Report Indicts Buhari, Others on Poverty, Says ECOWAS Exacerbates Inequality, Loses $9.6 Billion Yearly

The commitment of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, and those of his counterparts in the West African sub-region, to making poverty history, has come under a sledge-hammer.

The Oxfam’s Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) Index which ranks countries according to their commitment to tackle inequality, reveals that the West African governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, while under-taxing corporations and the wealthy.

West African countries, according to the report, lose an estimated $9.6 billion each year through corporate tax incentives offered to multinational companies, a huge amount that could be enough to build about 100 modern and well-equipped hospitals each year in the region.

Oxfam is an international confederation of 19 organisations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries.

The regional report says West Africa has had an impressive economic growth in the past two decades. In 2018, the region was home to six of the top 10 fastest growing economies in Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Benin and Niger.

Continuing, the report said for the majority of countries, the benefits of this unprecedented economic growth went to a tiny few, pointing out, ‘’today, inequality has reached extreme levels in the region. The rich have grown richer while the poor have become even poorer. The region has also the least public health care coverage and the least populations with access to water and decent education.’’

Compared to other regions on the continent, West Africa, according to the report, has the greatest number of countries with more than 30 percent of the population living on less than $1.90 a day. The top one per cent West Africans own more than everyone else combined in the region.

‘’Five of Nigeria’s richest men have a combined wealth of $29.9 billion – more than the country’s entire national budget for 2017. However, about 60 per cent of its citizens live on less than $1.25 a day, the threshold for absolute poverty.

‘’In Ghana, West Africa’s second biggest economy, one of the richest men earns more in a month than one of the poorest women could earn in 1,000 years. In the decade ending in 2016, the country added 1,000 US dollar millionaires while nearly one million more people were added to the poverty pool’’, the report said.

Hitting hard on the ECOWAS leaders, the report said inequality is also rife in the provision of public services such as education. ‘’Women from rich families in Mali are 15 times more likely to have received a secondary education than women from poor families. An estimated 70% of the poorest girls in Niger have never attended primary school.

‘’In Nigeria, women constitute between 60% and 79% of the rural labour force but they are 10 times less likely to own their own land than men. They represent only 3.5% of the population owning farmland in the country. This level of inequality has negative impacts on women, including making them more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

‘’While a small but growing group becomes fantastically rich, a clear majority of West Africa’s citizens are denied the most essential elements of a dignified life like access to quality education, healthcare and decent jobs. Yet the West African governments are much less committed to reducing inequality than all other regions of the African continent.’’

While insisting that inequality is at crisis levels in West Africa, the report added that as the few are becoming fantastically rich, ‘’the vast majority are denied the most essential elements of a dignified life, such as quality education, healthcare and decent jobs, despite remarkable economic growth driven by extractive industries.’’

The Oxfam CRI Index shows that governments in West Africa are the least committed to reducing inequality in Africa, warning that if they do not ‘’radically increase their commitment’’ to reducing inequality, the crisis is likely to worsen.

The report however, argues that governments must promote progressive taxation, boost social spending, strengthen labour market protection, invest in agriculture and strengthen land rights for smallholders, while ECOWAS needs to prioritise tackling inequality and develop a regional action plan to drastically improve the region’s performance.

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