Contrasting poverty narratives
Nigeria’s government has continued to deny the obvious – that Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world with over 86 million Nigerians living in extreme poverty and six Nigerians sliding into extreme poverty every minute. Last week, it sought to provide its own narrative to the effect that since coming to power in 2015, it has successfully lifted 10.073 million Nigerians from poverty to prosperity.
The minister of budget and national planning, Udoma Udo Udoma is the latest purveyor of this new narrative. Speaking on arrangements for the 24th Nigerian Economic Summit (NES#24) in Abuja, the minister reeled out the government’s account as follows: Government is feeding 8.98 million school children under the Home Grown School Feeding Programme; supported over 297, 000 poor and vulnerable Nigerians with cash transfer of N5000; successfully disbursed more than 308, 000 loans of N50, 000 and above under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) and 200, 000 Young Unemployed Graduates Empowered through the N-Power scheme, while over 308, 000 have been selected for consideration for the second bath.
The minister went further to aver that: “To combat hunger and achieve food security, we have raised capital provisions for agriculture from N8.8 billion in 2015 to N149.2 billion in the 2018 budget. Over N82 billion has been disbursed as credit to more than 350, 000 farmers under the Anchor Borrowers’ programme. 14 moribund fertilizer blending plants have been revitalised through the Presidential Fertilizer Initiative (PFI) with a total capacity of 2.3 million metric tons of NPK fertilizer.”
But just as Udoma was reeling government’s facts, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released its 2018 Goalkeepers report which estimates that by 2050, more than 40 percent of the extremely poor people in the world will be living in Nigeria and DR Congo and that Nigerians living in extreme poverty will continue to grow to 152 million by that time. Of course, the report situates the reason for such surge on the insufficient investment in human capital that will correspond to the increasing population.
The report was categorical that while more than one billion people in the world have lifted themselves out of the extreme poverty since 2000, “extreme poverty is becoming heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan African countries”. “By 2050, that’s where 86 percent of the extremely poor people in the world are projected to live. The challenge is that within Africa, poverty is concentrating in just a handful of very fast-growing countries. By 2050, for example, more than 40 percent of the extremely poor people in the world will live in just two countries: Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria,” the report stated.
Although the Buhari administration has continued to operate in denial of the reality of the growth of extreme poverty in Nigeria, it is clear from the indications and economic indices that Nigerians have never been this poor and desperate since independence. And make no mistake about it, the poverty problem in Nigeria is directly a result of the nebulous and ill-intentioned economic policies the Buhari administration has pursued, which have squeezed enterprises and even more, citizens, have seen their real income more than halved in a twinkle of an eye and prices of food, goods and services skyrocket beyond the reach of most Nigerians.
No serious government that wants to address poverty will at the same time be encouraging or supporting monopolies in food production that always results in higher prices of food for the poor. No wonder an OECD report on Nigeria avers that “Nigerians would save 30% of their income if they bought their food at Indian prices.”
For the country to make any progress on poverty alleviation, the government needs to accept the realities on the ground and begin to fashion policies that not only tackle the fundamental reasons why poverty is spreading at an alarming rate, but ensure productivity and competitiveness.
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