The ease with which many apprehended criminals point at the unknown devil as the instigator or basis of their crime explains the difficulty in identifying the significant factors determining such behaviours. Such escapist excuses try to put a veil on other concrete underlying causes, which either acting alone or interactively can be economic, social, psychological, and political. However, the economic factor seems to possess a much bigger weight than all of them. Unlimited human wants and the scarcity of available resources both explain why conflicts and crime take place. This dominant frame of thinking holds that scarcity, underlying lack and deprivation, interacting with other factors are the primary reason for criminal behaviour and conflicts.
On the other hand, the many cases of our ultrarich politicians still illicitly enriching themselves from the public treasury lends credence to the power of unlimited wants to induce crime. For instance, some Nigerians were shocked that a former female minister acquired personal jewellery valued at up to N14.4 billion by abusing her office. Such unbridled desire and the consequent kleptomania may be challenging to understand. But she is not alone. There are also strong allegations that wealthy people in our societies majorly finance terrorist activities, insurgencies, banditry, kidnapping, etc. Such destructive entrepreneurship abounds in our midst. They are those who rob the masses with the pen, those who direct public resources into personal pockets, and defraud others behind their computers and with their phones. But as morally incorrect and appalling as it might seem, poverty, deprivation, and lack, on the other hand, are not reasonable justifications for instigating crime and conflicts. Exceptions may hold where the actions of the non-poor cause poverty. In that case, the latter will be naturally justified on a revenge mission. Unfortunately, even where it is known, those who cause mayhem in society rarely have access to extend such dastardly vengeance on those who supposedly have and who are perhaps behind their unfavourable economic conditions.
The undeniable truth is that “a hungry or deprived man is an angry man”. While some may restrain their deprivation-induced anger, many others vent it off in diverse ways depending on their persona and orientations. The time-established truth confirms that poverty is both a humanitarian tragedy and unarguably a security threat. Every humankind desire to meet their aspirations up to a particular self-determined minimum threshold. Unfortunately, less than 5% of humans meet this minimum desire threshold. More than 80% of those in sub-Saharan Africa fail to achieve up to 20% of this specified minimum. The ensuing frustrations lead many to adopt a “do or die” approach to realizing them. Many of the young Northerners involved in insurgency and banditry are good examples. What else would you expect younger people denied good education, deprived of the opportunities of earning some meaningful income and have no access to basic social amenities to do but to find other ways of surviving? Painfully, they see their peers in the southern parts of the country doing far, much better. Many humans will toe the same line of the response of “surviving, by all means, possible” if they find themselves in the same condition.
Unfortunately, responding to the hurt of poverty and deprivation through the windows of crime and conflicts always presents rebound effects. Poverty and insecurity dynamically reinforce each other in a vicious doom spiral. Again, imagine the magnitude of economic losses, social and psychological trauma that has become the constant lot of the population in the country’s northern parts because of poverty-induced insecurity. It was an analogous situation in the heydays of Niger Delta militancy which indirectly blocked early government interventions and made it more challenging for non-governmental business operators to invest in the region. Entrepreneurship and economic development only do well in conducive socio-economic environments. These arguments hold even in nonviolent forms of crime such as corruption. Combined with its kindred forms of crime and economic sabotage, they are merely advanced manifestations of innate poverty and lack regardless of the wealth status of those who perpetrate them. Like physical conflicts, they equally attenuate the fiscal capacity of the government to facilitate socio-economic progress.
An excellent way to appreciate the pathway to the doom spiral is first to understand how an untreated sense of lack and poverty is behind the kleptomania of the political class in Nigeria or sub-Saharan Africa. People in government who continue to steal public funds after attaining a socially acceptable threshold of economic success suffer from an untreated poverty mindset. When this condition continuously interacts with perceptions of limited resources and uncertainty about the future, the magnitude of stealing intensifies. The more addicted they become, the more they aspire to permanently control the source of those funds through the hijacking of the government’s political structure. The result is the effective cannibalization of institutions and processes of healthy governance, leaving statecraft in the hands of people only interested in pocketing it. Regrettably, that is where we find ourselves today in the country. The institutions have become very weak and no longer guarantee effective governance. At the same time, the justice system is in the hypnotic stage while it is not clear who controls the state’s machinery. For these reasons, our territories, particularly in the country’s northern parts, have become increasingly attractive to terrorism. The battle is to parcel off spatial segments to those who conquer them eventually.
The doom spiral perpetuates the poorest countries in conflict. The top ten countries in conflict, namely Afghanistan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen, belong to the world’s top twenty-five poorest countries. The conflicts in these countries further fertilize the environment to grow the seeds of poverty. In most of these countries, poverty makes it substantially easier to mobilize for violence. That is quite evident in the recruitment of insurgents in the northern parts of the country. Many poor people are simply vulnerable and have a minimal opportunity cost of joining violent campaigns. As the famous proverb goes, “he that is already on the ground needs not to fear falling”. Indeed, many poor believe that they have more to gain in the short term by becoming part of a violent group than otherwise. But that may not be the entire truth. The scale of poverty expands, and the degree of vulnerability of the poor worsens with the outbreak of conflict everywhere.
Flip the coin, and the vast opportunity costs of insecurity for those with higher personal income becomes very apparent. Many analysts have observed that weak economic growth, low incomes, and dependence on natural resources are potent predictors of conflicts. And very candidly, if we trace the source of the country’s current insecurity crisis, we will end up on the table of inequities and unfairness regarding allocating and utilizing the proceeds of our natural resources. The complex perspectives around their ownership, sharing and control are behind the cocktails of deadly strategies by various interest groups, ethnic militia and a horde of other criminals embedded in the plot web. These invigorate the national natural resource dependency mindset, amplify the obsession for sharing rather than innovating and producing. Without continuous growth and efficient production or productivity, the economy continues to weaken and worsen when it cannot keep pace with the growth of the population. The resulting low income and poverty for many heighten the risks of conflicts.
In developing a plan to eliminate this vicious interdependent spiral loop, the question has always been about sequencing policy actions. The puzzle is: between poverty or insecurity or both, which should receive priority attention? In our instance, poverty and insecurity are substantially traceable to the conscious mainstreaming of unfairness and inequities in our fiscal programming. The injustices and discrimination are, in turn, fat-fed by our utterly weakened justice ecosystem. The entire galaxy of the country’s judiciary, police, other law enforcement agencies and the correctional system is simply in nigh-morbid and otiose states. Worse still, many Nigerians believe that even the law book from which to derive and democratize equity and fairness is grossly defective and creates more problems than it can resolve. Therefore, rather than targeting either poverty or insecurity elimination, priority attention should be on reconstructing the foundations of our rule of law, equity, and fairness.
Even if we decide to frame the poverty elimination option as a national security issue, its success over a long time will depend on how much attention we still give to the resolution of challenges of unfairness and inequity permeating every aspect of our country’s life. Again, prioritizing poverty elimination without first and foremost addressing the issues of the rule of law, injustices and unfairness only brood more corruption which has been its undoing. Corruption impregnates our fiscal policy architecture to deliver poverty rather than the contrary continuously. Yet, we can only successfully eliminate corruption when the rule of law and our country’s entire justice system is restructured and refocused to deliver equity and fairness.
Finally, there is absolutely no reason why Nigeria should not be among the top ten most prosperous countries. Its vast and substantially unexplored natural resource endowments dwarf what obtains in many other countries of the world. The entrepreneurial agility of its population is manifest across the globe. Therefore, the challenge is the inability of its leadership to effectively mainstream and succumb to the rule of law. It is near impossible for Nigeria and any other nation to attain a state of well-being in a prevailing environment of inequities and unfairness. As a resource-rich country, our prevalent poverty is only explainable by our conscious rejection of justice, equity, and the rule of law. But those who choose to sow poverty should also be willing to reap insecurity.
Frontpage October 20, 2018