Nigerian billionaires, in the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, recorded about 38 percent increase in their wealth, while 7.4 million people are estimated to have fallen into extreme poverty in 2020, leading to a widened inequality gap, Oxfam report reveals. According to the report titled ‘Inequality kills’, which was launched in Abuja on Monday, inequality is contributing to the death of at least 21,000 people each day, or one person every four seconds, due to lack of access to healthcare, gender-based violence, hunger, and climate breakdown.

The report shows that globally, the inequality between countries is expected to rise for the first time in a generation, as developing countries being denied access to sufficient vaccines because of rich governments’ protection of pharmaceutical corporations’, have been forced to slash social spending as their debt levels spiral and now face the prospect of austerity measures.

“Despite the huge cost of fighting the pandemic, in the past two years rich country governments have failed to increase taxes on the wealth of the richest and continued to privatize public goods such as vaccine science. They have encouraged corporate monopolies to such a degree that in the pandemic period alone, the increase in market concentration threatens to be more in one year than in the past 15 years from 2000 to 2015,” it stated.

Commenting on the report, the country director of Oxfam in Nigeria, Vincent Ahonsi said that it is about time effort be made to correct these extreme inequalities, “It is disappointing that the two richest billionaires in Nigeria have more wealth than the bottom 63 million Nigerians.

According to him, the total wealth of the three billionaires in Nigeria equalled $24.9 billion and throughout the pandemic (beginning in mid-March 2020), their wealth increased $6.9 billion while the majority of Nigerians are poorer. He noted Nigerian billionaires’ wealth has risen more since COVID-19 began than it has in the last 14 years, which led to a remarkable surge in wealth at the very top of the society, but not impacted positively on the majority.

“Extreme inequality is a form of economic violence, where policies and political decisions that perpetuate the wealth and power of a privileged few result in direct harm to the vast majority of ordinary people across the world and the planet itself. As the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated social-economic distress impact more on the families, women and girl now face the unprecedented risk of physical, sexual and psychological abuse and violence,” said Dr. Ahonsi.

In his remark, Auwal Rafsanjani, executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, noted the urgent need for government and policy makers to respond to the issues of inequality which has been escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has further compelled the poor Nigerians to a deteriorating standard of living, thereby broadening the inequality between the rich and the poor.

“It is high time the government came up with policies and placed taxes on the wealth of the few rich ones, instead of the newly introduced tax on soft drink and digital service which will affect the poor,” he said. He further explained that inequality poses a great threat to the overall national development.

Ushie Henry, program coordinator for Oxfam, speaking on Oxfam recommendations said, “Oxfam recommends that governments urgently claw back the gains made by billionaires by taxing this huge new wealth made since the start of the pandemic through permanent wealth and capital taxes.

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