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The poverty blues and the way out

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When, on the occasion of his second term inaugural address read on the maiden June 12, 2019 event to mark Nigeria’s return to democracy, President Muhammadu Buhari announced his government’s desire to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years; Nigerians were taken aback wondering what the magic wand is that the president wants to apply towards realising this noble and patriotic objective. What strategies, this time around, different from yester year’s ones that apparently failed, is government intending to apply they thought? The mass poverty trap on Nigeria is a vexatious issue.

It is important to acknowledge from the outset that the proposal to lift 100 million people out of poverty is visionary. No doubt, it is an admission that, truly, there is mass poverty in the land that needs to be tackled. The Brookings Institute in its 2018 World Poverty Clock estimated that 87 million Nigerians were currently living in extreme poverty. The organization added that Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

Although, government vehemently faulted the report as untrue, the reality on ground tends to prove otherwise as many Nigerians face harsh living conditions on daily basis. While it is true that there are few countries that could boast of minimal or no poverty among their population, Nigeria’s poverty status, some people think, is often exaggerated.

For instance, the popular claim by multilateral agencies in the West that 80 per cent of Nigerians live on less than $2 a day is doubtful and needs reconsideration on the basis of reality in Nigeria. If a typical beggar in Lagos or any other Nigerian city makes N2, 000 per day; at today’s exchange rate of N350 to $1; that will be $5.7 income per day. The beggar’s example is the worst case scenario that the most hapless Nigerian could face.

But most Nigerians are not beggars. As a matter of fact, most Nigerians, who usually classify themselves as “unemployed” outside the white-collar job bracket, are active hustlers, who on daily basis are engaged in myriads of private income-yielding economic activities, with most earning on the average N5, 000 ($14) daily. This is pure practical experience and the reality on ground.

Think of the mama put vendor, Okada and Keke riders, cart pushers, taxi drivers, and bus conductors/drivers. Think even of area boys/agberos (miscreants), traffic hustlers selling assorted merchandise, etc. There is none of these groups of “poor” Nigerians that do not record at least N5, 000 ($14) daily, granted under very severe condition. But the bottom line is that they are not living below $2 daily.

Two dollars in Nigeria is about N700. What is not clear is whether the claimed $2 daily living in Nigeria applies to individual or family. If it applies to individual, in all honesty, no person will survive in Nigeria with N700 only on daily basis. If the person manages to buy mama put morning, afternoon and night at N200 per meal and uses the remaining N100 to buy sachet water, the person can’t move anywhere but remains in one spot everyday because there will be no money for transport.

Again, the person will live in darkness, not have accommodation, will have no mobile phone, cannot clothe or meet up with any other basic needs because there will be no money left for those needs. But street hawkers in Nigeria have mobile phones, etc. What this means is that it is mere imagination to say that any Nigerian is living on below $2 per day. If this is true, then those 80 per cent of Nigerians will be suffering from kwashiorkor and dying like chickens.
But there is no such experience today in Nigeria except in the war ravaged northeast where millions of people have been dislodged from their homes and normal daily economic activities disrupted and now clamped in refugee camps. Those are the places where malnourishment is rife and children are suffering from kwashiorkor.

A recent field investigation with the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, in company with officials of his ministry and other journalists to parts of South-East and South-South revealed how Federal Government’s infrastructural projects are helping to lift people from poverty. The experience goes to buttress the much held belief that the most effective way to fight recession and boost the economy is to pump money into infrastructural development.

When money is pumped into infrastructural development, it trickles down to the lowest level of society. The mama put seller, the sachet water seller, bread, groundnuts, orange sellers; all have income flowing into their pockets from the workers doing the jobs.

Our tour showed that the Federal Government has embarked on several infrastructural projects including roads, bridges, and housing. Unknown to many Nigerians, the Ministry of Works and Housing has on-going housing programme in virtually all the states of the federation, except states that did not provide land for the project. The same goes with the plan of government to build federal secretariat in all the states that provided land.

The impact of these projects on the “poor” Nigerians is the same everywhere. A visit to the Federal Secretariat and the National Housing programme all in Awka, Anambra State, showed several scores of workers including masons, bricklayers, carpenters, etc, busy working. At the site, the wife of one of the workers was there busy preparing mama put where the workers buy food. A plate of food, according to the woman goes for N250. She said she makes at least N5, 000 daily. The workers said they are paid N4, 000 daily and they work seven day a week, meaning N28, 000 per week or N112, 000 per month, which is higher than what most graduates on white-collar job earn.

The wife of one of the workers who is there preparing food said she makes N5, 000 daily or N35, 000 per week, which comes to N140, 000 a month. When the incomes of the woman N140, 000 is added to that of her husband N112, 000, that family is making some N252, 000 per month. Not many white-collar employees earn this salary at the end of the month in Nigeria. The irony of it is that neither the man at the work site or his wife cooking rice, beans and plantain believes that they are employed! What then is employment, one may ask?

The same experience is the case at all the sites visited in Edo, Delta, Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. There are infrastructural projects being implemented from which ordinary Nigerians are benefiting by way of enhanced income and improved living standard. The whole experience puts to doubt the verdict that a whopping 80 per cent of Nigerians are living below $2 per day.

All that is required is to sustain the tempo in implementing these infrastructural projects across the country. The Federal Government alone cannot lift 100 million Nigerian out of poverty as targeted. To do what requires the cooperation and commitment of government at all levels. Whence the state and local government councils embark on similar projects that would leverage Nigerians, there is no doubt that in no distant time, many people would exit the poverty trap.

Furthermore, the Anchor Borrowing Programme of the Central Bank of Nigeria that targets farmers for improved agricultural yield is recording big success. The closure of the Nigerian borders for some months has tested the capacity of Nigeria to feed itself. A number of hitherto imported food products like rice, poultry, beans, onions, etc, have ceased to be imported with Nigerian farmers reaping huge profits. Yesterday’s poor farmers are rich today and the trend needs to be sustained to create more rich farmers. Nigeria needs a turnaround on the issue of poverty using drastic and systematic measures.

A number of countries, Brazil, Columbia and Malawi, to mention but a few, have achieved this feat by recording perceivable poverty reduction that could serve as models and incentive for Nigeria to emulate. And is what Buhari wants to replicate in Nigeria within a decade.


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