Nigeria leading the world in extreme poverty?
I woke up two days ago and accessed my emails as usual, and was confronted by a story emailed to me by a young friend, a story concerning our country, Nigeria. The story was so shocking that I immediately went into a serious act of prayer for Nigeria. The story says that “According to the World Poverty Clock…Nigeria will by February 2018 (be) the country with the most people in extreme poverty (in the world). Currently, 82 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty, which is 42.4 percent of Nigeria’s population”.
The story explains that the World Poverty Clock was created by the World Data Lab to track poverty estimates in about 99.7 percent of the countries in the world, using data obtained from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, United Nations, and the governments of the countries themselves. Using all these data, the Poverty Clock estimates the rate at which poverty is being reduced globally, and also how many more people are becoming extremely poor in the countries of the world.
The story further explains that living in extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as living with under $1.90 per day. “People living in extreme poverty are unable to meet their minimal needs for survival”. To reverse the trend towards more and more extreme poverty, and to be able to eliminate extreme poverty completely by 2030 (as the United Nations hopes for all countries), Nigeria needs to have 11.9 people rising above extreme poverty every minute right now. But instead, Nigeria presently has 6.8 people falling into extreme poverty every minute.
Various factors are, according to the story, responsible for this constant growth of extreme poverty in Nigeria. One major factor is rapid population growth. “Nigeria’s population is growing faster than its economy. Between 1990 and 2013, Nigeria’s population increased by 81 percent. By 2050, going by the speed of its present population growth rate, Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world. By passing the 400 million mark, it will be taking over from the U.S.A. (as the world’s third largest country) and be only behind China and India”. Another factor is the decline in Nigeria’s oil revenues in recent times, oil being the main pillar of the Nigerian economy. The decline led to a recession recently, and after the recession passed, the economy has been growing only slowly.
Yet another factor is Nigeria’s deeply unfair wealth distribution. More of Nigeria’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of the elite – politicians, public office holders, civil servants, crony capitalists, and various kinds of rogue millionaires. Most of this concentration of wealth in the hands of only a minority of Nigerians has been attained through a culture of rampant corruption.
The outcomes of all these failings are the lack of basic social amenities for the vast majority of Nigerians, poor and worsening infrastructures, serious difficulties in doing business in Nigeria, high and rising levels of unemployment, and massive hopelessness.
As a result, concludes the story, “Nigeria’s rising extreme poverty numbers isn’t unexpected. Instead, it’s a direct result of years of negligent and ineffective government policies… dependence on oil for years and an inability to generate non-oil revenue. Even now, Nigeria’s 2018 record budget is running on a deficit and will be funded by much borrowing with government debts also on the rise. The solution to this problem would be the formation of a credible policy aimed at eradicating poverty. The clock is ticking”.
What all these mean is that the Buhari presidency is pushing or pulling our country towards something truly frightening. What this will be if he continues unchanged, only God knows at this point. But President Buhari does not have to continue unchanged. There are many other options that he can choose now to guide our country away from the present perpetual decline into extreme poverty. In the interest of our country, and in the interest of the nearly 200 million of us Nigerians, he must stop, look around, and consider other options.
First, one very important option is that Nigeria must liberate the inherent energies of each section of Nigeria, empower each section, and thereby allow for many centres of potent development initiatives. In short, let many centres across our country have the capability to make serious contributions to development and socio-economic growth. This is one major reason why many leading Nigerians have been demanding the restructuring of our federation. Removing much of the powers and resources which the federal government controls now, and vesting them in strong federating units, will create the situation whereby resource development and wealth production will no longer be given to one large and ponderous federal centre, but will be given to a number of competing centres. What this means is that every section of Nigeria will be able develop its own homeland in its own way and make its own kind of contribution to the overall progress and prosperity of Nigeria. That means, we need to restructure our federation rationally. The capricious structure given gradually to the Nigerian federation since the 1960s, the massing of all power and resource control and development in the hands of the federal government, and the use of 36 states that are essentially impotent, dependent on federal fund allocations, and grossly expensive, has not worked and it can never work. It is a path to the economic and, ultimately, political death of Nigeria. And it needs to be changed expeditiously.
Secondly, Nigeria must begin to invest heavily in our youths in all corners of our country. I mean in quality education, in modern job skills training, in entrepreneurial skills training, in job ethics and business ethics training, in leadership development programmes, in business support programmes, etc. All of these should be a mandated agenda in all our states, and should be strongly shielded from infestation with partisan political germs and viruses. The objective must be that our men and women will soon rank among the world’s best modern workers, best managers, best chief executives of companies, most prolific inventors and business starters, most professional and dignified civil servants, etc.
Thirdly, we must definitively crack the naughty problem of our infrastructures. In particular, we must zero in on electricity, and make partial, haphazard and spasmodic supply of electricity a thing of the past in all parts of our country. This will serve as an incentive to draw countless Nigerians out to scramble for, and push, a modern economic and industrial culture in our country. Centralization of electricity supply has failed our country; we need to diversify in various ways.
Fourthly, we must create various incentive policies to encourage investment – investments by Nigerians and by foreigners, in all facets of our economy (industrial, commercial, service, agricultural, research and development, tourism, social services, real estate, etc). We must devise ways and means to attract Nigerians scattered all over the world to be part of this investment movement. And we must establish various incentives to encourage businesses in Nigeria to pursue an aggressive export orientation – to produce high quality products that can easily penetrate the most sophisticated markets in the world, and to evolve superior and efficient export management practices.
Fifthly, we must de-emphasize politics as a means of livelihood among our ambitious citizens. We must drastically reduce the emoluments and perquisites earned in politics and public offices, shut down the unrestricted and uncontrolled access of public officials to public money, revive the public service rules and regulations that guided the handling of public money during the 1950s (rules and regulations that were destroyed by the military regimes in 1966-99), and institute enforceable limitations and controls over political and electoral expenses.
All these will deal a heavy blow at public corruption in our country – in addition to whatever other methods the Buhari presidency may choose to use to fight corruption. To crush public corruption effectively and abidingly, we need to reform or change the pubic structures, institutions and practices that uphold public corruption in our country. Merely striking at the manifestations and culprits of public corruption at the top cannot really eliminate corruption. If it subdues corruption to some extent now, it cannot ensure that corruption will not return.
We do not deserve to live in poverty. Our country is naturally rich in resources, and our people are ambitious, creative and pushful. The poor organization of our country, and the consequent inefficient and wasteful management of our country’s assets, and the greed and corruption that these generate among the elite of our country, are the things wrecking our country. We can change all these.