For about an hour and 30 minutes on Wednesday, Nigerian senators debated ways to prevent a poverty-triggered revolution in the country.
The debate followed a motion by Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu-PDP).
Mr Utazi titled his motion: “Bridging the gap between the haves and the have-not in Nigeria to nip in the bud the seeds of a looming violent revolution.”
He traced the issues of kidnapping, armed banditry, insurgency, ritual killings and others bedevilling the country to the menace of poverty ravaging all regions.
“The Senate recognises that what we are witnessing today is a culmination of long years of neglect of the welfare and future of younger generations and unwillingness by both the government and the elites to plan for the future, or read the signs of upheaval,” he said.
“Today, the chicken has returned home to roost: the downtrodden are revolting. Hitherto docile beggars have risen in arms forcing those with powers of patronage to beg for safety. The elites are being attacked. We have in our hands a dictatorship of the beggars, fuelled by drugs and poverty,” he said.
“What we are witnessing is not a spike that will go away. It is the incipient seeds of a revolution and we need to concertedly handle it with care,” he added.
In most of the submissions, the lawmakers agreed that the growing insecurity in the country stems from poverty and the wide gap between the rich and the poor.
Blaming the current situation on the elite, Shehu Sani (Kaduna-PRP) said the motion was a wake-up call ‘for the privileged class to look at the state of the nation and to know that their survival is hinged on their ability and capacity to make the ordinary man comfortable.’
“What has sparked up revolutions in countries like the Soviet Union? What has sparked up revolution in countries that have established governments that are people-oriented? It is the failure of the elite to address those very fundamental issues.”
He advised that government social programmes should be emphasised to address these issues. But he also warned that the problems will persist so far as the ‘social system (exists) that entrenches institutionalised master-servant relationship.’
The Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan (Yobe, APC), praised the government for its social intervention programmes but emphasised that more needs to be done.
“It’s not only about creating jobs but also about creating a very clement economic environment for the citizens,” he added.
Ahmed Babba-Kaita (Katsina-APC) said the Senate needs to do more to address the situation, while for Mohammed Sabo, a return to agriculture is the best way to solve unemployment issue.
Ben Murray-Bruce (Bayelsa, PDP) was more radical in his approach at solving the problem. He proposed a population control policy that will see to the reduction of the country’s population.
“We are faced with a revolution that is here. We are not talking about a revolution that is coming, the revolution is here,” he said charging his colleagues.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu (Enugu, PDP), said the country should focus on getting accurate population statistics so as to make proper planning.
“Before we get to the issue of employment, everybody needs to make contribution for the wellbeing of all,” he said.
“When we have the statistics of unemployed, we need to place them on salary and I suggest what could help is the minimum wage. So that we’ll have a fund that provides enough money to go round Nigerians that do not have enough money. Everyone who is working will have to contribute and once you start working you also have to contribute.”
Deputy Majority Leader, Ibn Na’ Allah, countered Mr Utazi’s position on revolution. He said there is no correlation between poverty and revolution.
“Yes, we accept the fact that there is armed banditry. Yes, we accept the fact that there is kidnapping. But the issue is this: can we derive a valid analogy that the combination of these criminalities upsetting the lives of law-abiding citizens of this country be said to be the path to revolution?” Mr Na’Allah (Kebbi, APC) said.
“I say no to that. It can never be the situation. What we have is a collective deficiency of patriotism. We became leaders who are above the law and we expect the followers to be above (below) the law.
“It will be wrong for this Senate to, on record, accept the fact that criminals possess the capacity to do revolution in this country. I am not part of that, sir. We are not the only poor state. I don’t know why people will align our situation to poverty. We have other countries around us that we know are poorer than our citizens and yet, there is law and order in those countries.”
Shortly after, Emmanuel Bwacha (Taraba, PDP) said the greed of the rich would push the poor to revolt.
“The unfortunate thing that will hasten the revolution is that a poor man is very helpless,” he said.
“Even if you create opportunities for employment, the elites will first choose their wards. What about those who don’t have anybody? Those are the categories of people that will come together, go and take drugs so that they have courage to face death.”
The lawmakers adopted four resolutions as the basis for actions to mitigate the issue of unemployment.
They agreed to: ‘urge the Federal Government of Nigeria to declare an emergency on unemployment in Nigeria, create more pro-poor social safety nets, dedicate 20 per cent of recovered loots to fund same, and take other urgent measures to stimulate production and other economic activities to engage young citizens of the country.”
They also enjoined the Federal Government to ‘increase the budgets for education by allocating and effectively implementing 26 per cent of their yearly budget to education, beginning from the next budget cycle in 2020. They enjoined the states to do same.’
In two additional prayers, the lawmakers urged the federal government to adopt a policy of one factory per local government and set up an unemployment support fund as proposed by Mr Ekweremadu.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, noted that maintaining law and order should remain key responsibility for the government.
“There is need for us to separate maintenance of law and order from the issue of poverty,” said Mr Saraki (Kwara, PDP).
“It (poverty) cannot be an excuse. No matter how bad it is, we must be able to maintain law and order. It is important that we as parliament give all the necessary support to security agencies, all government policy on security to see that we maintain law and order.”