Nigerian billionaires and the Nigerian condition

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LAST Friday, January 3, 2014, VANGAURD newspaper, like other Nigerian newspapers, carried a report sourced from FORBES magazine, titled “The Biggest African Billionaire Gainers in 2013”. The report said that the combined net worth of four Nigerian billionaires, Aliko Dangote, Folorunsho Alakija, Abdulsamad Rabiu and Mike Adenuga grew by $12.65Billion (or N2.024 Trillion) in 2013 alone.

FORBES added that Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, was the biggest gainer in terms of increase in net worth. In 2013 alone, Dangote gained $10.1Billion (N1.62trillion), and by the end of the year, he was worth $22.9Billion (N3.66Trillion), up from $12.8Billion as at the end of December, 2012. Nigeria’s richest woman, Folorunsho Alakija, was described as the fourth biggest gainer in 2013, with a $1.9Billion (N304Billion) increase in her wealth, thus ending 2013 with a net worth of $2.5Billion (N400Billion). She is a big oil industry player as owner of Famfa Oil Limited.

Similarly, Abdulsamad Rabiu, Chairman of the BUA Group, was named Africa’s ninth biggest gainer in 2013, with a $550Million (N192Billion) increase in wealth, taking his net worth to $1.2Billion (N192Billion).

Ranks of world’s billionaires

Abdulsamad was said to have joined the ranks of the world’s billionaires for the first time, “based on success at his BUA Group, whose biggest businesses are sugar refining and cement”. The BUA Group’s “annual revenues are estimated at $2Billion. The group “also does business in real estate, steel, port concessions, manufacturing, oil and gas and shipping”.

Nigeria’s second richest man, Mike Adenuga, was named 15th biggest gainer, with a gain of $100Million (N16Billion) to end the year with a net worth of $4.7Billion (N752Billion). FORBES said of Adenuga, that “he built his fortune in oil production and telecom…He hit it big when the military regime of former President Ibrahim Babangida awarded him construction contracts and his first oil prospecting license with which he became the first Nigerian to strike oil in commercial quantities”.

So the uber-capitalist magazine, FORBES has again revealed the nature of the society that is being built in Nigeria. When these annual reports began coming out a couple of years ago, it became clear that we have arrived at a new pass in Nigeria, the pass of the fetishism of money and the lionizing of the super rich. Neoliberal capitalism has been “successful” in Nigeria; it has created a tiny clique of super rich who worked the Nigerian system to their advantage in a unique alliance of the nouveau bourgeoisie and the political elite.

The transition to civil rule in 1999 consolidated and expanded a trend which had emerged in the wombs of military dictatorship, but especially during the implementation of Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP). Obasanjo’s neoliberal surrender consolidated the incestuous alliance of these rich individuals and the political elite and it was no surprise that these individuals, in the main, have bankrolled the political and electoral expenses of the ruling administrations and party. A nd for their labour, they got the accesses which allowed their flowering as members of the clan of the world’s billionaires.

The obverse of the process that FORBES magazine reported with relish, is the Nigerian condition. That Nigeria of the few billionaires and their allies in politics, is today one of the most unjust and most unequal societies in the world. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics on January 6, 2014, reported that 112.519million Nigerians live in relative poverty conditions; this is out of a population of 163 million people.

The Statistician-General of the NBS, Dr. Yemi Kale, who presented the report said “in 2004, Nigeria’s relative poverty measurement stood at 54.4per cent, but increased to 69 percent or 112.518million Nigerians in 2010”. Kale then added that “it remains a paradox, however, that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year”.

Urban and rural poverty is increasing and the economy which allows a few billionaires to increase their “net worth” in billions of dollars annually, is not creating the jobs that can take millions of young Nigerians out of desperation and despair. These alienated young people are high on drugs; they are involved in many criminal endeavours; they are in desperate search for opportunities abroad and those who have stayed do not love the Nigeria of a few billionaires that FORBES magazine celebrates.

It is the condition that gave rise to a few billionaires, that has also provided the conditions for insurgency in Northern Nigeria. Afterall, The National Bureau of Statistics’ report also added that North-West and North-East Nigeria recorded the highest poverty rate in the country in 2010, with 77.7 percent and 76.3 percent respectively.

The Nigerian ruling class made a conscious choice of the nature of the capitalism that has been foisted on our country. The Washington Consensus type of neoliberal capitalism tears society asunder because it is the most pitiless, uncaring and criminal form of that most inhuman capitalist system. It is not an aberration that we have created a monstrosity of a few billionaires who continue to get richer while the majority continues to get poorer and are in distress and despair.

What we are witnessing is the logical result of the choices made by the ruling class. Check out the past decade in Nigeria, and it will soon be clear that the trend has been constant. Maybe one or two odd individuals will join the billionaires’ list, but the process that produces them also deepens the poverty amongst the majority of Nigerians. Not even the acts of philanthropy, which a few of these billionaires, like Aliko Dangote, have embraced in recent years, can dent the ever widening gap between them and the majority of the Nigerian people.

What is also clear is that the Nigerian ruling class processes which created conditions that allowed four billionaires to increase their wealth by $12.65Billion (N2.024Trillion) in JUST ONE YEAR, is NOT SUSTAINABLE! It is that same process that has also made 112.5 Million Nigerians desperately poor.

Something HAS to give! The portents around us are very frightening indeed! So FORBES magazine’s celebration of the wealth of just four individuals might become something the super rich billionaires and the ruling class in general, will come to rue. It is just a matter of time.

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