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Lingering poverty and consequences

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Oxfam’ signage is pictured outside a high street branch of an Oxfam charity shop. / AFP PHOTO / Justin TALLIS


The Nigerian condition in terms of the awful life of the population was further underlined by the international non-governmental organisation, Oxfam. In an insightful review of the poverty situation in the country, it revealed that about 69 per cent of Nigerians had been living below the poverty line. Its report made bold to account for the causality of the increasing poverty in the country.

No doubt, the over-bureaucratisation of the governance process is one. The accumulation pattern that leaves a tiny minority of the population extremely rich and the clear majority in abject poverty is another. However, the economy has grown from different sources at an average of six per cent annually since 2006. Intriguingly, despite growth in macro-indicators, there has been no corresponding reduction in the level of poverty. The report further averred that the country would require about N8.6 trillion ($24 billion) to take Nigerians living below the extreme poverty line of N684 ($1.90) out of poverty per annum.

Oxfam’s report is welcome in a country that plans without data. Indeed, it will shake us from our deep slumber albeit momentarily. The statistics reeled out by Oxfam are not so much at variance with other sources of information. It could be more harrowing if the country’s current indebtedness is factored into the equation. As at March 13, 2019, external debt stood at $25.6 billion and by first quarter of 2019, the country had spent about $357, 256.90 million on servicing obligation. In addition, the huge expenditure on public bureaucracy and the so-called subsidy payment for imported petroleum product underscores the country’s insolvency threat.

Poverty is not a natural condition. It is a product of the ownership structure of society. The relations of production are heavily weighted against the toiling majority of our people. The monoculture nature of the national economy in which the country relies on oil rents compounds the resource distribution process and feeds the venality of the governing elite. The consequence is the obvious disparity in wealth and income of the population. There are also other important drivers of the poverty situation in the country. There is poverty of leadership in which the governing elite have been unable to harness our God-given resources and often resort to kneel-jerk approach to solving fundamental problems of society that require strategic thinking. Besides, they swallow hook, line and sinker received policies from agencies of global governance despite their deleterious effect on the national economy. In the long run, the country is worse off.

Besides, poverty of leadership also manifests in the ignorance of the leadership to understand the nature of the global space as one of social Darwinism, the very basis for the historical subjection of Africa through slavery and colonisation and the contemporary neo-colonial incursion into our society. So, the country has been unable to chart the path to independent development. As Oxfam rightly noted, in Nigeria, “The gap between the rich and the poor may be a worldwide problem but in Nigeria the scale of inequality is staggering. Nigeria is the only oil-producing nation in the league of five countries with the largest number of poor people. This is inexplicable.’’

Official poverty rates remain high, at 46 per cent of the population or 62 per cent in strict per capita terms. Graduate unemployment is soaring and lay-off, a recurring issue due to decline in the real sector of the economy because of infrastructural and energy deficits. The climate of insecurity across the entire national landscape worsens an already bad situation and makes recovery a chimera.

Nevertheless, the pertinent question is what is to be done to extricate the country from the poverty trap? One recommendation coming from Oxfam that cannot be ignored is that: “There is an urgent need to critically examine the culture of governance and break the policies and norms that sustain the concentration of wealth and income at the top, to forestall the self-perpetuating cycle of inequality that subjugates many and sustain poverty in Nigeria.”

This is a defining moment when we need to say, good policies are required. They must be those that seek the wellbeing of the people and unleash their creative potential. The production relations need overhauling to put the people at the centre of wealth creation and the corresponding reward process. Employment has been linked to poverty alleviation and so both private and public sectors must consciously create employment opportunities for the people to lift them out of poverty. This is feasible, if government curbs corruption and prioritises well. Indeed, there is need for a national agenda for development. This requires some will and government must rise to the challenge. That agenda as suggested by Oxfam should be process-led and participatory with the objective of poverty reduction.

While the promotion of small-scale enterprises (SMEs) should continue, the government should take crucial steps to bring down the cost of governance as a matter of priority. This will free resources to pursue social policies and genuine productive activities that can provide gainful employment for the population. In the same vein, the curriculum of higher institutions in the country should be reviewed to accommodate vocational training. Besides, there is increasing consensus on the role that the research community can play in alleviating poverty within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda. The recently held UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York re-echoed this point.

It is to be noted that our recommendations would fade away if the deteriorating security situation in the country continues. An atmosphere of insecurity is counterproductive to job creation as the ever sensitive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) promoters will always seek safer havens. Authorities in the country should understand that the worsening state of insecurity is a sure creator of more abject poverty. And the consequences may make even the rich and the poor to “murder sleep” and as Shakespeare puts it, we “will sleep no more.” This is an albatross that we must remove from our already troubled neck.


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