Poverty is a problem that brings more problems. Nigeria should be prepared to face more problems if the World Bank is correct about rising poverty in the country and the projection that the number of poor Nigerians would be 100 million by 2022. This is just two years away.
It is a disturbing scenario. Nigeria’s population is about 206 million. It is alarming that more than 83 million Nigerians live below the national poverty line, according to the 2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria report released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) this year. Oxfam says about 94 million Nigerians live below the poverty line. If the number of poor Nigerians rises to 100 million in two years, as the World Bank forecasts, it would mean that about half of the country’s population is poor. A country with half of its population poor should be ready for a rebellion of the poor.
Widespread poverty could easily trigger widespread protests against pervasive poverty. The recent nationwide #EndSARS protests showed how revolutionary conditions can lead to revolutionary convulsions. In the end, the protests that prompted the disbandment of the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF), known as SARS, were not only against police brutality but also the brutality of poverty. The World Bank’s message deserves attention. More importantly, it should prompt action by the federal and state governments. An economist with the bank, Marco Hernandez, presented a grim picture of escalating poverty during its Nigeria Development Update virtual event on December 10. He said, “With the COVID-19, the recession is likely to push an additional 6.6 million Nigerians into poverty in 2020, bringing the total newly poor to 8.6 million this year.
“This implies an increase in the total number of poor in Nigeria from about 90 million in 2020 to about 100 million in 2022. Northern states are more likely to be affected.” He mentioned some of the factors responsible for increasing poverty, including having a vulnerable employment, receiving fewer remittances, and being close to the poverty line. “No Nigerian Government in the past has methodically and seriously approached poverty-alleviation like we have done,” President Muhammadu Buhari boasted in his national address following the #EndSARS protests and the resulting anarchy. Buhari listed his achievements in his Democracy Day speech this year, flaunting the results of his administration’s social investment programmes aimed at reducing social and economic inequality.
But there are still too many millions of poor Nigerians. This suggests that his administration has not done enough, and needs to do much more, to tackle mass poverty. Buhari should understand that he is expected to significantly reduce the number of poor Nigerians within his remaining period in office, which is about three years. In September, he inaugurated a National Steering Committee to oversee the development of the ‘Nigeria Agenda 2050 and Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP),’ which succeeds ‘Vision 20:2020 and the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2017 – 2020.’
He said: “The main objectives of these successor plans are to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within the next 10 years, particularly given the World Bank projection that Nigeria will become the world’s third most populous country by 2050 with over 400 million people.” It is useful to have a long-term plan. But it is important to have a short-term plan as well, and to ensure that it works. How many Nigerians will his presidency lift out of poverty before the end of his second four-year term in 2023?
Nigeria needs to learn a lesson from news that China has been able to eradicate extreme poverty among its people. That country’s last nine poor counties, all in its southwest Guizhou Province, have eliminated absolute poverty, according to a November 23 report. Independent agencies confirmed that poverty in the nine counties in Guizhou had been reduced to zero percent. China had planned to eradicate absolute poverty by the end of 2020. At the end of 2019, 52 counties in the northwest, southwest and south of the country were still on the poverty list. Now there is no county on its poverty list. This is a notable feat, considering that China is the world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.4 billion in 2019. It is noteworthy that Nigeria’s population is far less than China’s.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s remarks at the two-day executive-legislative leadership retreat held at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, in October, spoke volumes about how poorly the authorities have performed on combating poverty. ”What is the reality of the context that we operate in today?” he asked. ”We all know our nation has millions of extremely poor people; the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened employment and poverty.” Osibanjo added: ”It is time to focus on what we have been elected or appointed to do. This is the welfare of our people… Our people just want food on their table, shelter over their heads, clothing on their bodies, healthcare and education for their children and themselves.”
In other words, it is easy to identify the markers of poverty. The United Nations (UN) defines 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.” How did China eradicate extreme poverty? Definitely, it took more than lip service. That is a lesson Nigeria needs to learn. Mere words are not enough to alleviate poverty, and certainly cannot be enough to eradicate poverty. Urgent action is needed.
Against the background of the estimated number of the country’s new poor by 2022, it would be interesting to know how many Nigerians would be newly rich by the same date. The new poor will co-exist with the new rich.
Source: The Nation