West Africa: Nigeria Least Committed in West Africa to Tackling Inequality Amid Covid-19 - CRI Index

15 October 2021

Nigeria has been ranked as the worst performing country in West Africa in the global effort to defeat inequality during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the Federal government has been charged to invest massively in public education, health and social protection, to tackle poverty, joblessness and other inequalities.

The 2021 Commitment to Reducing Inequality Index, CRII, which ranks Nigeria last among the 16 countries of the Economic Community of West African Countries, ECOWAS, and second to the last in Africa (45th out of 46 countries), based is verdict on the nation's very low spending on education, health and extremely limited and poor quality public services, amid high taxation.

The CRI Index which was developed and delivered through a partnership between Finance International and Oxfam International, with inputs from independent experts, ranks Nigerian government 157th out of 158 countries on commitment to reducing inequality in areas of education, health and social protection; taxation; and, workers' rights.

From the Index, Nigeria which has the 5th highest income inequality among the 15 ECOWAS countries including Mauritania, was "woefully unprepared as COVID-19 hit, spending only 5 percent of its budget on health and leaving more than 40 percent of Nigerians with no access to universal health services."

It's performance as "weak on all three pillars, but particularly bad on anti-inequality public services and labour rights".

In a response to the development, the country Director of Oxfam Nigeria Dr Victor Ahonsi, charged the Federal government to invest massively in public education, health and social protection, to tackle poverty, joblessness and other inequalities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the 2021 Tax Summit held in Abuja, the Country Director, Oxfam Nigeria, Dr Vincent Ahonsi, said Nigeria's poor commitment towards reduction of poverty and inequality was worrisome.

Ahonsi, who expressed concerns over the findings in the CRI Index said that fiscal accountability is key to national development, even as he observed that Nigeria should make its tax system more progressive.

"We are concerned by the findings in the current index which shows that Nigeria is the worst performing West African country in tackling inequality going into COVID-19 pandemic.

"Nigeria's health budget (as a percentage of its overall budget) is the third lowest in the world (3.6 percent) and 40 percent of its population do not have access to healthcare services," he stated.

Lamenting that Nigeria loses $2.9 billion a year from tax incentives to corporations, Ahonsi said in 2021 Nigeria increased value-added tax, VAT, which applies to everyday products like food and clothing from 5 percent to 7.5 per cent.

"Considering that VAT applies to goods and services affecting everyday citizens, their level of hardship may thus be impacted. We believe that commitment to reducing inequality index for most west African countries may have been poor due to the policies and decision they made in response to the International Monetary Fund, IMF's advise to these countries to return to austerity once COVID- 19 pandemic abates."

Ahonsi recalled that when IMF released its advice, Oxfam globally raised concerns.

"We highlighted how the pandemic has shown the systematic weak investments in health, education and social protection, with the hardest hit population being the vulnerable and marginalised people. These include women, older people, racial and ethnic minorities, informal workers and low-income families.

"COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the narrowing of the middle class, and worsening gap between the rich and poor, hence ahead of IMF/World Bank's annual meeting, Oxfam and like-minded organisations issued a statement and demanded that the IMF stop promoting austerity around the world."

He said instead, Oxfam advocated for policies that advance gender justice, reduce inequality, and put people and the planet first.

"We proffered alternatives to create fiscal space and give governments the time, the flexibility and support to achieve a sustainable, inclusive and just recovery, post COVID-19 pandemic.

"We believe immediate and urgent steps are needed to support the financial health of countries through grants and other highly concessional financing, supporting debt cancellation and restructuring, and issuing a new allocation of Special Drawing Rights."

Further, Ahonsi stated: "Medium to long term recovery efforts should continue promoting further fiscal and policy space that allows for an increase, rather than a decrease, in social spending, and progressive tax policies that collect sufficient revenue and redistribute wealth fairly.

"We believe inequality is far from inevitable. It is a policy choice and governments have considerable powers to reduce the gap between the rich and poor in their countries."

"Our goal at Oxfam is to end the injustice of poverty, hence conversations around inequality are important to us, " he stated.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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