In 2017, there were several incidents in the news of various crimes committed; along with news of those crimes, came the insinuation that most of the crimes occurred as a result of the increased poverty level in the country. According to experts, low wages and lack of jobs are pushing poor Nigerians to commit crimes in order to get rich quickly.
Poverty has a good connection with crime. When people are desperate and lack things, they resort to crime to get sustenance, as crime offers ways for impoverished people to obtain the things they cannot attain through legitimate means.
Poverty can also lead to high levels of stress, which consequently drives individuals to commit theft, robbery or other violent acts. Poverty may lead to actual or perceived inferior education, and people with less access to quality education, jobs, and role models and opportunities end up spending time on the streets associating with gangs, encouraging them to commit more violent acts such as robbery and rape. However, to say that people commit violent crimes because of poverty and unemployment is unacceptable and too basic an explanation.
A lot of times when things happen in Nigeria, there is always one person that justifies it saying that the person should be pardoned as he only committed the atrocity because he is poor. A couple who earns below NGN 70,000 combined, decide to have 6 children and are going through financial turmoil, then someone says: ‘You can’t blame them for having 6 children. Poor people do not have much to do except engage in coitus’. What happened to protection and family planning? Can’t they afford that? The husband needs financial support to abstain during ovulation or at least withdraw while having sex? Or where a young adult goes into a house in his local community, beats up an old man for his money then goes ahead to rape his aged wife. Is it right to say that the young adult only did it because he is from a poor background, or because he does not have a job. Is that really enough justification? Why can’t the young adult find something to do to earn money legally? Poverty is a very cheap excuse to commit crimes.
If you can’t get a 9 am – 5 pm job, try other skills like farming or acting.
The truth is, people commit crimes because they lack morals and not just because of how poor they are. While poverty may trigger some people to commit crime, their morality/values are the biggest factors.
Crime is a moral choice, not a socio-economic imperative. How much money do you need to guarantee that you will be a good person and that you will stay away from crime? How much do you need to own, or how rich do you need to be to ensure that you will have good ethics and morals? NGN 100,000? 1 million dollars?
As a fact, not only poor people commit crimes. Both rich and poor commit crime: Rich people out of greed, and poor people out of desperation and stupidity. There are quite a number of rich people who have no boundaries in their actions and power, so they commit crimes to get more money and power. We see so many of them rise and conquer without real consequences in Nigeria. Yet, in spite of the obvious, Nigerians insist on pinning the crime on the poverty excuse.
While justifying a number of these crimes and excusing criminal behavior on the basis of poverty could come off as being empathetic, that kind of mentality actually is causing a lot of problems for Nigerian society today and needs to be changed.
Laziness and Irresponsibility is encouraged
People no longer want to go the extra mile or put in the required hard work to get themselves out of poverty, because they want to hang on to poverty as a reason for their failures and misdemeanors. A young boy will refuse to apply himself in school and even drop out, his reason being his parents are poor, he refuses to engage in small business to support his parents effort…instead he blames everything on poverty.
A man with wife and children will refrain from taking on alternative jobs and just sits at home complaining of unemployment because he knows people will support him and blame his hardship on poverty.
You hire a cleaner and she does not do the job well. She renders haphazard services and on top of that, steals half of your belonging and when you call her out on it, she rolls on the floor letting you know how she has not owned a new cloth in years or how she needed to sell some things to pay her child’s medical bills.
The most common line you hear is “Na because of Buhari”, meaning that whatever decision they have taken or crime they have committed is as a result of the economic state of the nation.
Parasitism is now the norm
Due to the poverty mentality, a number of people in the lower class now have a weird sense of entitlement that lets them believe that they deserve handouts from the richer folks because they are poor. They refuse to work on themselves or search for a way to improve their lives instead they lean on others around them for sustenance, their excuse being that they are poor and so deserve the ‘kindness”. You find a woman who, although poor, gives birth to 8 children and sends them off to richer relatives to raise the children for her, even placing curses on these relatives when they refuse to send her money as well. Parasitism becomes the norm and is justified by the fact that they are poor.
Perversion and immorality is on the rise
You find a man kidnapping and killing other humans for “rituals” to get money quick, and when caught, he blames it on poverty. There was a significant case in Lagos state of a 16 year-old boy who murdered a 4 year old boy and extracted his internal organs for an older ritualist who promised him a paltry sum. A number of people argued the 16 year-old (who had a girlfriend) was poor and did not know what he was doing, but the 4 year-old was gone. Again, a 13 year-old girl being pushed by her parents to sleep with a 40-year-old man for money and the parents are not persecuted for child endangerment, and worse, someone actually argues that the parents only did so because they are poor and needed the money.
Worse is when a grown man rapes a girl and people make light of the situation, claiming the man only did so because he is too poor to pay a prostitute. Perversion is masked by poverty and encouraged by this kind of mentality.
Corruption and violence lingers
People use poverty as an excuse to engage in criminal activities and perpetuate violence. An individual storms into an innocent man’s home to demand money. Sometimes they beat, maim or even kill their victims. When questioned, they mention that they are from a poor background and need the money to settle their bills or feed themselves. Did they have to commit murder too? Was that necessary to cure the hunger that they claim motivated them?
There are NGOs, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, Churches, etc. who by their mandates, provide food for hungry, needy, and unemployed. Therefore there is no excuse in my opinion to go and lick some innocent person upside their head, shoot them, or maim them for food or for money. Yet, it happens and is justified by poverty. People engage in corrupt practices: they allow political parties to rig elections in their communities in exchange for minimal material gain; they raise money and send their children to special centres to take so that they are ensured a good result, and when asked they explain that they couldn’t afford a good school for their children, so that is the only way; e.t.c. They justify this selfish behaviours with poverty.
Clearly, the idea that poverty should be justification for crime is creating more problems for our society. Perhaps, people taking responsibility for their own actions is a good starting point, rather than saying “it’s because I am poor”. We shouldn’t excuse criminal behavior because of poverty. Nigeria is a country where anyone can succeed if they channel their energies through legitimate means.
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