Nigerians need escape route from poverty - Punch Newspapers

The most widely read newspaper in Nigeria

10/17/2021 2:59:00 AM

Nigerians need escape route from poverty - Punch Newspapers

The most widely read newspaper in Nigeria

17 October 2021ON a day dedicated globally to mitigate the prevalence of poverty, the lofty hope that Nigerians might benefit from the ideals behind the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty remains faint. As of 2019, 1.3 billion people worldwide lived in multidimensional and persistent poverty, the United Nations, which earmarks October 17 annually as the poverty eradication day globally, disclosed. Already, COVID-19 has pushed millions more into the extreme poverty hole since the onset of the pandemic in December 2019, particularly in South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where Nigeria bears the heaviest burden of human misery.

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People in extreme poverty, pegged at living below $1.90 per day, stood at 1.86 billion of the global population in 1990, but had reduced to 763 million people after the UN launched the Poverty Eradication Day in 1993. This year’s theme, ‘Building Forward Together: Ending Persistent Poverty, Respecting all People and our Planet,’ resonates with the poor everywhere. Specifically, COVID-19, conflict and natural disasters induced by climate change, have reversed decades of gains made globally in lifting people out of poverty. According to the UN, COVID-19 alone sent between 88 million and 115 million people into extreme poverty in 2020. The figure is projected at between 143 million and 163 million in 2021.

Poverty is a painful reality of life in Nigeria. It is acute and raw, a paradox, because of the vast natural resources available to the country. By its $432.3 billion GDP, it is the largest economy in Africa. But this does not translate to the good life. It is home to Africa’s richest person but has an unemployment rate of 33.3 per cent. In 2018, Africa’s largest crude oil producer overtook India as the world’s extreme poverty capital.

The Brookings Institution and the World Poverty Clock put the number of Nigeria’s extremely poor at 87 million of the population. This dwarfs the population of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius and Eswatini combined. But India, seven times the population of Nigeria, saw its poor population decline to 73 million at that stage. India achieved this by lifting 44 people out of poverty per minute. In 2021, 3.5 Nigerians plunge into the poverty hole per minute according to WPC, down from six per minute in 2018.

Defined as lack of shelter, limited access to clean water resources, food insecurity, lack of access to health care and sanitation, unemployment, and poor infrastructure, poverty is widespread in Nigeria because of bad governance, mismanagement of resources, lack of education/social services, and corruption. This makes Nigeria depend on expensive imports to meet basic needs. Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, poverty is relentless because of the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency, banditry, and the Fulani herdsmen attacks on farmers.

Data by the African Development Bank points to devastating dimensions. As of 2018, Nigerians who lived on less than $2 per day constituted 152 million or 80 per cent of the population. With a Federal Government, 36 states and 774 local governments bogged down by incompetence, high governance costs and fiscal instability, Nigerian households spend 56 per cent of their income on food, the highest in the world. Households in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia spend 6.4 per cent, 8.2 per cent, 9.1 per cent, and 9.8 per cent on food, respectively. This disproportionate spending fuels poverty in Nigeria, where the minimum wage is N30,000 or $73 per month.

To the credit of the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), he promised that his regime would lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within 10 years (10 million annually). Indeed, through the conditional cash transfer programme, the regime impacted 12 million lives. Before the full benefits could be realised, however, COVID-19 set in and reversed the gains; the World Bank said 10.9 million Nigerians reverted to extreme poverty because of the pandemic.

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Poverty is just too entrenched in Nigeria to fizzle out without a concrete plan. And the plan should focus on equality and representation for all, especially gender equality; increase access to education; improve food security and access to clean water; end war and conflict and embrace cash and microfinance. To realise his vision, Buhari needs to deliberately attack the root of poverty. Seriously, he should revisit the security architecture. Instead of the current single police force, it should aim for efficiency by devolving policing powers to the federating units as is the practice in federal systems. Security will allow farmers to return to their farmland and produce food.

For now, the rural road deficit is hindering the drive to boost farming. The state governments should embark on massive rural road construction. In India, one strategy to lift the people out of poverty is to enhance life in the rural areas by constructing roads. Remarkably, the government built 200,000 kilometres of new roads across rural India between 2014 and 2018. That translated roughly to 109 kilometres daily construction, a giant accomplishment.

Beyond this, the political system should change. A proper federal structure will enable the tiers of government to undertake rural road projects, alleviate the harsh living conditions in the hinterland that drives rural-urban migration and leaves the farms unmanned.

Currently, 33 of the 36 states are beggarly and depend heavily on the monthly dole from the oil income. This only deepens poverty. Therefore, states must be unshackled through fiscal federalism/resource control. This is the way to promote healthy economic competition, increase the GDP, and create jobs. Through the wealth created, governments will be able to provide quality education, improve health, sanitation, and social infrastructure. State governments should target the provision of electricity through diversified means like solar and wind in their domains. Dry season farming will engage millions; it should gain priority attention.

Nigerians need jobs, but too many sectors of the economy are underperforming. Buhari should privatise the steel sector, the refineries, and the ports. An efficient rail system promotes jobs, commerce, and the movement of cargo. The National Assembly and the executive should repeal the backward 1955 Railway Act. With food production growing at 2.0 per cent annually and the population growing at 2.6 per cent, governments should take drastic measures to curb the looming demographic catastrophe.

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