In May 2017, that is just two months back, it was Oxfam, the international development NGO, that released a report on how strange the concept of redistributive justice or equity is to the Nigerian establishment. The report said just a few people are wealthy enough to end poverty in Nigeria. People with the heart to go through the report came across sharp quotations such as “Poverty and inequality in Nigeria are not due to lack of resources but to the ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation of such resources” or “Between 1969 and 2005, £20trillion was stolen from the treasury by public office holders”
By such statements, the international NGO suggests that Nigeria leaders are a different breed – the only elite who are not afraid of people’s anger for stealing them blind. What Oxfam did not add is how the elite have so successfully conscientised and manipulated the people along ethno-religious and regional lines that even the concept of corruption is understood along ethnic, religious and regional frameworks. So, the elite is not scared of the dangers of the pronounced income inequality gap in terms of a citizenry angered by it. That is, unlike the Westerners and Western educated elements working in Oxfam, the Nigerian elite are not alarmed. So, the kind of concessions to the Talakawa that are taken for granted in the Western world such as the underground network in European transport system do not happen here, for instance.
Oxfam was followed by The Economist Intelligence Unit whose Country Report on Nigeria a few weeks back had scaring predictions about the future that the government has not even been able to mount any counter-narrative. Now, Oxfam is back with The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index. Published along with Development Finance International, it tried to rank governments throughout the world in terms of what they have done and could do better to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide. In other words, the report is not about Nigeria.
Nigeria is, however, the big news from the report because it came last out of the ten most hopeless performers in the ranking. There are ten countries in that category and these are the ten countries and their ranking order: Bhutan (which uses Gross National Happiness, (GNH) instead of Gross Domestic Product); Tonga; Belarus; Afghanistan (which has been at war since the late 1970s to date); Panama; Albania; Myanmar, (formerly Burma); Bahrain and Nigeria. The big news must be in finding an extra-ordinarily wealthy Nigeria among countries that have either been at war or been under military dictatorship or so small in size or even just arriving at statehood. So, what happened that Nigeria is like that?
The UK based The Guardian made a big show of the report earlier today. Ideologically, that paper shares a lot with Oxfam, unlike the equally UK based weekly, The Economist which raised the poser in 2000: who elected Oxfam? It was not a declaration of enmity but a critique of transnational activism as an autonomous player in global politics, some of them richer than some independent states. Some people even say they have challenged great powers in their own game by successfully entering the realm of global security when a coalition of international NGOs got the UN to ban personnel landmines to the chagrin of arms manufacturers. Subsequently, Jody Williams who received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1997 for leading the campaign declared triumphantly that there had been a re-calibration of diplomacy.
How transnational advocacy pulled through its spectacular successes exemplified by the ban in addition to ICC or the World Commission on Dams is a subject of serious academic contemplation across study centres around the world. It means that the notion that they are indistinguishable from their powerful home governments needs something more nuanced. Some scholars have given a push to this manner of thinking in works typified by the one with the memorable sub-title “Why It is beside the Point that No One Elected Oxfam”. Jennifer Rubenstein who wrote it is an academic in the United States or was there when she wrote the paper in 2014. With that sort of title, the Nigerian government, for instance, cannot come up to say Oxfam or any international NGO is interfering in domestic matters. Sovereign states are still very powerful but the globalisation they love to talk about has come with all manner of travellers and transnational activists constitute one such category.
The real gap might be that while Oxfam, used here as a synonym for INGOs, particularly the development and advocacy INGOs, might be doing pretty much in documenting elite transgression in countries such as Nigeria, they rarely mediatise themselves in a way that their products are appreciated beyond the elite. The risk is that these documents might go no further than as advisory for the rich and powerful to secure themselves, discursively and practically, against popular anger. Perhaps, Oxfam, again as a synonym, does not set out to injure the system that fatally.
Finally, there are critics who would throw ideological sachets of water at Oxfam and fellow travellers for not going far enough. Why talk about disastrous or failed elite as in the case of Nigeria in this report without talking about the successful elite? Failure and success cannot have different roots in an interconnected system of states. What explains the success of one set that then has nothing to do with the failure of the other? ‘Oxfam’s luck in the case of this report though is that the most successful or the most performing states are not the most guilty of hardcore capitalism and, by implication, war exporting imperialism in public consciousness. Rather, they are Sweden, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Finland, Austria, France, Netherland and Luxembourg. This makes The Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index a big slap on neoliberalism.
Oxfam and ‘Oxfam’ might, therefore, take the report to the next level by calling the authors of Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, (ERGP) to a seminar where the only paper to be discussed must be David Harvey’s “Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction”. This is so that they would know that they are telling lies when they say the ERGP will save the economy. It will never do any such thing. It will only make the rich richer and the poor poorer, making the next Oxfam report on inequality and poverty in Nigeria to come with more horrendous figures.