AS NIGERIAN POOR RUN FOR COVER
One unifying thread that binds together a significant percentage of Nigerians in the twenty first century is poverty.
After more than half a century that Nigeria became a modern politically independent entity, purportedly free from the clutches of foreign dominance and control, Nigerians are notoriously divided along many primordial lines such as ethnic nationality, religious and cultural affiliations but in poverty a majority of Nigerians have coalesced.
An observer need not go too far to decipher the multi-dimensional fault lines under which several implosive and explosive tensions have flared up over the years which have invariably led to the gruesome killings of several thousands of people in Nigeria.
But in poverty, over half the populations of Nigeria of divergent affiliations have found solidarity and unity as one people.
By some scientific estimates, close to seventy percent of Nigerians are poor. The distribution of the poor among the populations of Nigeria in the diverse geo-political entity is almost proportional if not equal in number but may be not the same in severity.
In the North for instance, there are over ten million children of school age that are out of school and are roaming the streets begging for alms. In the South, several children are abandoned in the streets as child witches in Akwa Ibom state and in Anambra state many boys of school age are out of school and are learning trades of different types under the severest economic adversity.
Commenting on the dimension of poverty, the Nigeria's National Bureau of Statistics in a document on the Nigeria poverty profile of 2010 stated that; “The scourge of poverty goes beyond mere measurement of a household's expenditure or welfare. Poverty has many dimensions and may include inadequate access to government utilities and services, environmental issues, poor infrastructure, illiteracy and ignorance, poor health, insecurity, social and political exclusion”.
Other devastating impacts of urban poverty include poor access to primary healthcare, growth of unsanitary urban slums and extremely poor school enrolment.
The National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria in the recently released poverty profile of the year 2010 estimates that out of a total population of a little above 140 million people, more than 89, 096,000 (over eighty nine million) Nigerians are living in absolute poverty which is like 60.2 percent of the entire population. By all intents and purposes, this figure is very frightening.
The unfortunate fact is that poverty has snowballed into a monumental national calamity with only three years to the landmark year of 2015 when the rest of the civilized world would beat their chests in jubilation that they indeed may have achieved significant percentage of the eight  millennium Development Goals which the member nations of the United Nations set for themselves.
The eight goals also known as international development goals was adopted by World leaders following the millennium summit in 2000 and these include eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, Reduction of child mortality and improvement of maternal health.
Another salient aspect of the eight goals is the resolve to ensure environmental sustainability. Nigeria is yet to achieve any of these noble goals.
The Nigerian government in the last eight years is reported to have spent several billions through the Presidential Millennium Development Goals' office but the poor populations of Nigeria who ought to be the beneficiaries have rather experienced unprecedented excruciating poverty.
Nigeria's permanent secretary in the Federal Ministry of water Resources Ambassador Godknows Igali was quoted by the media to have expressed doubt over Nigeria's ability to achieve the Millennium Development Goal in the water sector by 2015.
Again, various states and the Federal Government have taken drastic steps to implement certain anti-poor policies such as large scale demolition of houses of the poor considered as shanties and illegal structures without commensurate and efficient compensation and relocation. In Lagos and River States and even in the Federal Capital Territory, the urban poor populations are currently facing threats of forceful evictions and demolition of their houses by the respective states' and the federal ministry of federal Capital Territory. This bad policy will rather than make Nigeria achieve the first of the eight goals in the millennium Development milestones would instead create more poverty of the extreme type for millions of Nigerians who in the constitution are said to be the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria [section 14(2)(a)]. This relevant section of the grund-norm [Constitution] stated that; “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority”.
The Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who is the number three in the federal structure of governance in Nigeria, Senator David Mark has also condemned as despicable, policies that would create more poverty for the populace but the National Assembly is known to have churned out several anti-poor legislations like the recently passed property tax in Abuja which will take effect soon. This is a case of kettle calling pot black.
In a speech he delivered at a recent Senate press corps' retreat in Umuahia, Abia state, Senate President David Mark stated thus; “… A nation that is full of poor, hungry and ignorant people cannot claim to be on the path of good governance…”
Even as various states and the Federal Government continue to enforce this draconian anti-poor policy of mass and forceful eviction and demolition of houses of the poor, it has emerged that the Federal Government has not implemented up to fifty percent of the Current Appropriation Act of 2010 which is an extant law passed by the National Assembly.
The most disturbing consequence of the failure of government to implement the budget is that the state of salient economic and social infrastructure like urban and rural road and health infrastructure would collapse and the rate of poverty would skyrocket. The poor people in Mpape, Abuja whose houses are about to be demolished have run to the Abuja High Court and the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria to seek redress. The poor in Makoko, in Lagos state and Waterfronts, Port Harcourt in River state have approached their respective state Governments for remedy all to no avail.
Already, the chairman of the Governing council of the Nigerian Human Rights Commission Dr. Chidi Odinkalu has asked the states and the federal Government to stop forthwith the demolition of the Houses of the poor.
Hear him: “At a time when the country confronts difficult security challenges, the demolition of human settlements has a potential to exacerbate security problems in the country”.
Conversely, in its General Comment No. 7 adopted in 1997, the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights condemns any forceful eviction and demolition of poor peoples' settlements.
The United Nations stated thus; “Owing to the interrelationship and interdependency which exist among all human rights, forced evictions frequently violate other human rights. Thus, while manifestly breaching the rights enshrined in the Covenant, the practice of forced evictions may also result in violations of civil and political rights, such as the right to life, the right to security of the person, the right to non-interference with privacy, family and home and the right to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions”.
Government is therefore advised in the interest of public good to stop any forceful eviction and demolition of poor peoples' houses without proper actionable plan for resettlement and compensation. The National Assembly must also ensure that in the ongoing constitutional amendment process, chapters two and four of the constitution must be harmonized and made clearly enforceable.
* Emmanuel Onwubiko, Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS' ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA, blogs at www.huriwa.blogspot.com.