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So, Nigeria is world’s poverty capital?

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According to a report by the Brookings Institution, data from the World Poverty Clock show that Nigeria now has over 87 million people living in poverty. Yes, the average Nigerian is a poor man, but Nigeria is a country of riches and poverty all in one: splendid wealth in few hands and abject poverty at most people’s doorsteps.

The number of people living in poverty has increased due to rising disparities in the distribution of resources in the country. However, the basic cause of poverty in Nigeria is the absence of an enabling environment that will free the people from the prison of poverty, uplift their living standard and provide ways to assist them, turn their dreams into reality. It is a fact that the primary factors that lead to poverty, such as overpopulation, unequal distribution of resources, lack of basic education, absence of employment opportunities, as well as environmental degradation, are quite intractable and not easily eradicated. But the average Nigerian’s living standard can improve once the routes to achieving basic living conditions are smoothened. Who should create these conditions? The three tiers of government. How? By imbibing the political will that propels new thinking within the leadership as well as bringing all-inclusive economic growth.

For the nearly 60 years of Nigeria’s existence, various governments have put in place poverty eradication programmes and policies. Yet, the average Nigerian is worse off. Most of these policies and programmes are good, but not excellent enough to eradicate poverty, for example, subsistence farming and low income manual jobs cannot remarkably improve a country’s GDP. A country’s level of poverty depends greatly on its level of population density and agricultural productivity. Bangladesh, for example, is one of the world’s densely populated countries with 1,078 persons per sq km. A large majority of the people of Bangladesh engage in manual farming, which contributes little to the country’s wealth therefore the country’s extremely high level of poverty. However, some of the smaller countries in Western Europe, such as The Netherlands and Belgium, have high population densities as well. But these countries practise mechanised farming and are involved in both high-technology and small industrialization; they therefore have high standards of living.

Then what needs to be done? Eradicating poverty can be done through embracing holistic and reductionistic approaches to development. This is the time Nigeria needs both approaches that will tackle poverty by uplifting individuals and at the same time develop structures on ground. For example, in recent decades, some nations have become fairly wealthy by developing their economies with small scale industries, simple technologies and more importantly, by creating employment opportunities for their citizens through education, training and reliable micro-finance systems. Nigeria can imitate such ideas.

The hallmark of poverty in Nigeria is the high level of unemployment. If Nigeria can tackle the high rate of unemployment in the country, then one of the most important ways to smoothen the path for prosperity in the land has been found and poverty eradication can be achieved easily. We must acknowledge that even in developed countries, unemployment rates may be high and availability of employment also tends to fluctuate, creating periods of high joblessness. Nigeria being a country with high population, an unemployment level of only a few percentage means that millions within the working-age will be unemployed and unable to earn an adequate income. This should be an issue of great concern to the political leaders and managers of Nigeria’s economy.

Nigeria can create productive employment for its millions of unemployed citizens and those engaged in low income manual jobs through various means. The country has artisans such as shoemakers, fashion designers, carpenters, goldsmiths, woodcrafters, welders and technicians, etc. who have the skills but lack the resources to setup productive and sustainable businesses. Offering assistance to such group of people, by bringing them together as business partners, will have huge impact on the country’s economy. For example, Turkey, Morocco and Iran are enjoying huge foreign exchange from handmade carpets made by small firms owned by individuals living in urban, semi urban and rural areas of these countries.

Equally, there are thousands of graduates in Nigeria who never dream of a pay-job either from the government or private sector, but their zeal is to be entrepreneurs. Government can assist such groups of young people. The Federal Government intervention funds designed to boost the operational capacities in the manufacturing industry, small and medium scale enterprises, the power sectors as N-Power programme are good steps toward the empowerment of the citizens. The accessibility of such funds should be flexible and part of it should be used in developing many sectors including the movie, music, I.T. sport, advertising, farming and technical-development industries. Also, the effort by the Federal Government in the regularisation of the hundreds of illegal miners in Nigeria will create legitimate wealth and employment, in addition to increasing revenue for the government.

The Brookings Institution’s report may be right, but we shouldn’t forget the fact that it is a little difficult to determine the poverty level of Nigerians due to many factors including lack of reliable data and statistics: However, there is a general agreement among Nigerians that the hallmark of absolute poverty in the country is the high level of unemployment. If the level of unemployment can be reduced by half, Nigeria’s dream will be achieved. This thought should be close to the hearts of Nigerian leaders. They should start thinking of the people on the streets, because it is time to reduce poverty in Nigeria.
Muhammad wrote from Jimeta, Adamawa State.


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