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Unchanging narrative of Nigeria’s endemic poverty -Punch Editorial

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As the rest of the world gradually but determinedly takes the needed bold steps to break free from extreme poverty, all available evidence in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, inexplicably points to an appalling lack of progress in this regard. Naked evidence of poverty litters every nook and cranny of the country, though the impact is more palpable in some parts than others. Reports released recently by two international financial institutions firmly confirm the endemic poverty in the country.

While the African Development Bank says that a staggering 152 million Nigerians, representing almost 80 per cent of the country’s estimated 190 million population, live on less than $2 a day, the International Monetary Fund insists that more Nigerians are getting poorer, despite claims that the country is desperately clawing its way out of a debilitating recession. What is really baffling is that a country adequately endowed with all the resources, human and material, needed to propel her dynamic population into a new era of prosperity has been stuck in the quagmire of endemic poverty.

The context of a country receding further into an abyss of poverty becomes quite patent when it is considered that in a 2012 report, the National Bureau of Statistics said the number of Nigerians living within the poverty threshold was 115.5 million. Yemi Kale, the Statistician-General, said, “In 2004, Nigeria’s relative poverty measurement stood at 54.4 per cent but increased to 69 per cent or 112.518 million in 2010.” Within another six years, the number has increased to 152 million. This is why the AfDB described it as unacceptable.

It is not as if the latest reports of the two agencies are anything new; they only reaffirm what has become a familiar refrain by similar organisations over the years. In its 2013 assessment presented in 2014, for instance, the World Bank ranked Nigeria as the country with the third highest number of poor people globally, behind India and China. While India, with a population in excess of 1.2 billion people, housed 33 per cent of the world’s poor, according to the agency’s President, Jim Yong Kim, China, the most populous country on earth, had 13 per cent. Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, was credited with seven per cent. Together with Bangladesh and Democratic Republic of Congo, these countries were home to 760 million poor people five years ago.

But while Nigeria has been retrogressing, most parts of the world have been making progress. Globally, the population of extremely poor people was estimated to have fallen below 10 per cent for the first time at the end of the Millennium Development Goals programme in 2015. China, for example, has seen to the escape of more than 500 million people from poverty, posting a drop from 84 per cent to 13 per cent between 1981 and 2008, according to the World Bank. It is estimated that an average of 13 million Chinese are brought out of poverty every year. In November last year, the country which is now the world’s largest economy by some accounts, set out with another ambitious plan to lift 30 million more Chinese out of poverty by 2020.

But what is Nigeria’s target? Without being immodest, Nigeria could easily become the richest country in Africa if her resources are judiciously managed. But its fortunes have been gratuitously gambled away by a succession of inept, clueless and self-centred leaders who lacked the vision and knowledge to properly drive her development. For instance, Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of crude oil and one of the top 10 producers in the world. Yet, while others have been able to use their own oil and gas fortunes to develop their infrastructure, Nigeria’s stock of infrastructure remains both inadequate and decrepit.

The health system is in a complete shambles, as those who can afford it now travel abroad for routine medical conditions. So also is the education system, which now sees Nigerians moving in droves outside the country to acquire quality education, something that was taken for granted in the country a few decades ago. A former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Emeka Anyaoku, once described Nigerian roads as worse than those in war-torn countries.

When a country finds it difficult to sustain regular electricity supply, it is difficult to create jobs and this, in turn, deepens poverty. Hundreds of thousands of youths graduate from universities or polytechnics each year without any prospects of being gainfully employed. The result has been an unprecedented upsurge in the level of criminality.

According to the NBS, the unemployment rate, as of the third quarter of last year, was 18.8 per cent, while a combined rate for the unemployed and underemployed stood at 40 per cent. It was also reported that a total of 7.9 million Nigerians became unemployed between January 2016 and September 2017. With such a high number of the unemployed, it is no wonder that the whole country crawls with poverty. The situation is also compounded by high birth rate, which has consistently outstripped the rate of growth in the economy.

It is obvious that oil and gas, the only booming industry in the country, can only provide for a very few. This is the time for the government to diversify the economy and encourage a return to agriculture, which has the prospects of providing job for a far higher number of people. It is also time for the country to revive its textile industry, which, in the past, created over 300,000 direct and 1.2 million indirect jobs. There should be a deliberate effort to encourage small and medium-scale enterprises, which drive the economies of advanced countries.

In an address to the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 5, the Chinese Premier, Li Kegiang, said poverty alleviation would target the “development of local industries, education and health care.” He said that measures would be directed at individual households and poor population, including the elderly, people with disability and those with serious diseases. These are some of the steps that should be considered in Nigeria to make the kind of impact recorded in China.

Punch

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