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Confronting inequality in dire times


Taiwo Odukoya

Taiwo Odukoya

For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it… (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

The relationship between money, power and politics has always been an interesting one, which often has an unpleasant impact on governance and equity. People with money need power to defend and increase it, and people with power need money to stay in power. Somewhere in this symbiotic relationship is where the common good of society is sacrificed on the altar of corruption.

This interplay of money, power and politics, and how they foster corruption and short circuit the interest of the larger society is a phenomenon African societies are unfortunately familiar with. It has corrupted electoral processes, skewed policies in favour of the rich, subverted justice and plunged entire societies into conflict. But the influence of money in politics and its adverse effects on society is in fact an inherited phenomenon. The ongoing U.S election campaign has the role of money in influencing politics and governance as one of its big themes. Also, the undercurrents of big money and corruption are evident in the ongoing trial of Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff. Sixty percent of the members of congress pushing for Rouseff’s impeachment are under trial for corruption.

One of the greatest responsibilities of leadership and the use of power in the 21st century will be to create a level playing field for everyone with equal opportunities for the poor and the rich, the black and the white, and in the case of Nigeria, the Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw, Hausa, etc. Global inequality is worse today than it has been since the 19th century. Oxfam figures for 2016 show that the richest one percent now has more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined. World Bank figures show that the gap between the rich and the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa has grown by 307 percent since 1960. These are telling statistics. We can no longer afford a system, where, as economist Nathaniel Loewentheil aptly put it, “Wealthy individuals and large corporations make financial investments in politics with the hope of improving their economic position. And politicians demand money because it helps win elections and secures power.”

“Money to get power. Power to protect money.” This was the motto of the infamous Medici family, and it sadly emblemises the trouble with the world today. No wonder anti-graft policies never succeed in many nations of the world. To fight corruption, we must tilt the balance between money, power, and policies in favour of the people. Leadership everywhere, at every level, will need renewed dimensions of moral courage and character to reverse the tide and close the gap of inequality.

Politics in Nigeria, as elsewhere, has always been a game for the rich, where money is deployed, power is captured, and spoils are shared.

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