Nigeria and the poverty debate

Posted by News Express | 5 July 2018 | 2,433 times

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Nigeria has become a spectacle of negative narratives. 

Less than 24 hours after a fuel-laden-tanker caught fire and engulfed several cars, killing scores of commuters in Lagos, a friend from the United States of America contacted me to find out why Nigeria has become a cesspool of all the negative indices. The caller reminded me that in this same June of 2018, over 200 villagers were slaughtered in Barkin Ladi, near Jos, Plateau State, by armed Fulani herdsmen. He also reminded me that 15-year-old Miss Leah Sharibu is still being held by Boko Haram terrorists, since two months after nearly 100 school girls from Dapchi in Yobe State were snatched away from their school, with the pretentious heavy security by armed soldiers and police. This young Christian was left behind by President Muhammadu Buhari's government which negotiated the release of other girls who are all Moslems. The hostages were conveyed back home by armed Boko Haram terrorists amid cheers and encomiums by villagers. 

The United States-based caller further reminded me that a British Broadcasting Service news recently alleged that the Nigerian Army troops were suddenly recalled and asked to retreat in Sambisa forests, when they were at the verge of killing or capturing Alhaji Abubakar Shekau, the reclusive leader of the blood-thirsty Boko Haram terrorists. 

The Lagos fire disaster, for this caller, was just the icing on the cake, to demonstrate that Nigeria is not just badly administered but that the total lack of leadership competences among the ruling political class has started to take dangerous tolls on the lives of Nigerians.

I then interjected by reminding my concerned American caller that Nigeria has also become the nation with the largest concentration of poor people and that this unpalatable rating makes us the worst, even making us occupy a position of global opprobrium and infamy far worse than India that used to be the nation with the highest poverty stricken people worldwide.

Look at it this way: Nigeria has less than 40 per cent of India’s population of over a billion people, even with the heavily doctored census figure of 160 million, Nigeria is still far behind India but sadly, we now have the largest number of poor human beings in the world.

The most annoying fact is that Nigeria has a notoriously and criminally manipulated statistics, given that the National Bureau of Statistics, which ought to be professionally administered, has been hijacked by politicians with scant regard for professional code and ethics. So, it can easily manipulate statistics to curry favour from the appointing political authority.

The National Bureau of Statistics and the National Census Commission have, therefore, become very unreliable for students of statistics; therefore, compelling researchers to look towards external sources for reliable data on Nigeria. 

This is why the current poverty rating of Nigeria is disconcerting, and has engineered palpable fears.

It is not as if most Nigerians are unaware of the enormity or gravity of poverty situation in Nigeria because, almost every household must be confronting the demon of poverty among some of her members. Nigeria, as the nation with the largest concentration of Blacks globally, is deeply involved in the African traditional family system of extended relationship, so every family knows the economic status of her members. With the heavy presence of African traditional values, including extended family units, it is easier for members of each family to be able to reach a determination of how poverty is affecting any of their members. 

It is, therefore, much more easier for genuine statisticians to conduct scientific verification of real data regarding poverty. But the local statisticians affiliated with the Nigerian government are playing politics. 

A whole lot of statistical data on poverty in Nigeria have been circulated in the past in both official and unofficial quarters, with a recent frightening version that told us that there are over 100 million poor households in Nigeria.

It is as a result of the apprehension created by the realisation that poverty has inflicted heavy economic damage on Nigerians that successive administrations have implemented one pro-poor policy or the other. Also wives of governors use the excuse of fighting mass poverty to extort money heavily from local contractors, just for self-enrichment, whereas poverty has continued to grow among their people. 

The immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan implemented several of such policies. President Olusegun Obasanjo set up National Poverty Eradication Programme. But without legal framework this body disappeared as soon as another administration came on board. There is also the National Directorate of Employment created by military president, Gen Ibrahim Babangida. All these institutions that have become embroiled in bureaucratic bottlenecks were set up, in the first instance, because poverty of the extreme specie has become hydra-headed in Nigeria. 

The current government is also implementing the conditional cash transfer to some poor homes. In fact, President Muhammadu Buhari appointed a Special Adviser, who is in charge of free school feeding programme that is embroiled in alleged widespread corruption. 

So, why does the current government doubt the veracity of the statistical nightmare of the extent of poverty in Nigeria? 

If poverty is not so much of a problem, why is the government spreading the propaganda of feeding school children?

Dr Dan Mou is a top bureaucrat in government. He recently wrote a big book to state clearly that millions of Nigerians are afflicted by poverty.

In one of his major scholarly works entitled National Security, Democracy and Good Governance in Post-Military Rule Nigeria, Mou went as far as recommending the establishment of a national empowerment and inclusive growth commission to take care of 70 per cent of Nigerians still in mass poverty, excluded from enjoying dividends of democracy and development in their own country.

It, therefore, follows that the government of President Buhari should stop living in denial and realise that poverty has ballooned out of control. He should initiate practical measures to curb the expanding frontiers of poverty, which is a menace afflicting a clear majority of the masses who are the owners of the sovereignty of Nigeria. Poverty spreads because of corruption among political office-holders. Poverty is widespread because government spends 70 per cent of annual budget to service huge wage-bills of political office-holders and spends a fraction building infrastructure. Poverty spreads due to lack of respect for the rule of law and human rights. Poverty spreads due to absence of good governance and lack of transparency and accountability in government. Poverty spreads when government can’t check the widespread violence unleashed on farmers who are the major producers of agricultural produce that feeds the nation. Poverty spreads when Boko Haram terrorists destroy farmlands and homelands of millions of farmers in North-eastern Nigeria, and the money budgeted for reconstructing those places are stolen by top government officials. So, the government must tell herself the truth and take action to check the expansion of poverty. 

The report that Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor as of 2018, as issued by the Washington-based Brookings Institution, is empirically accurate and factually correct and must not be belittled by politics.

The report entitled The Start of a New Poverty Narrative, obtainable on the institution’s website, pointed out that the Democratic Republic of Congo may soon take over the number two spot.

The report stated: “At the end of May, 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.

“In fact, by the end of 2018 in Africa as a whole, there will probably be about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than there are today. Already, Africans account for about two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor.

“If current trends persist, they will account for nine-tenths by 2030. Fourteen out of 18 countries in the world - where the number of extreme poor is rising - are in Africa.”

It noted that between January 1, 2016, when implementation of internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) started, and July 2018, the world had seen about 83 million people escape extreme poverty.

However, it noted that if extreme poverty were to fall to zero by 2030, “We should have already reduced the number by about 120 million, just assuming a linear trajectory.”

According to the Brookings Institution, given a starting point of about 725 million people in extreme poverty at the beginning of 2016, there was need to reduce poverty by 1.5 people every second, to achieve the SDGs, “and yet we’ve been moving at a pace of only 1.1 people per second.”

“Given that we’ve fallen behind so much, the new target rate has just increased to 1.6 people per second through 2030. At the same time, because so many countries are falling behind, the actual pace of poverty reduction is starting to slow down. Our projections show that by 2020, the pace could fall to 0.9 people per second, and to 0.5 people per second by 2022.

“As we fall further behind the target pace, the task of ending extreme poverty by 2030 is becoming inexorably harder, because we are running out of time. We should celebrate our achievements; but increasingly sound the alarm that not enough is being done, especially in Africa,” it added.

The hasty response by the current government dismissing this well-thought-out report of the real life situation is, therefore, scandalous. 

Is the government of Nigeria operating in a wilderness of aloofness, whereby members of the ruling class are alienated from the realities of most Nigerians and their daily encounter with poverty?

Is it because, for instance, the Presidency budgeted over N90 million to be used to cut the hairs of president Buhari this year that it does not know that N90 million can build two standard world-class schools for the poor anywhere in Nigeria? Is it because President Buhari spent 103 days and another one week in a London hospital at huge public expenses that it is not sensitive enough to note that poverty is a major issue in Nigeria? 

The minister of Trade and Commerce, Mr Okechukwu Enalamah, who spoke tongue-in-cheek, must know that even in his Abia State of origin, poverty is real, even in his own family.

His words: “The latest Brookings Institute's rating of Nigeria as the headquarters of poverty in the world should not border Nigerians, because the report may have been compiled when the nation was in economic recess.”

In his unsophisticated sophistry, the minister added: “We need to understand when we get these reports that there are reports that are lagging in indicators, which means people are reporting on history. There are reports that are leading indicators, which means that they are forward-looking and, of course, there are reports that capture generally what you do which is current.”

He continued his illogicality, thus: “They are actually dealing with what is current. So, when you get reports from Brooking Institutes, or all sorts of people, you need to look at the context. Somebody may have written a report when we were in recession. Remember that if you are in a recession, what it means is that even though your population is growing, people don't stop procreating, which means that in theory, depending on how they run those numbers, you will be going the other way.”

The Federal Government must be told in black and white that for millions of poor Nigerians, there is no difference between when Nigeria was said to be in recession and after the recession (if, indeed, it has ended) since most people are still in absolute poverty. Millions of Nigerians are still in absolute poverty.

Extreme/absolute poverty is a situation where even the selected minimum consumption requirements are not met. 

The United Nations defined extreme poverty as “a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, including food, safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, health, shelter, education and information. It depends not only on income, but also on access to services.”

The World Bank is the global institution dedicated for fighting poverty ( 

The World Bank has developed several attempts to measure and compare poverty levels across countries. One such tool is its international poverty line, which is expressed as dollar earnings per day that can meet minimum consumption requirements in all countries. The Bank’s extreme poverty has now emerged as the international scale to measure poverty globally, and to make comparisons among countries.

In 2015, World Bank upgraded its extreme poverty line by increasing the income requirements. As per the World Bank’s latest poverty measurement methodology, international extreme poverty line is US$1.90 (2011 purchasing power parity US dollars) per individual per day. Previously, this extreme poverty line was earning of $1.25 a day, at 2005 international prices.

As per the new estimate, the World Bank estimates that less than 10 per cent of the world’s population lives under its new threshold of $1.90 a day.

“There occurred a dramatic fall from more than 1 billion population in extreme poverty in 2011, when the poverty line was $1.25 (measured in 2005 US dollars). Following are the main global poverty trends: In 2013, 10.7 per centof the world’s population lived on less than US$1.90 a day, compared to 12.4 per cent in 2012. That’s down from 35 per cent in 1990,” Tojo Jose wrote. 

In 2013, 767 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day, down from 881 million in 2012 and 1.85 billion in 1990.

Half of the world’s poor live in sub-Saharan Africa and a third in South Asia.  

A report from World Bank said that inequality is the biggest threat in realising poverty reduction. “Hence, we need poverty and shared prosperity. Bringing shared prosperity of the bottom 40 per cent of populations in every country is the best way to eliminate poverty.”

Will President Buhari and his officials accept the reality of our situation and reduce the huge wage bills that go into servicing salaries of political office-holders and bridge the income gaps, and also practice equality of rights?

Only time will tell.  

Source: News Express

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