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Combating poverty amid rising restiveness, unemployment 

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Muda Yusuf


Plans by the Federal Government to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years may be a mirage if insecurity is not tackled successfully.
 
While analysing the possibility of achieving the tall presidential dream of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030 amid the current reality of unabating social restiveness arising from banditry, kidnapping, insurgency, rising debt; growing unemployment and high inflation, experts are of the view that unless these underlying factors are addressed, the dream may not come through.
 
The Federal Government had moved swiftly in its bid to realise the target with President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurating the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS), chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
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The President, in his remark, maintained that his administration remained committed to lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, with a well-researched framework for implementation and establishment of a private equity fund, the Nigeria Investment and Growth Fund (NIG-Fund), to lead resource mobilisation drive and also sustainably manage the resources.
 
Already, the World Bank has predicted that the number of poor people in Nigeria would increase by 20 million by 2022. World Bank Senior Economist, Gloria Joseph-Raji, who stated this recently at a forum, said: “We consider Nigeria right now to be at a critical junction in the sense that the achievement of its development goal of lifting 100 million people out of poverty by 2030 was already challenging even before COVID-19 struck, and then COVID-19 has made this even more challenging and more urgent.
 
“So, with slower growth and fewer jobs, and then coupled with high inflation, we estimate that the number of the poor will increase by about 15 to 20 million people by 2022 from the about 83 million people in 2019. And the 2019 numbers are from the Nigeria Living Standards Survey of 2018/2019, a 2020 report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).”
 
She said more needs to be done if Nigeria wants to make progress towards meeting its broad development goals, adding that Nigeria needs to push forward policies that help to improve the business environment and improve the welfare of the average Nigerian.
 
There was a consensus that a recent report that Nigeria has the highest number of poor people globally is a source of concern that needs to be treated urgently.
 
Available data indicate six Nigerians slip into poverty every six minutes, and that six out of every 10 Nigerians are also estimated to be living in extreme poverty.
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Poverty is characterised by hunger, malnutrition, ill-health, unsanitary housing and living conditions, and often without the required education and resources to overcome these afflictions.
 
However, experts have criticised the move, stating that there was no way the government could achieve the target given the high level of insecurity in the country.
 
A Public Affair Analyst, Jide Ojo, said: “What poverty reduction do you think you can achieve when insecurity is worsening? There is no way you can reduce poverty in this kind of situation because with banditry, kidnapping and insurgency still waxing very strong, it is going to affect businesses and employment situation, and once these things are affected, definitely the poverty level would soar. 
 
“I am being circumspect of any hope of lifting 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years. If this present government leaves in two years, what assurances do we have that it is APC that will win the 2023 elections? Even if the party wins, what assurances do we have that the next administration would continue with this present administration’s economic agenda? We have seen a lot of discontinuity in some of their economic programmes. It is too optimistic that successive administrations would want to continue in line with whatever is handed over to them in 2023. 
 
“Given the high level of insecurity in the country, unless we can do something, we may not be able to achieve that very ambitious plan.”
 
The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, said security and climate change issues had largely become very significant variables in the poverty equation in Nigeria, noting that a significant part of the nation’s economic activities has been negatively impacted by these factors.
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According to him, what would make the difference is the implementation and the appropriateness of the strategy. He urged that a major deliverable of the committee should be the coordination of the initiatives to avoid duplication of efforts and working at cross purposes, noting that the framework to make this happen was critical to the achievement of desired outcomes.  
 
He feared that the general territorial disposition of many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), however, pose a risk to the development of such a framework as there are pockets of poverty reduction programmes domiciled in different MDAs both at the federal and state levels.
 
He said: “Building the capacity of the economy to create wealth and jobs should receive much greater attention. This should apply to all strata of economic players – micro enterprises, small businesses, medium enterprises and large corporations. We should also prioritise investment in human capital, especially education and health both of which are becoming increasingly inaccessible by many households.”
 
Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, expressed concerns about the practicality of the ambitious mandate without a defined strategy, considering the current rate of unemployment and dwindlinag government revenue and foreign reserve.
 
He said the strategy put in place needed to outline more comprehensive benchmarks to measure gaps that must be closed and inform the allocation of resources.
 
To enhance productivity and boost job creation, he said there was the need to put in place comprehensive reforms that could encourage businesses to invest, scale-up and hire. 
 
He suggested a more ambitious, yet economically sound path of inclusive reforms in place while focusing on reducing the administrative burden on businesses to achieve the lofty agenda. Also of concern, he mentioned was the long-term sustainability of the project.
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According to him, “With each successive government coming up with its developmental project and programmes, we hope the programme would not go the way of many others. Legislation of such a programme or strategy would sustain continuity.”
 
The private sector and its role as an engine of growth and job creation, the NECA boss argued, cannot be overlooked, with the view of enhancing the success potential of the programme.
 
He urged the Federal Government to take a second look at the composition of the committee with the view of co-opting representatives of organised businesses.  
 
“Notwithstanding the impact that social and cash transfer programmes can have, we strongly believe that long term poverty alleviation can only be hinged on massive job creation, which the private sector can facilitate.
 
“We also, once again, urge the government to enlist the support of the OPS by fast-tracking the creation of an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, with consequential positive effect in job creation, “ he said.
 
In his submission, Prof. Economics, Caleb University, Segun Ajibola, said the project could be achieved when needed policies are put in place to tackle the current galloping inflation, defend the value of the Naira, ensure food sufficiency, reduce reliance on imports for essentials, raise the quantity and quality of infrastructure, and provide quality social services such as education and medical services, among others. 
 
For Paul Omoijiade, a lawyer and labour expert, the indices to achieve the target are not there because government policies had been very inconsistent towards instigating the creation of employment. 
 
“For instance, the recent devaluation of the Naira cannot be supported under economic ground because you devalue in an export-oriented economy. It shows inadequate knowledge of the dynamics of economies,” he said.

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