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LIVING IN BONDAGE with DANN JACOBS

Jesus told a story of a man who went to hell because he did not see the poor. He was a rich man. And there was a man by name Lazarus who was a poor man. He was also sick and had smelling sores all over his body. He could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of the rich man every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. The rich man did nothing about it and even denied Lazarus the crumbs. The parable ends saying the rich man went to hell, and there was a fixed gulf now between him and Lazarus.” The story illustrates what happens at last to a man and countries who take no notice of the poor and poverty. Now can’t this same thing happen to our country?

The fate of the rich man can befall Nigeria and Nigerians who do not see the widespread poverty in this country.

Well, poverty in Nigeria is an issue that is pretty stupid to talk or write about. After all, all fingers are not equal. And should a poor person really not blame himself, and no one else. Are poor people not fools who have not used their chances and opportunities? This is the perfect Nigerian perspective of the whole thing. Why didn’t Jesus blame Lazarus for being poor? Rather the rich man was blamed for not helping Lazarus and was punished with going to hell for that. An extreme punishment!

But the fact is that poverty is imposed by injustice in the way the country is ordered. For instance how can poor people not exist when the resources and natural wealth of Nigeria are distributed to the exclusion of some people on the basis that they live in the rural areas, or that they are not educated, or that they know nobody in the government, or that they are unfortunate not to be in a position to earn enough money or that other people have cheated them out of their possessions, or that they are weak to contest with others over the necessities of life.

History has always reckoned with weak and poor people. Poverty is nothing new. But what to do about them is always known to mankind through the scriptures and moral instructions from the beginning of the world, which is never adhered to in parts of the world including ours.

Well, Nigeria has of late started seeing the poor and it responds with token actions called ’empowerment’. Empowerment means organising seminars, workshops and training sessions. We know them to mean giving people (usually not the very poor ones who can never qualify for such privileges) some cash that can feed them for one or two days – to cover their past years of starvation and the many years of hunger ahead. This is Nigeria’s idea of dealing with poverty and eradicating it totally.

You must see poverty from the angle of the bondage in which we live today, to know what it is. In a country or polity, the poverty of one or more people is the poverty of all. Nigeria is rich by all means. But the poverty of its people renders it poor no matter what it paints of itself – ‘great people, great nation’ and all that thrash.

All parts of the world have dealt with poverty by holding their governments entirely and squarely responsible for it. People are living in bondage out of which they cannot of their own bring themselves out. It is the government that must bring them out. Otherwise bondage will always breed poverty. In South Africa the segregation that encircled the black owners of the land in bondage (Apartheid) needed the government to abolish the system. We all know the human losses and the struggles that went into it. In the USA black Negroes there went through hell to remove their own bondage. Indeed all modern states/nations of the world had to fight to remove their own bondage to make progress.

The great champion of the liberation struggles of the blacks of America, the indomitable Dr Martin Luther King Jr. said: as we would have said of

Nigeria today, “the nation is sick. Trouble is in the land…………… Confusion is all around………… The masses of people are rising up. Wherever they are assembled today……….., the cry is always the same – we want to be free.”

Yet the poor people of Nigeria have seen more neglect, hurt and doom than those Negroes there in America. Among these are people who are complacent because of long years of oppression. They have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of ‘somebodiness’ that they have accepted to be poor for life. Some Nigerians in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and because at some points they benefit from the unjust system, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problem of the poor masses. The other group is made up of those seething with rage bitterness and anger, which they take out on others in the name of assassinations, armed robbery and kidnapping for ransom. These people have lost faith in society, in morality, in life itself and in God, unfortunately. To them the government is incurably bad and untrustworthy. This group must be reclaimed. They must be reformed and converted, and made to be humans again. Society has so oppressed people that they have become beasts. Oppressed people cannot be oppressed for ever. With them in so large numbers, a good society is impossible. Against this background, one should understand public frustrations in disobeying traffic rules, everywhere, in exam mal-practices in all schools, in reckless driving, in drug misuses, in throwing garbage everywhere, in being dirty, in people not being diligent at work, in abusing people along the way, in demanding bribes, and doing other suicidal things not seen in other countries.

During those tenuous years of the struggle to change the conscience of American governments for justice, in the bondage and national, racial degradation, of the poor blacks, Martin Luther King dropped this hint for the church as well: “ I hope the church will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.” He hoped the church would come to the aid justice.

About state laws purporting to want to better the lot of oppressed people, King said “legislative enactments, like court decisions, declare rights, but do no deliver them. Under these conditions, an occasional lawsuit by the federal government, which may drag for years through the courts, is no remedy. A corollary of this is the just-ended national conference. Indeed, he said, “sometimes it is worse than nothing. It demonstrates the futility and weakness of federal power”.

Martin Luther King stated “we must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness”. It is in this manner that our politicians should be talking today, to make us believe there is hope for the future. The bondage here needs to be broken now.

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