Poverty In Nigeria; A Long Walk To Freedom – Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni

(By Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni)

For any government, employment should be the topmost priority. This can be done via two distinctive ways, through direct job creation by the government or creating enabling environment for the private sector and informal sector to grow. Developing economies that have liberalize employment opportunities; have succeeded in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor by broadening the middle class base. The middle class is perceived as the class that forms the balance between the upper class and the working class in a society and more often than not, the middle class constitute the intellectual engine room of a given state. It is this middle class within the Nigeria context that witnessed an unprecedented decline from the late 70’s to early 2000, thus, leading to the present system collapse.

Pardon my borrowing the caption of this piece from Nelson Mandel’s Autobiography. Nothing best depict our growling abject poverty after 54 years of independence and 15 years of uninterrupted democracy than that we are on a long walk to a freedom which we are not even sure of reaching. Ours is a “blind walk in darkness”, call it double jeopardy. Maybe, if we had had same years of walking with uninterrupted electricity distribution and generation (we have been told the two processes are distinctively different), our lots would have been better.  Electricity generation has been abysmal, worst than what Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) did to telecommunication sector before it was unceremoniously privatized. Nigerians had expected that National Electric Power Authority (NEPA), sorry, Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN), having been dissolved into Electricity Distribution Companies would bring near succor to the power sector, but that seems to be a dwindling hope.

The Federal Government led by President Goodluck Jonathan repeatedly assured Nigerians of steady supply of electricity by October 2014. Power analyst opined that we need electricity of above 10,000 mega watts for Nigeria economy to be sustainable, but our current generating capacity as at August 2014 was still fluctuate between 4,237- 4,500 mega watts. On the other hand, for Nigeria to attain its productive potentials in terms of being one the 20 most developed economies in the year 2020, the country needs 40,000 mega watts. And, to achieve this, Nigeria needs to spend $10 billion annual on the power sector. If you envisioned us still walking in darkness for a longer time, your guess is as good as correct.

Power generation is actually not the crux of this piece. The central task is to draw a nexus between Nigeria’s state of poverty and our long walk to getting out of it. In a recent report, the World Bank opined that Nigeria will be one of 10 countries that would contribute to global poverty in the year 2030. The report puts our gallantry would-be contribution for that year at 61.5 million poor people, representing 16.3% of the global total of 377 million. The United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA), in 2008, projected that Nigeria population will be 296 million in 2030 respectively. At this time, world population was estimated to be 8.32 billion in 2030, according to the United Nations World Population Prospect (2012). Looking at the two reports thoroughly, we would agree that Nigeria population would constitute 3.5% of the world population around same time. If our population is projected to constitute 3.5% of the world population in 2030, and at the same time the country contributes 16.3% to the world poor, then, there is great need for caution and re-evaluation of our priorities as a nation.

From all indication, Nigeria’s effort at meeting the Millennium Development Goal One of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 or any of the MGDs is simply a mirage. It is not in our character or institutional molding over the years to meet environmental, developmental or economic targets, whether it is national, regional, continental or world. We often come late and in some cases never arrived at the target at all.

Though, World Bank has shifted the goal post of when to end extreme poverty to 2030, it has been predicted that a good number of Nigerians would still be poor by that date. This is an issue that should generate greater discussion and serve as a wakeup call for our government to find a way out. From available statistics (not the ones from government offices), it seems Nigeria is static. According to United State Central Intelligence Agency world fact book on Nigeria, total dependency ratio stood at 89.2 % with youth dependency constituting 84 % of the total, elderly persons balanced it with 5.2 %. Breaking down this percentages means 151 million Nigerians are dependent out of 170 million. And with the level of insecurity in northern Nigeria, I would not be surprised if the figures are higher.

The youth population which constitutes the most important resources Nigeria has has been neglected. The number of graduates who join the saturated labour market every year is awesomely worrisome; this feat is pathetically shared amongst most West African countries. Despite that Nigeria is the Africa’s largest crude oil exporter, shipping more than two million barrels per day (bpd) and home to the world’s ninth biggest gas reserves, we remain at the lower rung of development ladder. We are wretched and poverty stricken. As a precaution to eradicating poverty the United Nation General Assembly through resolution 47/196 declared October 17th of every year as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. On this day, countries as appropriate within their national context are to show concrete activities with regard to the eradication of poverty and destitution.

For this year’s marking, I doubt if Nigeria’s as anything concrete to present other than “Transformation Agenda” mantra that has not transformed the plight of average men on the streets. The nexus between poverty and development in Nigeria has long been evidenced by the statistics of people living below $1 per day and its rating amongst the committee of nations. We are all motion no movement. The insecurity, killings and unexplainable spending to procure arms are the off shoot of hungry people going angry with themselves and the state. The ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, Section V, Article 25, 26, and 27 which deals with issues of  poverty alleviation and promotion of social dialogue specifically states that poverty alleviation and promotion of social dialogue are important factors for peace.

It notes that, “Member States undertake to provide the basic human needs of their populations… undertake to fight poverty effectively in their respective countries and within the Community, especially by creating an environment conducive to private investment and the development of a dynamic and competitive private sector; providing the instruments necessary for the enhancement of job creation and for the development of the social sector as a matter of priority; ensuring equitable distribution of resources and income in order to consolidate national unity and solidarity; enhancing the integration of economic, financial and banking activities through harmonization of commercial and financial laws and establishment of Community multi-national corporations.”

For any government, employment should be the topmost priority. This can be done via two distinctive ways, through direct job creation by the government or creating enabling environment for the private sector and informal sector to grow. Developing economies that have liberalize employment opportunities; have succeeded in bridging the gap between the rich and the poor by broadening the middle class base. The middle class is perceived as the class that forms the balance between the upper class and the working class in a society and more often than not, the middle class constitute the intellectual engine room of a given state. It is this middle class within the Nigeria context that witnessed an unprecedented decline from the late 70’s to early 2000, thus, leading to the present system collapse.

In the last decade, albeit slowly, the government has been making efforts to revive the middle class, but it is never enough for an economy that boast to be the largest in Africa. In 2013, the Federal Government decried the huge number of job losses in the textile industry sub-sector. According to the government, the sector that had 800, 000 people gainful employed in the 80’s can now boast of just 24, 000 workforce. When one consider that the government is always economical with the truth, the figure of job lose can be double of what was presented. That sector that lay near comatose in Nigeria created over 4million direct jobs in Bangladesh, making that country second to China in textile production in the world. And this is just a sub-sector, so what happens when we annex the potentials in Agriculture sector, power sector, transport, manufacturing etc?

Every year, like a friend rightly said, we gloat and lament about how Malaysians came and took our Palm kernels away and then become one of the world’s largest producers of Palm-oil. Everything that made agriculture the main stay of our economy at independence has been forgot. Where are the much talked about market boards? Won’t it be ideal to bring them back under a hybrid of public/private regulator molded in the manner of Security Exchange Commission and the Central Bank of Nigeria, which cannot be easily manipulated by politicians? With 38.97% arable lands, we do not deserve to a citizen begging for food.  Nigeria in 2007 established a National Food Reserve Agency to oversee strategy for food security, but we are yet to see its relevance because hunger still pervades the land.

I am of the opinion that we should prioritize the reserve into segments with definite scope like the National Poke Reserve operated in China, to feed its large population. The twin institutions of Marketing Board and agricultural product-specific reserves would bring about price stability, employment and boast foreign earnings through export. Nigeria can also redefine the scope of the national youth service scheme to actively engage youth in agriculture.

For Nigeria to get ahead, sustainable institutions across different strata of our economic life with strict performance monitoring mechanism needs to develop to combat the scourge of poverty. Aside signing treaties and conventions, development plans and poverty alleviation programmes must be domesticated to get to the grass root. Recently, the IMF Deputy Director Fiscal Affairs Department, Mr. Sanjeev Gupta, in Washington D.C. stated what we already know, Nigeria government like its other developing nations counterparts borrow money to service recurrent expenditure. Gupta said IMF has noticed that,” increase in borrowing has not necessarily been accompanied by higher spending on infrastructure on the capital side, but has been accompanied by increase in spending on the recurrent side.” He noted that except there is efficient use of resources that are borrowed, countries might find it difficult to grow, walk out of debt or develop. I cannot agree less.

Sulaimon Mojeed-Sanni writes from Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja, via smojeeds@yahoo.com. You can send your comments to him on twitter @sanity0407

Source: Abusidiqu

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