Friday, 22nd September 2023

The irony of poverty amid abundance

By Editorial Board
05 January 2023   |   3:04 am
Beyond the fact that Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world, what perhaps is news today is that Nigeria’s frightening poverty statistics rather than diminishing is increasing in large proportions day by day across the different states of the federation. While the previous survey carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics…

Beyond the fact that Nigeria has overtaken India as the poverty capital of the world, what perhaps is news today is that Nigeria’s frightening poverty statistics rather than diminishing is increasing in large proportions day by day across the different states of the federation. While the previous survey carried out by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had acknowledged Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world with about 87 million “extremely poor people,” the latest and current 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) Survey carried out in November 2022 by the same National Bureau of Statistics revealed that no fewer than 133 million Nigerians, representing 63 per cent of the population, are currently living in multidimensional abject poverty.

A breakdown of the poverty ratios in different geo-political regions of the country reveals that 65 per cent of the Nigerian poor (86 million people) live in the North, while 35 per cent (nearly 47 million) live in the South. Multidimensional poverty is higher in rural areas, where 72 per cent of people are poor, compared to 42 per cent of people in urban areas. On the proportion and intensity of poverty, the poorest states in Nigeria are Sokoto, Bayelsa, Jigawa, Kebbi, Gombe and Yobe. Sokoto State accounts for 91 per cent of the multidimensional poverty in Nigeria while Ondo State accounts for only 27 per cent.

Certainly, the above NBS latest statistics is a wake-up call on the Buhari government to stem the tide of poverty in Nigeria. Even without the NBS statistics, the ravaging poverty in Nigeria is a notorious fact requiring no empirical proof. Poverty walks the streets of Nigeria. The most tragic is the simmering soaring prices of foodstuffs in Nigerian markets at the moment.

The logical question in the light of the above is: why should Nigeria be entrapped in circles of endemic poverty despite her abundant natural and human resources? There is no doubt that failed leadership is the bane of economic development and growth in Nigeria. High-level profligacy, mismanagement of public funds, poor economic planning, nepotism and reckless government spending still characterise governance, despite the commonsensical admonition for cost-cutting. Perhaps this explains why Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has been accusing the Buhari government of not making judicious use of the repatriated Sani Abacha loot and for lack of transparency and accountability in the use of the repatriated loot.
On its own part, ActionAid Nigeria, another Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) has raised concern that Bayelsa State, an oil-rich state that receives high monthly allocation, is ranked as the second poorest state in the country in the NBS’s MPI. What this means is that state governments are also to blame for the abject poverty afflicting Nigeria. Most state governments have woefully failed in improving the welfare of their people.

Many government policies are harmful to the people. Oftentimes state governors get engrossed in irrelevant things forgetting that what matters is giving the people access to the basic necessities of life. Most State governors do not understand that the political enterprise is not an end in itself; it is only a means to achieving the real end which is the wellbeing of the human person. This explains why many citizens residing and working in many states of the federation are becoming poorer and poorer. Instead of fighting unemployment by creating jobs for their people or fighting insecurity to enable farmers to return to their farms and produce food, most state governors are busy spending huge sums of money playing dirty politics that does more harm than good for their people.
Unless governors have a change of heart, Nigerians will continue to be entrapped in the vicious circle of poverty. Differently put, without eliminating official corruption and enthroning responsible political leadership, Nigeria would not be able to lift her poor citizens out of poverty. President Muhammadu Buhari had promised that his administration would “lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over the next 10 years and set them on the path to prosperity.” But Nigerians have become poorer in the seven and half years than they were in previous years.

The phrase” lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty” has become another convenient catchphrase to give the impression that the government is active. But such a catchphrase is not synonymous with economic prosperity. Rather than lift Nigerians out of poverty, government has adopted policies that have been making Nigerians poorer. The Naira currency keeps falling and losing value. Inflation keeps sky-rocking.
In the coming months, the federal and state governments should devise concrete plans for alleviating poverty in Nigeria. The 21st century approach to economic development is more concerned about the welfare of the people rather than about government rhetoric. The 21st century economic approach is focused on the opportunity, which the government is offering to the people to help them escape from poverty.

Governments should create the enabling environment to enable the citizens to freely use their God-given abilities to satisfy their basic human needs such as electricity supply, potable water, shelter, hygiene, primary health and so forth. It is not the level of poverty that is most vicious but rather the absence of change or opportunity to escape that poverty. Constant electricity supply in Nigeria today will enable many young and talented Nigerians to establish small-scale businesses from which they can eke out a decent living for themselves and their families. Government should also remove economic barriers such as strangulating taxation, high Value Added Tax (VAT), high import tariffs, lack of property rights, unfair trade regulations, shutting down important trade borders and so forth. The rule of law should be promoted to enable businesses to thrive.
More importantly, amid the plummeting oil prices in Nigeria, the government should deploy millions of idle Nigerian youths to meaningful mechanised agriculture. Growing more food will not only solve Nigeria’s hunger problem, but will lead to economic growth and better opportunities in Nigeria.  It would bring about the much-vaunted diversification of the Nigerian economy. With dwindling oil prices, it has become imperative to boost agricultural production. Why should Nigeria still be importing food despite her great potential for producing enough food to feed her citizens? What are our Ministries of Agriculture and all the other related ministries doing to tackle the threatening food insecurity in the country?

If some African countries not as richly-endowed as Nigeria are producing enough food to feed their respective citizens, why not Nigeria with her natural endowments?  At independence, agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishery contributed more than 66 per cent of the country’s GDP. In the 1960s, Nigeria was the world’s largest exporter of groundnuts and palm produce and the third largest producer and exporter of cocoa.  The country is capable of growing enough food to feed Nigerians and to export to the outside world. Sustainable human development is the epicenter of all developments. The people are the wealth of a nation and should not be allowed to rot in needless poverty.

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