by Victor Ikem
As the world marked the 2018 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on the 17th of October, it has become imperative to remind governments and policy actors in Nigeria of the growing rates of poverty and the urgent need to reverse this ugly trend through a well thought out and compressive strategy, policy and programmes towards eliminating the causes of poverty in Nigeria.
While the debate generated by the Brookings Institution’s World Poverty Clock report which rated Nigeria as a country with the highest number of extremely poor people in the world, is yet to wane, it is disturbing to see how the British Prime Minister, Theresa May at her recent visit to Africa, described Nigeria saying much of Nigeria is thriving, with many individuals enjoying the fruits of a resurgent economy, yet 87 million Nigerians live on less than $1 and 90 cents a day, making it home to more very poor people than any other nation in the world.
Those were the words of Theresa May in South Africa before she arrived Nigeria on an official visit in August.
Despite being the largest oil producer in Africa, Nigeria has struggled to translate its resource wealth into rising living standards.
A slump in oil prices and a sharp fall in oil production saw the country’s economy slide into recession in 2016.
This is certainly a damaging commentary on Nigeria’s inability to translate earns from crude to profitable social investments.
This report by the Brookings Institution validates the age-old argument by many development experts and economists that for Nigeria to achieve meaningful growth, a robust development, and the economic plan must be put in place with the full participation of citizens, especially the poor.
Such a development plan must address general issues responsible for the gross underdevelopment and poverty prevalent in urban and rural parts of Nigeria.
Poverty in Nigeria is caused by variety of issues including low growth resulting from poor economic planning and massive corruption in governments federal and states, the absence of social security system or safety nets, bad governance, electoral fraud, ineffective educational system, and poor healthcare systems, amongst others.
That determined effort reduce poverty is lacking among Nigeria’s top political and policy leaders.
Unfortunately, in spite of revenues earned from crude oil sales for over half a century, there are no significant improvements in the livelihood of the majority of the population.
Only a few extremely wealthy elites have access to good life provided for themselves by themselves through legitimate and sometimes illegitimate means, especially from corruption related contracts.
It does appear that Nigeria’s team of policymakers are yet to really come to terms with the scale of poverty in Nigeria.
The estimation that 87 million Nigerians are poor may be conservative compared to the visible signs of deprivation and lack of access to basic social infrastructure that has made life meaningless for most citizens in mostly rural Nigeria.
It is a fact that in some parts of Nigeria, there are no signs of government or governance.
A visit to most rural communities and some urban locations would expose the pervasive nature of poverty, much to the shock of many who doubt the facts contained in the Brookings Institutions’ report.
It goes beyond politics and political parties, instead requires a concerted effort on the part of all governments, citizens and agencies, bearing in mind that Nigeria’s slide into poverty didn’t begin in the last four or eight years, but it as a result of many years of economic failures, corruption, and mismanagement by the political class backed by the inefficiencies of the civil service system.
This initiative has generated so many concerns and controversies because there is no proper data of citizens living condition or demographic classification to support this kind of initiative in a transparent manner, especially for a country such as Nigeria that is still struggling with basic census data.
The CCT is widely considered to be another white elephant project, as in the case of other previous attempts at poverty reduction in Nigeria.
Secondly, the School Feeding Program of this current administration, which targets school children from the very poor background, has not received adequate public support because of perceived corruption that it may have generated.
The unnecessary haggling between the government and the labor leadership over a proposed new minimum wage for Nigerian workers will not help solve the problem of poverty if the debates continue without a targeted end date.
Aside from the minimum wage issues, the government must commit itself to build new infrastructure, developing efficient social systems that will support the poor and improve food supply and food security, improve transportation, healthcare, education, and housing support systems in addition to ensuring stable electricity supply.
And above all, fight corruption genuinely as all these have direct implications on the rate of poverty and the ability of government to deliver prosperity and well-being to the average Nigerian.
Ikem is a director of the Africa Focus Initiative (AFi), a public policy think-tank.