Weapon of mass poverty
President Muhammadu Buhari had hardly arrived Aso rock villa when he put together a programme he claimed would break the chain of poverty among the masses to achieve his promise to lift millions of Nigerians out of abject poverty.
Over the years, the air is already thick with niggling doubts about this laudable programme. Somehow, it has turned out to be an obvious path that excludes the poorest of the poor in society. However, one does not like to sound ungrateful but poverty alleviation programme has become a tedious pastime in Nigeria’s politics.
The Buhari government is not the first government to set ‘forth at dawn’ to fight poverty in the country. Therefore, the question of whether poverty alleviation programmes of the past and present ruling government have really transformed the lives of poor Nigerians will be hard to answer with the shades and colour of poverty staring at us. Irrespective of the fact that the sound of poverty is deafening and unpleasant to describe, it has become the obsession of the ruling government as its officials continue to crow that the administration has greatly reduced poverty in the land.
The other day, the leadership of the National Assembly faulted the federal government’s Social Investment Programme (SIP), during a chart with the Finance Minister. Femi Gbajabiamila and his counterpart Ahmed Lawan caused a stir when they both spoke like opposition party members and raised a very true condition of the situation of things regarding the social investment programme established since 2016 as a channel through which poverty could be reduced. Lawan noted, “…we feel that we need to work together with you to ensure that there is effectiveness and efficiency… some conditions are set, that those who will benefit will have to go online, through the internet or must have bank verification number among others…” Indeed, what is extraordinary about alleviating poverty when the system has largely succeeded in eliminating the poorest in society from the radar. As it were, poverty in Nigeria could be compared to desertification in Brazil or air pollution in China, all a man-made phenomenon that is hard to stop. Of course, there is no question that Lawan and Gbajabiamila have shown great political courage and patriotism in their transparency and frank observations when the later said, “I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to the internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN. In fact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leave them out”.
It is true that poverty is already an enigma before Buhari took office and will continue to trouble the nation after he has left office. But, the internet or bank BVN or any electronic system for that matter is not usually the best way for politicians or philanthropists to channel assistance to poor citizens. However, to pave the way for the absurd monster called corruption to thrive such method has become inevitable. During the last election, the same politicians spoke vehemently against the use of electronic voting system. They claimed it would disenfranchise the majority of the rural and poor people who did not have any idea about the system. Why then use the internet or BVN that rural people know nothing about to chase poverty? Knowing that the poorest of the poor have not been sufficiently captured by the SIP as well as the need to give a good account of how the funds are spent. Gbajabiamilia reminded the minister of Finance that she was in the eye of the storm as all eyes were on her to deliver the federal government palliatives. Therefore, he said, “The questions are going to be asked, how did you come about your list? How comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread…?
It will interest you to know that after the finance minister assured of the SIP sustainability and institutionalisation under her ministry and that records are safe with the accountant General. Surprisingly, about nine hours later the office of the accountant general was engulfed by fire. In fact, the most polite words to use in describing political cover-up of corrupt practices by way of setting fire on public buildings are farcical and shambolic. Indeed, this is what Nigeria’s democracy has reduced itself to, by making corruption look very embellished and poverty a sweeping storm on the masses across the country. Of course, leadership failure is the bane for a breakdown of accountability even as the culture of impunity is the order of the day within the arms of government. The mockery that all these invites is evident and should cause a shiver of cold and shame to a government that has continually claimed to have integrity. The impact of the ruling government’s recklessness has rather triggered an increase in the rate of poverty as the poverty index graph continues to reveal that many people fall below the poverty line daily. So far, the ruling government has been a cross between a farce and a pander-fest with regards to the SIP initiative. This should make the ruling party bear in mind that when government policies begin to wobble especially on areas that affect the masses it opens a glimmer of hope for the opposition who would ride and thrive on it.
It is important for the ruling party to deliver greener policies that can accommodate a wider spectrum of the lesser class in the society. This will enable the poor to grow and prosper because good policy can do an enormous amount to improve the prospect of the people than sharing cash to poor citizens. At some point, hope should be tempered by realism. Nigeria is blessed with deeply entrenched resources but that has not created a shield on the majority of Nigerians from being poor. The SIP programme was meant to lift people out of poverty but ended up hurting the poor. In the face of these miss-steps, the Buhari administration continues to fall behind the weight of rhetoric in valuation of its success in combating poverty. Even as sycophants fend off critical analysis and dissuade people from seeing the administration in a bad light.
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