BY RICHARD ODU

The first roar of laughter that reverberated at the hallowed chamber of the Senate in the National Assembly, as the 10th Assembly gathered for their plenary meeting recently, happened to have been generated by issues concerning the welfare of the poor. Of course, there is no poor man in the Senate and the senators could not have been laughing at themselves. They are all well fed from the common purse of this nation. They laughed at those who stand in the queue, rain or sunshine, periodically, to cast their votes so that the politicians would become what they intend to be.


What happened? A senator, during the plenary, had brought a motion on the floor, with regard to a recent speech by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu indicating that the poor should breathe.
“Mr. President, distinguished colleagues, let the poor breathe, that is my additional prayer,” the senator said, addressing Senate President Godswill Akpabio.


Akpabi replied: “Your additional prayer is that let the poor breathe and Senator Mustapha has seconded that the poor should breathe. Those in support that the poor should breathe, say hi!
The senators echoed “hi!” The Senate President then dropped the gavel, saying “So, the poor should breathe”. What followed was a derisive laughter in the Senate.


To be described as poor means that the individual is in a state or condition in which he lacks the financial resources and essentials for a minimum standard of living. Poverty-stricken people and families go without proper housing, clean water, healthy food, and medical attention.


Nigeria has the awful distinction of being the world capital of poverty and the World Poverty Clock for 2023 indicated that 71 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty today, while a total of 133 million people are classed as being multidimensionally poor, according to National Bureau of Statistics data.


That shows how serious the matter was, that the welfare of poor Nigerians should be the major concern of the people who call themselves leaders. Rather than do a serious debate on it, the Senate president saw the poor masses as a laughing stock.


Sensing that they had been caught in a web of bad press due to their behaviour, the Senate President’s aides rushed to the media with a puerile defence that said nothing.


Our senators were just natural. They could not hide their scorn for the suffering people of Nigeria. The people did not matter as long as they felt free to do their horse-trading as politicians.


For years the poor masses have struggled in vain for equal opportunities with the politicians in the country who have huge appetite for money and affluence at the detriment of the people that elect them. The struggle culminated in the endSARS of 2020 when the youths who were hard hit by the profligacy of the country’s bourgeoisies rose in a massive protest against the politicians and their agents. They were, however, cowed by the government bullets that claimed the lives of many of them.


Among their demands were a reduction in the salary and allowances (total package) of members of the State Houses of Assembly, the National Assembly (both chambers), the state governors as well as the president and his vice. Indeed, these politicians unscrupulously gulp the common purse such that nothing is left for the provision of basic amenities for the masses. In other words, they created the poverty that has ravaged the land.


They are quick to legislate on their emoluments and care less about the rising unemployment rate in the country. They seek to buy bullet proof cars more than they desire increased food production in the country.


That laughter in the Senate buttresses the axiom that the politicians prefer that the masses are kept perpetually poor so that they could easily be manipulated. That the poverty rate in the country is high is why vote buying and selling thrive during elections. The hungry voters have no choice than to accept whatever money that comes their way and parting with their votes in return.


That the poor should breathe is a demand which must be taken seriously. In stable countries of the world, the welfare of the citizens is a statutory issue. There are provisions for the unemployed, the aged, the handicapped, and other weak links in the society. Rather than legislate on how to make the nation prosperous enough to provide for the masses, our legislators gather to decide the chunk of the common purse that should come to them.


The Senate President must apologize to the people for that faux pas. Any reaction short of that is unacceptable.

Dr. Odu can be reached through dirimrich2018@gmail.com.

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