum, Davos), writes from Abuja.