We Are All Beggars

By Olukorede Yishau

I am sure what will first occur to you on seeing the title of this piece is to raise a poser: Do Aliko Dangote, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet beg? They beg their customers, they beg God and, in some cases, financial institutions that give loans for their businesses to progress. They also beg governments and their agencies for policies that will keep them in business.

Media organisations beg; they beg for advertisements. They cajole the public to buy their news. Even the most-critical of newspapers pile pressures on their advert department and sales departments to improve their fortunes. They know the importance of oxygen to their existence.

Politicians also beg; they beg for votes — do not mind the fact that they also steal votes. Marketing communication is begging by style and advertising is specialised begging. For me, public relations is nothing but begging with facts. The ultimate goal is to have improved image or images that will keep the customers or clients coming back.

As popular as Coca-Cola is, it remains a major spender in global advertising, public relations and marketing communications. Even firms with specialised services, such as construction companies, also bid for jobs. You can easily replace ‘bid’ with ‘beg’. So beggars are not just people who seek alms on the streets. We are all beggars one way or the other.

On the micro-level, family members beg one another for money. Friends do the same. Colleagues beg colleagues for assistance, financial and otherwise. Church members beg pastors and vice versa for cash.

When someone begs you for assistance, it should not be an excuse to insult him. A friend once called an old pal on phone for some financial help. After the call was supposed to have ended, the old pal was overheard telling someone: “Don’t mind her; she is begging me for money.” What he did not know was that the person who called him had not cut the call and she heard how he was shaming her. There is nothing wrong in lamenting if you cannot offer the help requested, but what is bad is to shame the person, especially when you have no fact to prove he or she was begging for no just cause.

On another level, Nigerians are also a special kind of beggars. For years, we have been begging our governments to give us good leadership.

The Goalkeepers Data Report released on Tuesday by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows that despite signs of progress, the health and education indexes in Nigeria are far from desirable. This is one development Nigerians have been begging successive governments to get right. The Gates’ observation tallies with a World Bank Human Capital Index, which shows that “children born in Nigeria today will be only 34 per cent as productive when they grow up as they could be.”

Gatekeepers Report 2019 shows that one of three Nigerians live in poverty. That represents thirty-two per cent of the population. Thirty-seven per cent of children still suffers from malnutrition.

Another interesting figure from the foundation borders on the situation where about half of Nigerians use unsafe or unimproved sanitation. Nigeria still ranks 43rd of 52 African countries on a recently compiled sustainable development goal index.

Poverty, the report says, is concentrating in fast-growing countries like Nigeria and by 2050, more than 40 per cent of Nigeria will still be under poverty’s jackboot. No wonder we still have the second-highest number of deaths of children under the age of five.

Our government needs to uplift the girl-child. “No matter where you are born, your life will be harder if you are born a girl,” the report says. Girls have an average of two fewer years of education than boys. In Nigeria, according to the World Bank, girls get an average of 7.6 years, and boys get 8.7 years.

Nigerians have been begging and are still begging for better security. The late M.D. Yusuf headed a committee in 2008 to look at what the police need to function well. According to the committee, the police need an estimated N2.8 trillion for capital development (N560 billion/year) within five years for effective reform. But what did we appropriate? In 2016, it was N16.1 billion and of this, only N10 billion was released.

Between 2012 and 2016, the police requested for N1.164 trillion but a paltry N64.999 billion was appropriated. Sadly, only N40.477 billion was released. For overhead, N328.34 billion was requested, N39.43 billion was appropriated but only N32.22 billion was released in those four years.

Of the N200 billion requested for investigations annually, only N121 million was released in 2016. For its 14,306 vehicles, including 3,115 motorcycles, the police require N19.9 billion to fuel them yearly, but it got only N809 million in 2016. No wonder there is never fuel in their vehicles when it matters most.

“What is most worrisome is that though the budgetary allocations on paper are insufficient to meet the financial needs of the force, the actual releases are far below what is budgeted. The basic requirement to provide adequate and appropriate items of kits for police personnel annually is N14,583,671,264 as against the N1,752,500,000 earmarked in the 2017 Appropriation,” says a former police chief.

In the advanced world, people do not have to beg for this. A 2007-2008 report by the British House of Commons Home Affairs Committee entitled “Policing in the 21st Century” shows clearly that we are still begging the question of proper policing. The United Kingdom spent 2.5 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the police in 2004 and £12.6 billion on the police in 2007/08. For the United States, it spent 2.2 per cent of its GDP on police; Spain spent 1.8 per cent, Germany 1.6 per cent and France 1.4. These translate into billions of dollars. France, in 2016, gave additional €250 million to the police to boost anti-terrorism fight.

Another area Nigerians have been begging is the epileptic power supply that we enjoy. In 2013, the Federal Government divested 60 per cent of its stake in the electricity distribution companies (DisCos) to 11 private investors. The belief was that the decision would make things better. But for political capital, the Federal Government has been unable to allow economic parameters to run the sector. The Power Purchase Agreements the government signed with the investors requires the Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) to pay for unused electricity. What this means is that when the DisCos reject the load allocated them by the System Operator, the Federal Government pays for it.

My final take: In a nation like Nigeria, where the economy has never performed anywhere near optimum, a beggars’ republic cannot be avoided. And with one wobbling government after the other, the people are also bound to beg for amenities, which are taken for granted in saner climes.

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