The Intersection Of Poverty, Crime And Inequality In Nigeria

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SEATTLE (BORGEN MAGAZINE) — A young woman in Bauchi State, Nigeria, had her legs cut off by her machete-wielding husband. Adamu Hussaini Maidoya claimed he did it to prevent her from ever leaving their home. He was never punished. Crimes of this magnitude are not rare. Nigeria continues to be a patriarchal country with large income, gender and social inequalities. And where there is a large schism in equality, there is crime.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil exporter, and yet, 100 million of the country’s 185 million people live on less than $1 a day. Oil exports continue to grow the country’s economy, but these mass fortunes are settling in the pockets of a few. From 2004 to 2010, Nigeria saw the number of those living in poverty increase from 69 million to 112 million people, while at the same time, the number of millionaires increased by 44 percent. According to Oxfam International, it would take $24 billion to eradicate Nigeria’s poverty. That’s $5.9 billion less than the net worth of the five wealthiest individuals combined.

Compounding its economic inequality, Nigeria experiences huge gaps in gender inequality as well. It is estimated that of the 78 million women that live in the country, 54 million of them are poor. This number is even more disturbing when noting that 60-79 percent of women make up the rural labor force. These figures explain why some view women as Nigeria’s “hidden resource.” However, due to its patriarchal system, they often lack the resources necessary to climb out of poverty, such as education, healthcare, protection and political involvement. The Global Gender Gap Index ranks Nigeria 125th out of 145 countries.

There have been many government programs aimed at alleviating poverty, crime and inequality in Nigeria. The National Accelerated Food Protection Program in 1972 was devoted entirely to funding agriculture. In 1985, there was the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure. Others came along: Green Revolution, Operation Feed the Nation, the National Poverty Eradication Program. These programs have had limited success, as the issue is more systemic and psychologically ingrained.

Even with the variety of poverty alleviation programs, corruption continues to impede progress. Transparency International has ranked the Nigerian government 136th out of 176 in its corruption index. Deliberate measures have been taken to ensure income disparities. Resources are often spent in unfair and inefficient ways. The budget routinely allocates the smallest amount of funding for necessities like education, healthcare and protection. Multinational corporations and large businesses benefit from large tax waivers, holidays, loopholes and a regressive tax system – a system in which the burden of taxation falls on poorer companies and individuals.

In 2016, Nigeria had 125,790 crimes reported; more than 45,000 of those were against individuals. The country is consistently ranked as having one the highest crime rates in the world. The issue of crime and inequality in Nigeria suggest that certain social deviant theories are at play.

Robert K. Merton, a sociologist, developed strain theory in 1938. Strain theory suggests that when poorer people perceive inequality, they feel less of a commitment to social norms. They still strive for social acceptance, but their beliefs of how to attain their goals may not fit within a standard social model. For example, a Nigerian man who sells drugs to feed his family, or a teenager who steals money to by himself a new set of clothes, simply to not appear so poor.

Unfortunately, as these actions grow and seep out into the world of the poor, a label becomes them – a drug dealer deemed nothing more than a drug dealer, a thief no more than a thief, poor no more than poor. Labeling theorysuggests that they will become repeat offenders, as society has forced these identities upon them. When labels like these persist in a patriarchal society, it becomes clear how and why the dynamics work the way they do. The high crime rate in Nigeria indicates an angry acknowledgment of the conspicuous and overt consumptions of the wealthy.

Despite the current situation, there are indications of improvements and signs of hope. In 2014, the Nigerian Economic Report showed a positive short-term economic growth and estimates continued macroeconomic stability. In 2017, the World Bank announced its plan to give $1 billion to support Nigeria’s Power Sector Recovery Program. These developments can help alleviate poverty and reduce inequality if managed properly. The path to solving crime and inequality in Nigeria may be slow and full of obstacles, but if Nigerians continue to break from their labels, no more young wives will have to lose legs to large knives.