Between wealth creation and poverty alleviation
The recently released National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ‘‘2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria’’ survey, which was conducted for the 2018-2019 period, generated quite some interesting results.
The survey was used to measure the prevalence of poverty as well as providing an indicator for the benchmarking of the performance of the sustainable development goals in Nigeria. Its findings indicate that 40% or about 82.9 million of all Nigerians are living below the poverty line, estimated at about N137, 430 per person per annum in the study. Following from this, a barrage of comments from various stakeholders have trailed the outcome of this survey with many expressing great concerns as to the reliability of the outcome for using inappropriate intervention efforts in this regard.
The survey which covered virtually all the states of the federation has been categorised by many as being far from reality as it does not appear to reflect the true state of affairs regarding poverty incidence in the country. Some others, however, indicate that the results nonetheless clearly show that the poverty problem is very much with us and that more concerted efforts are needed if the country is to meaningfully enhance the living standards of its people. Overall, it appears that a lot still needs to be said about this new revelation from the National Bureau of Statistics.
First, some experts have questioned the spread of the survey. Only about 22,000 households were surveyed across the federation, thus appearing too little for a country of about 200 million persons. The question of representativeness thus kicks the study in the face. In addition, a major state such as Borno could only be surveyed marginally with only households from “accessible” areas included and even in a non-random and non-representative pattern. It can be justifiably argued that funding and security challenges could have led to this obvious gap in the study. These issues are very important to the extent that the incidence of poverty may actually be understated particularly given that it deviates from the outcomes of previous poverty studies in Nigeria. This is also against the background that the country was recently classified as the poverty capital of the world and this is due to the deterioration of the state of poverty over the years, particularly since 2015 when the Buhari administration came into power.
A glimpse of the real state of poverty in Nigeria was evidently manifested with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that followed across the states of the federation and the federal capital territory in the past few months. The scary face of poverty has been so evident that very many households could not survive a mere two weeks of lockdown that was imposed over the period. In fact, some in their desperation to eke out a living for themselves, commonly referred to hunger as a more dangerous virus that COVID-19 and thus were willing to risk contracting the coronavirus just to find what to feed their families on a daily basis. Many indeed are living from “hand to mouth.” Given the shoddy and unjust manner in which palliatives from the government were distributed, many were indeed left helpless and vulnerable to the vagaries of poverty. The experiences of the lockdown clearly indicate that very many Nigerians are living below the poverty line, far above the 82.9 million stated in the NBS study.
Meanwhile, efforts by previous governments to address the poverty question have not yielded the much-desired results. It can be recalled that Nigeria did not attain the targets of United Nations Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs) up to 2015 when the programme terminated. Emerging reports also show that there is little promise that the country can attain the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will end in 2030. Most of the previous poverty reduction strategies designed have suffered a major setback as the strategies do not have a clear policy framework. Most times, they were designed not principally to alleviate poverty, but just to gain the attention of the public. A major issue militating against the effectiveness of the various poverty reduction strategies in the country has been the frequent change in policies as with the incoming of new administrations. These programmes, which range from the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP), the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), the SURE-P and the N-Power appear to have had their various challenges in both their conception and implementation.
The greater challenge now is the state of poverty in a post-COVID-19 Nigeria. This appears very scary. With the country itself struggling to balance its 2020 annual budget and revenue from oil seemingly drying up, the future appears gloomy for the wellbeing of the ordinary Nigerian. Unemployment rate is very high and job losses are already looming. In the same vein, small and medium scale enterprises are currently battling for survival with high costs of borrowing, unfavourable operating environment, increasing inflation rate and the depreciation of the value of the naira against other currencies, among others. With all these, one wonders what the outcomes will look like if another survey on the incidence of poverty is conducted for 2020 up to 2021. Presumably, that will make the outcomes of this present report a mere child’s play.
Going forward, the shift should be on wealth creation and not on poverty alleviation, given the huge population that the country has. China is a classic example of where the size of the population has been turned into a major asset for the country. However, to achieve this, great attention should be given to the provision of basic infrastructure such as the provision of electricity, provision of feeder roads all over the country for farmers as well as addressing the leakages in the system through official corruption. Addressing these issues will definitely kick-start the growth of the economy. Feeder roads, in particular, enhance the link between the farms and the consumer markets. This is critical to the development strategy at this time. The banks too should also be made to work for the small businesses with the provision of flexible interest rates for start-ups and other entrepreneurs. This is the way to migrate from mere rhetoric to action on wealth creation, which should be the focal point.