By Didi Cheeka in Lagos    
Tuesday, 20 May 2008

About a hundred and fifty years ago, Marx wrote that capitalism would enormously increase the wealth of society, but that this wealth would be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. If you have the will, glaring contrasts of wealth and poverty are not hard to come by in 21st century capitalism. Indeed, they strike you in the face.

"Ill fares the land," wrote Oliver Goldsmith, in his poem, The Deserted Village, "to hastening ills a prey/ Where wealth accumulates and men decay." Young men on the corner, like scattered leaves - decaying, heaps of garbage, rotten, decaying houses and schools. Over whom has capitalism "triumphed?"

This year, the country's [Nigeria's] Annual Budget runs into trillions. But who will profit from them? Certainly not the people whose labour and toil and sacrifice helped accumulate these funds. The President "pledged that every effort to ensure that actual results, commensurate with the resources provided, were achieved with the 2008 budget, the main thrust of which... is to deliver on the administration's promise of poverty alleviation," (Thisday, Tuesday, April 15, 2008).

All well and good. This has been the promise of every past regime. It now wears thin. Who will benefit from this budget? The first beneficiary is the President himself. A few hours after signing the budget, which had been a bone of contention between the Executive and Legislature, the President left for Wiesbaden to see his private physicians for a medical review of "an indisposition believed to be due to an allergic reaction." (Ibid)

And still hunger and poverty could be found in many homes. Too many families do not know where the next meal will come. And oftentimes it does not come. For them an expensive medical trip abroad is unthinkable.

The Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Sayyadi Abba Ruma, reportedly said the other day that with an estimated 71% of Nigerians underfed, the situation is akin to an emergency. The Minister must have ‘suddenly' uncovered enough disturbing information to suggest not only that malnutrition is at least as serious a problem, but that hunger is imminent.

Clearly, the number of "hungry" Nigerians - those who could not get enough to eat at least part of the time each month or were chronically unable to afford an adequate diet - are higher than the estimated percentage. This estimate is at considerable variance with the much-touted goal of the present regime and its predecessor - poverty alleviation. In the opening decade of the new century, hunger is an epidemic in Nigeria.

The Minister reportedly went on to say that the nation's agricultural sector is equipped with only 15,000 tractors - in spite of the supposed drive to ensure food security, one of the regime's seven-point agenda. The ‘new' hunger epidemic was reportedly described by the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Josettee Sheeran, as "the new face of hunger because people not vulnerable to hunger years ago are now at risk of starvation. Among the explanations of the crisis is the conversion of food into ethanol as fuel, in a bid to subsidise domestic fuel.

As usual, the food crisis is being presented out of context - that is, not as an inevitable outgrowth of capitalism and its tendency towards crisis, its tendency to pauperise the mass, to concentrate wealth at one end while creating poverty and misery at the other.

This hunger epidemic is not caused by famine. It is not that there is a scarcity of food. It is, rather, that the poor are unable to buy. The inexorable logic of the market, too, forces the cultivation and sale of ‘cash' crops at the expense of ‘food' crops.

Already three states, Adamawa, Yobe, and Taraba have been cited as states under the greatest threat of hunger. Most of the inhabitants of these states are peasant farmers, who work very hard, from dusk till dawn, to eke out a meagre existence from the land. Their lives are an unending struggle for survival.

But there are people, too, in these states who possess astonishing wealth, and yet do not work - and certainly not as hard as the poor. The former Vice President, one of Nigeria's richest is from Adamawa State.

All around Nigeria there are families in desperate need through no fault of theirs; who are unable to pay the rent, feed their children, or pay the medical bills. This is not an aberration. It is the fundamental truth, it is the nature of capitalism.

According to the IMF report the Nigerian economy will grow by 6% this year. Last year, too, there was "growth". Indeed, there is a boom, we are told. The Stock Market is at an all time high. The country's External Reserves also. But where is the boom, who is profiting from it? Who is not? These are the questions...