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Oxfam: Nigeria’s Staggering Wealth Inequality Fueled by Corruption

Lisa Vives May 23

A new report by the anti-poverty group Oxfam International paints a devastating picture of economic inequality, finding that the combined wealth of five of the richest Nigerians — put at $29.9 billion — could end extreme poverty in their country yet millions face starvation in the country’s northeast with no relief in sight.

The report, Inequality in Nigeria exposes the large and growing gap between rich and poor. Benefits of economic growth have been captured by a wealthy elite, the report finds, at the expense of ordinary Nigerians.

The five richest Nigerians are sugar magnate Aliko Dangote (net worth $14.4 billion); the oil and telecommunications tycoon Mike Adenuga (net worth $9.9 billion); Femi Otedola, founder of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd (net worth $1.85 billion); Folorunsho Alakija of Famfa Oil Limited (net worth $1.55 billion); and Abdul Samad Rabiu, chairman of the Nigerian Bank of Industry and the manufacturing, agriculture and infrastructure conglomerate, BUA Group (net worth $1.1 billion).

Here are a few figures from the report:

— While more than 112 million people were living in poverty in 2010, the richest Nigerian man will take 42 years to spend all of his wealth at 1 million per day.

— In one day, the richest Nigerian man can earn from his wealth 8,000 times more than what the poorest 10 percent of Nigerians spend on average in one year for their basic consumption.

— A Nigerian lawmaker receives an annual salary of about $118,000, 63 times the country’s GDP per capita (2013).

— Between 1960 and 2005, about $20 trillion was stolen from the treasury by public office holders.

This issue is not due to a lack of resources but “to the ill-use, misallocation and misappropriation of such resources,” the report argues. “At the root there is a culture of corruption combined with a political elite out of touch with the daily struggles of average Nigerians.”

“The burden of taxation mostly falls on poorer companies and individuals,” Oxfam writes, while at the same time “big multinationals receive questionable tax waivers and tax holidays, and utilize loopholes in tax laws to shift huge profits generated in the country to low-tax jurisdictions.”

Resources that the government manages to collect are often spent in an unfair and inefficient way, says Oxfam.

Governance costs are “astronomical and indefensible.” In one typical scandal in 2015, allegations surfaced that the nation’s 469 lawmakers had been given a combined sum of $43 million as a “wardrobe allowance.”

Commenting on the report, Celestine Odo, Good Governance Program Coordinator for Oxfam in Nigeria, said extreme inequality was undermining the economy and fermenting social unrest.

It was an irony, he said, that Nigerians were living in poverty in spite the abundance of wealth in the country.

Nigerians must build a new political and economic system that works for everyone and not just a fortunate few.

“The government can make a start by tackling corruption, ensuring big business and wealthy individuals pay their fair share of tax, investing in vital public services, and protecting the rights of women,” Odo said.

“It is obscene that the richest Nigerian has amassed more money than he can ever hope to spend in a country where five million people will struggle to feed themselves this year. Nigerian leaders must be more determined in tackling this terrible problem.”

Responding to the report, government officials complained that the authors ignored the positive poverty alleviation scheme implemented by the government and accused the report’s authors of attempting to incite international sections against Nigeria.

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Photo: A woman sells fufu in a marketplace in Abuja, Nigeria. Credit: IFPRI/Milo Mitchell via Flickr.