Implementing economic reforms to tackle poverty
Until deliberate policies and reforms are implemented, the plan by the Federal Government to take over 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by 2030 would be another mirage.
Analysts are of the view that without the political will and determination to change the status quo, policies and recommendations will only continue to gather dust in government offices with serious consequences for the nation.
This is just as the World Bank has projected that the number of poor people in Nigeria will increase by 20 million by 2022. World Bank Senior Economist, Gloria Joseph-Raji, who stated this at the launch of the 2021 macroeconomic outlook report by the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), 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).”
Joseph-Raji noted that the authorities had risen to the occasion and had taken some bold reforms to respond to the crisis. She said the government had tried to adopt a market-based mechanism for petroleum pricing and adjust electricity tariffs to more cost-reflective levels in order to free up fiscal resources.
“However, more needs to be done if Nigeria wants to make progress towards meeting its broad development goals. Nigeria needs to push forward policies that help to improve the business environment and improve the welfare of the average Nigerian,” she added.
At the forum, Chairman, NESG, Asue Ighodalo, said Nigeria needs to create innovative economic ideas that can spur growth and prosperity.
According to him, “Nigeria is at a crossroads and cannot afford the business-as-usual approach which will only lead to further job losses, pull millions of citizens into poverty and worsen an already fragile economy.”
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.
Poverty is characterised by hunger, malnutrition, ill-health, unsanitary housing and living conditions, and often without required education and resources to overcome these afflictions.
However, experts have criticised the implementation of efforts by the Federal Government to alleviate poverty through pro-poor policies targeted at helping the poor and raising their living conditions, through various initiatives such as the National Social Investment Programme (SIP), which is anchored on four components. These include the N-Power Job Creation Programme; National Home Grown School Feeding Programme; Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT); and Social Housing and Government Enterprises Entrepreneurship Programme (GEEP).
They argued that politics have been infused into the implementation process, thereby preventing targeted persons access to the initiatives.
National President, Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Innocent Bola-Audu, said the schemes do not get to the grassroot and are not properly monitored such that there is a feedback.
“For instance, when they were sharing the conditional cash transfer of N5, 000, how many people got it? Even up to the level of reaching those in villages and grassroots, how many people came out and testified that they got it? They just stay in Abuja, press computers and design software that they have paid people or they paid the contractors.
“In a system like this, where nobody seems to be in charge, it is difficult to get any policy treated to get the people out of the quagmire. For me, as a labour leader, President Muhammadu Buhari is not in charge of this government. That is why things are not going well in the country. The policies the government has are enough but the truth is that they are not well monitored and executed. The policies have not done a good job on inflationary control within the economy,” he said.
The Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, said Nigeria needed to put in place social and economic policies to improve on interventions that would stem the poverty situation in the country.
For social policies, he said investments needed in the sector are the ones that would scale up, create an environment that can develop human capital, and not just mere giving of handouts by the present administration.
He said the government needed to scale up investments in the health, education systems and security apparatus, among others, noting that these were very critical in creating a social environment that could reduce poverty within few years.
According to him, “It is not about gathering people and giving handouts, which runs out before a month. We are talking about over 70 per cent of the country’s population living in abject poverty; so it is not even practical that you can give handouts to everybody. You need to create a social structure that will empower them.”
On economic policies, the LCCI boss maintained that it was paramount for investments in the private sector to create jobs. He said job creation is not limited to multinationals or investors only but small businesses as well like others in the microenvironment.
“We need to address the cost of energy, we need energy to power the economy for productivity. We need policies around foreign exchange to bring in capital into the economy. Capital has been declining due to foreign exchange policies. We need investors’ confidence to bring in their foreign exchange. We need to deal with the problem in our ports. Many foreign investors are not getting encouraged to set up their businesses due to issues around human problems, corruption, quality of infrastructure, access roads in and out of the ports, facilities in the ports and cumbersome processes in the ports,” he said.
Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, said while efforts to take millions of Nigerians out of poverty are commendable, greater importance ought to be government’s political will to implement past policies and institute reforms where necessary.
Notwithstanding the uncertainties and fluctuations in government revenue, he suggested policies, many of which the body had recommended in time past, that he believes could facilitate the achievement of pulling over 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
Olawale urged the government to refocus and give greater attention to pro-growth sectors. The sectors, according to him, include but not limited to the real sector, construction, solid minerals and agriculture.
According to him, as more people are employed, individual and family purchasing power and disposable income will increase with positive consequences for the economy.
He urged the government to expand economic opportunities and investment in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET), by investing in human capital through strategic education reforms that focus on developing new skills through robust and well-funded TVET programmes.
He called for increased financial inclusion for the poor, strategic infrastructural development and intensification of the war against corruption.
“It is expected that priority would be given to the Lagos Port road and other roads with high economic impact. Rails to link major cities to ease transportation of goods and people from one city to another,” he said.
Also, a lawyer and labour expert, Paul Omoijiade, stressed the need for training of youths to get them empowered to fend for themselves and not depend on the government.
In the employment sector, he called for a review of the Labour Act for unjust dismissal of workers.
“Looking at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 158 on Termination of Employment and Recommendation 166, you will discover that there are safeguards to guide against unfair dismissal or termination. Those things need to be looked out for.
“COVID-19 did not specify that jobs should be terminated at will but only redefined how we should go about our work, where for instance, people work virtually and remotely from home so that the attrition level or rate that will trigger the emergence of COVID-19 would be mitigated.
“Government should create an enabling environment, and because of the fragile economy, you cannot leave it to the dictates of market forces.
“There is need for government’s direct intervention to curtail the excesses on the part of some employers, who declare profit today and tomorrow throw their employees into the unemployment market, thereby creating ready markets for the bandits and terrorists because they can easily recruit men and women to do their biddings,” he said.
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