It seems that for the political actors in Nigeria, the overriding concern is the expansion of their circle of influence through the penetration of political patronage links to the grassroots. The concern of improving economic situation of the country to better the lives of Nigerians sits on the backburner as politicians pursue their own pressing agenda.

With Nigeria’s rate of population growth over the past 20 years estimated to be 72%, infrastructure deficit poised to hit 3 trillion dollars in 2040 and GDP Per Capita as a meagre $1968, the Nigerian situation is getting direr and providing more cause for worry.

In June 2018, Nigeria became the poverty capital of the world, overtaking India even though India has a population that is seven times larger than that of Nigeria. These realities do not pose sufficient cause for worry to the political elites however as they seem to have converted these negatives into resources for expanding their political industry. Reports of rampant vote buying trailed the just concluded 2019 National elections as well as several state elections. Politicians are mostly uninterested in pushing policies that will support growth of businesses and provide jobs. They would rather pay people to vote for them during elections, choosing to feed them with fish rather than teach people how to fish. This politicisation of poverty holds grave consequences for Nigeria.

The levels of sycophancy that plagues the political space in Nigeria is on the rise. A lot has been written about sycophancy and gangsterism in Nigerian politics but perhaps it is time to unpack the motivation behind such undesirable behaviours. Stomach politics or poverty politics influences our democratic process to a large extent. The pattern is clear. Critical reviews of political actors are increasingly isolated as the numbers of people who would rather curry favour from powerful and influential people through flattery and praise singing rise, drowning out the voices of critics. The result is therefore, a dwindling in the quality of public actors and a rise in mediocrity leading to even more underdevelopment.

Nigeria’s political actors assume that they can weaponise poverty but they must be wary of rising inequality. While uniform impoverishment will lead to rising levels of despair in a country, it is less unlikely to result in violence and instability as it presents no motivation for group organisation but inequality on the other hand has been identified as a trigger for violent conflict within countries. According to Oxfam’s “Commitment to Reducing Inequality index”, Nigeria is the country least committed to reducing inequality in the World displaying low political will for improving social spending while trampling on labour rights.

I hope that political actors will be educated on the connection of rising inequality to violent conflict. Relative inequality is deterministic of violent conflict in society. At this point, it is key to mention the rising disaffection of Nigerians with the wealth of political actors. It seems to me that political actors are feeding a beast that they will be unable to control because they haven’t yet grasped that this beast can turn on them and consume them.
In my conversations with people on the quality of leadership in Nigeria, my retort typically remains the same. We cannot discuss improvement in leadership until we identify the motivation for electorates as they cast their votes. With a large poor population, people will vote to support the source of their next meal. Thugs will continue to disrupt peaceful political processes in states to turn them violent because they have been paid to do so. The solution rests in pushing economic growth to provide an alternate source of income for poor families and the young people who are currently employed as sycophants thus dissociating them from the political industry.

There is an urgent need to turn our attention to impact investment in the country. Impact investing refers to investments “made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact alongside a financial return.

With backing from the African Development Bank to support Nigeria’s infrastructure funding, the state at national and subnational level as well as the private sector should also focus on industries in the Nigerian economy capable of spurring growth and direct sufficient investment towards such sectors.
Impact investment in Nigeria should actively seek to place capital in businesses, nonprofits, and funds in industries such as creative sector, renewable energy, basic services including housing, healthcare, and education, micro-finance, and sustainable agriculture. States, for example, should look at public-private partnership to support promising sectors for growth. More investment in youth owned and women owned businesses through asset classes such as, private equity/venture capital, debt, and fixed income will provide them the platform to grow and expand. More favourable policies to support private sector and businesses is also key.

The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program is an impact investment vehicle that is channeling funds into businesses that show job creation scale potential. We cannot have too many of such initiatives.

If you have ever heard anyone mention that they anticipate the election year because capital will be released into the economy, then you know that the political industry is well and thriving in Nigeria. We cannot hope to generate the critical and capable leadership representation that we want in the political space unless we rid that space of sycophancy. To get rid of sycophancy, we must provide alternative sources of income for those that depend on it for their sources of livelihood.

Zainab Haruna is the founder of Decipher Solutions, a not for profit that works to support education and job creation efforts in Nigeria. She tweets from @Zennyharry.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary