Poverty alleviation and the N5000 to the poor
After bearing months of excuses about the nation’s poor economic fortunes, Nigerians were excited to read that the government has commenced payment of N5000 to poor Nigerians under the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme. A statement, released by the Office of the Vice President to that effect, announced that beneficiaries of this initiative began receiving their stipend last month in the first batch of the programme. The first batch is said to have covered nine states.
The signals relayed by this proposal are not encouraging. They portray this poverty alleviation strategy as a classic case of gimmickry and caricature of empowerment. If there is any form of seriousness about it, then that decision might have emanated from casual after-thought. What is the yardstick for measuring poverty in Nigeria? Even if that is settled, how do you identify one million Nigerians who are poor? What are the demographic instruments of distributing this number amongst the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory?
Furthermore, what is the value of N5000 monthly to these vulnerable Nigerians? Is it to augment whatever they make, if at all they earn a living? Or is it government’s philanthropy from tax-payers money? Besides, what is the opportunity cost of capital? What can the money do to create jobs? N5000 monthly for one million people translates to N5 billion per month. Can the government afford this over-generous spending over time? Is it wise, in the first place, to do this? Is there no viable scheme to which this amount of money can be committed?
If it is granted that Nigeria can surmount the problem of database, and scale over these socio-economic hurdles, there is also the moral-ethical consideration. Poverty alleviation entails the capacity of one to make life meaningful for the other, by positively re-orienting the latter’s thinking about himself and how he lives. It is a consciousness created in a person or people on the need to recognise their capabilities and abilities to work and to fend for themselves. To work is a fundamental aspect of what makes the human person; it is an activity through which man expresses his self worth and produces useful result. Thus any official programme of poverty alleviation that is geared toward charity, or that disregards the essential quality of work, is denigrating. Apart from being injurious to the dignity of the person, it is also inimical to national growth. The government cannot alleviate poverty by paying for, and creating indolence.
Owing to this confounding portrayal of poverty alleviation and also the suspicious intention of the government, certain quarters maintain that the programme may be an election gimmickry. In fact, President Buhari was not speaking tongue in cheek when he allegedly stated that the idea of giving N5000 to the poor is an “APC Promise.” It would be recalled that one of the selling points of the election campaigns of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was the promise to pay a stipend of N5000 monthly to unemployed persons. However, despite the apparent impossibility of executing that proposal, as this administration realised when it assumed office, the government has now brought it up again.
If there is any good intention in the action, it would be an after-thought. But the searing economic situation which the country faces would make the implementation of such an after-thought a deliberate costly mistake.
Genuine poverty alleviation demands the establishment of large scale public works departments that would engage different categories of skilled and unskilled labour. It would be recalled that some two decades ago, textile mills dotting major cities of the country, were reputed to engage thousands of workers in their factories. If the government is serious about poverty alleviation, could not this or similar departments, such as waste recycling, be realised by this administration? If the government needs to get people employed, it must create jobs. Coupled with this, would be structured management of credit finance and skill acquisition training.
The crux of poverty alleviation is the enhancement of the personality and well-being of people. It entails that the poor get the basic requirements of living: that they have a sustainable meal a day, that they have good healthcare service, that they have shelter, and that they have conducive social environment to realise their potential for self-development and contribution to society. Realistically, this is an ideal situation; yet, working towards this ideal as a guide is an indication of seriousness.
By doling out money to some supposed poor, the government is not only creating an industry out of indolence and idleness, it is also indirectly passing on a message of disregard for the dignity of labour. If a person is insulted by purposefully denying him the right to dignifiedly earn a living, and then work or labour is viewed with disdain, how then can a society speak of individual development and national growth?
Although a section of Nigerians are enthused, if not captivated, by the promise-keeping action of the government, this newspaper maintains a positively critical position, that poverty alleviation is not achieved by giving people free money. In actual fact, doling out money as stipend for the poor is a mockery of the true concept of poverty alleviation. “If you give a man fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach him to fish, you feed him for life.” The wisdom in this ancient proverb is very instructive in understanding poverty alleviation. For poverty alleviation to make sense, the free money bazaar should be reviewed.