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The People of Nigeria, Social Issues

Nigerian society, shantytowns, corrupt politicians, urban poverty, redistribution of income

Wealth and power are distributed very unevenly in Nigerian society. The great majority of Nigerians, preoccupied with daily struggles to earn a living, have few material possessions and little chance of improving their lot. Meanwhile, chiefs, rich merchants, politicians, and high-ranking civil servants often accumulate and flaunt massive wealth, which to a degree is expected and accepted in Nigerian society. Most of these elite maintain power through networks of patronage: They secure and distribute labor, and receive political support in return. The system allows for some redistribution of income because patrons often pay for things such as school fees and marriage costs for relatives, community development, and charity work.

Economic inequality has a severe effect on health, especially for children. One-fifth of Nigerian children die before the age of five, primarily from treatable diseases such as malaria, measles, whooping cough, diarrhea, and pneumonia. Less than one-half of infants are immunized against measles, and malnutrition affects more than 40 percent of children under the age of five. Adults are equally affected, although with less deadly consequences. Only 20 percent of rural Nigerians and 52 percent of urban Nigerians have access to safe water. One-third have no access to health care simply because they live too far from clinics or other treatment centers. Many others cannot afford the fees charged by clinics.

While average incomes are higher and death rates lower in cities, urban poverty is as pervasive as rural poverty. Secure, well-paying jobs are scarce, even for those with considerable education. Food is typically expensive. Housing, too, is costly despite its rudimentary quality, prompting the poor to build basic houses in shantytowns. Sewage disposal systems in most cities are also basic or primitive, and polluted streams, wells, roadside drains, and other bodies of water increase the risk of infectious disease. Industry, automobiles, and the burning of fuelwood further pollute air and water.

Crime in Nigeria rose in the mid-1990s as a result of unemployment, economic decline, and social inequality, which are abetted by inefficient and corrupt police and customs forces. More than half of all offenses are thefts, burglaries, and break-ins, although armed robberies are also prominent. Nigeria is a major conduit for drugs moving from Asia and Latin America to markets in Europe and North America. Large-scale Nigerian fraud rings have targeted business people in other parts of the world. The business people are invited to help transfer (nonexistent) large sums of money out of Nigeria, with the promise of a share of the transferred money. Advance fees are requested to expedite this transfer, but the advanced money routinely disappears. Although there have been periodic campaigns to root out corrupt politicians and attack crime, they have had little lasting effect.

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