By Angela Adeboye
Poverty has been defined as a state of one who lacks a certain amount of money or material possessions and by World Bank standards a person is considered poor if he lives on less than USD2 a day, converted to N300 which translates to N9,000 per month. The man in my village who leads a simple life and does not earn up to N300 a day, by these definitions is considered poor; but let us explore a little bit to know if these definitions serve us right.
Could it be our tastes for imported and sometimes toxic goods that is killing us young or could it be the pollution from our cars and generators that damage our cells and cause strange diseases or could it be the fast-paced and restless lives that so many of us live devoid of socializing, community and leisure? I truly wonder.
Perhaps our national researchers should be evaluating life expectancy according to residence – urban and rural, to enable more targeted regional planning.
Dear friends, perhaps it is time for us to set the tone for how we should be evaluated, measured and depicted, for surely our Solomon and his cronies are not poor. What is desirable is an increased involvement of government and private sector in providing amenities such as portable
water and healthcare facilities which further enrich our rural communities. As for education, we must break free from the shackles of thinking that everyone must go to a certain type of school and embrace the truth that people possess different skills and should be encouraged to develop those skills to lead great lives. This will involve the provision of complementary institutions such as skills-centres, vocational training facilities and innovation centres for our people to truly develop their ideas
Let us therefore reject this myth by the World Bank that 78.5% of us are poor; NO, these 78.5% of us are leading lives that conventional definitions have not understood, lives that are rich in heritage and values, lives that many dream that one day will be theirs.
Let us move to define poverty with the standards that apply to our situation. It is like currency; just as the naira is the medium of exchange in Nigeria and the Yen is not, so too this definition of people living on less than USD2 a day in many parts of the world will not suffice as the agreeable definition for poverty. It must count for something that many people eat daily, live happy and contribute effectively to society and are not necessarily poor. The definition of poverty must therefore take into account the quality of life that people live as well as their access to basic amenities otherwise those who earn slightly over USD2 a day but dwell in urban squalor within shanties such as Makoko in Lagos and Kibera in Nairobi may not be captured as poor.
Let me end this piece with a quote from Henry David Thoreau "...As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."
Published in Thisday Newspaper, Sunday 12 May 2013
"...As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness."
Henry David Thoreau
As the cock crows, Solomon wakes up bright and early, prepares himself, has a meal of pap and bean cakes and then heads of to the farm. He toils from the early morning to just about the time that the sun shines brightly (noon) and then returns home with some yams from his farm and game which he has hunted.
His wife Lucy prepares a nice meal of pounded yam and vegetables which she has plucked from her backyard. She even cooks the game and ensures that the meal is ready before the kids return from school. The family enjoys this sumptuous meal of pounded yam, vegetable soup and some bush meat. Thereafter, each retires to rest and then as the sun begins to set, the family sets out to play local games, chit chat with neighbors and tell stories which have been passed from previous generations.
After a few hours, Solomon takes a walk to the square where he meets other men to have an evening drink. He has a choice of alcoholic beverages; would it be some freshly tapped palm-wine which looks so cold and inviting in the gourd or will it be some fermented millet drink which oozes the brew and intoxicates rather quickly? Well, he selects the palm-wine and joins his compatriots in a game of cards whilst they catch up with tales of what is happening within the community. While he is away, Lucy trades a tuber of yam for some Cray-fish and beans with the neighbor so that she has some for her bean cakes tomorrow. As night falls, Solomon returns home to an evening bowl of fruits which Lucy has carefully prepared for the family.
In the more developed world, a ‘Solomon’ would have many needs to cater to, for which USD2 or N300 would be inadequate. He would be required to purchase all items in order for his family to feed and these items could include rice, meat, vegetables, some oil and seasoning as he lives in a high-rise building which has no garden and does not work as a subsistent farmer.
Ideally, he would plan his finances such that purchases are made in bulk once a week or once a month to stretch the money available in order to meet his immediate needs. In this world, ‘Lucy’ would earn a stipend from the government as she has children and is unable to find work. She will therefore be in a position to contribute to the family income in order to meet their basic needs.
For a fact, this Solomon is poor because his world dictates that he lives above USD2 a day which he clearly does not earn. Certain observations must be made at this juncture; firstly, that in the developed world purchases need to be made to meet basic needs and so a definition of poverty in terms of money here is appropriate.
Secondly, that social activities such as going to the bar, cinema and other leisure activities require funding from available income and USD2 cannot meet these demands and thirdly, there is limited close family support in this developed world where a relative sends money home or helps around the farm or with household chores for free.
The United Nations defines poverty as a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means the lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. I agree with this definition.
So let us return to the Solomon from my village, who represents the majority of rural-dwelling Nigerians – farmers, fishermen and all who make up the >70% of our adult population involved in agriculture. Solomon has three meals a day and if he decides, he has two; balanced with a healthy portion of carbohydrates, protein, fats and oil, fruits and vegetables. He is happy, self-sufficient and clearly not poor by these definitions. The average man in this country eats well, has fun, is involved in some form of leisure and exercise. He has a job which allows him to spend quality time with his family and so by higher standards he leads a life that many home and abroad aspire to. He participates effectively in society, is able to feed his family and other dependants and he owns a portion of land which was handed to him by his fore-fathers. His community has a health center and community school which his children attend for free and where these are not adequately provided, it is our government that should be held accountable without labels of poverty put on Solomon and his cohorts.
Lucy is involved in a rotational credit scheme also known as ‘esusu’, ‘ajo’ or ‘adashe’ so has access to savings, bulk funds and credit. For all of us white-collar employees who toil 8 to 14 hour days and leave our children to television and nannies to groom, I tell you that Solomon and Lucy would not want to trade places with any of us since this will mean giving up those important values of community, independence and joy for a life that is measured by money and material. Let us not place our labels on Solomon and coerce him into thinking that he is poor; after all, many of us will retire to our communities when we are advanced in age for the serenity that it holds and the opportunities for true contribution.
This life expectancy hovers between 49 years for men and 51 years for women.