Of Poverty and 2015

05 Jun 2013

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The Horizon By kayode komolafe;; +2348055001974

There is an intriguing coincidence in the season that is little noticed in the discussions about poverty and what may or may not happen in 2015. The global consciousness about 2015 is, of course, due to the fact that it is the target year for Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were set in 2000 by world leaders at the United Nations. This week, representatives of countries are meeting again to revise the poverty-reduction goals, which many nations including Nigeria will not meet in 2015. 

Only last week President Goodluck Jonathan gave his mid-term report saying that his administration is doing well. Already the national attention has been unfortunately focussed on the 2015 presidential election at a time when the greater part of national energy and time ought to be devoted to poverty issues. So in matters of 2015, it is different folks, different strokes. Yet, it is important to remind those in power that beyond election, there is another way to look at 2015.

The development goals, which Nigeria and other poverty-stricken countries will fail to meet in two years, are in the areas of basic education, childcare, maternal health, hunger, gender equality, environment etc. With at least 10 million children out of school in 2013, Nigeria is far from meeting the goal of universal primary education. Education For All (EFA) in 2015 is clearly not one of the issues on the national agenda. The statistics on infant and maternal mortality remain as grim as ever. Extreme poverty is globally defined as living below $1.25 dollars a day; millions of Nigerians still fall below this baseline.

The MGDs under review are all minimal development expectations for every human being. Britain, Liberia and Indonesia are expected to make recommendations about new set of goals to be pursued beyond 2015 at this week’s meeting. Indeed, the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, announced two months ago at another forum that 2030 might be the new target year for global eradication of poverty. So the focus will henceforth shift to 2030. Will the outcome of the 2015 presidential election put Nigeria on the path of meeting the 2030 goal of global end to extreme poverty? As they say, time will tell. What is, however, clear is that there is no evidence yet of any anti-poverty passion in the build-up towards 2015 in Nigeria.   All we can hear are talks about electoral strategies and permutations. 

It is useful to think about what 2015 means to power-seekers in Nigeria and the significance of the year to the global movement against poverty.  The lesson of the failure in meeting the 2015 MDGs is that the aim of policy should henceforth   be poverty eradication. The distillation of all the policies in various sectors should be poverty reduction if not eradication. That is why Abuja should stop talking to Nigeria about development in tokenistic terms. During the exercise of self-congratulation that took place in Abuja last week, the President challenged his critics to develop “marking schemes” for scoring his administration. In fact, the administration has thrown a challenge to the public for a debate.

A time when the global attention is on poverty reduction is most appropriate for such a debate. The debate is important and urgent.  Any scorecard that fails to acknowledge as unacceptable the degree of human misery there on the streets is not only unfair to the people, it is also a disservice to the administration that is beating its chest.  For the debate to be useful it should be about the Nigerian condition in qualitative terms. The President spoke about defining the criteria for measuring progress; the criteria are crystal clear in areas of education, health, infrastructure, housing etc. The facts to examine should not be limited to a catalogue of projects dotted all over the country. There should be a proper scrutiny of the sense of social development in these projects. 

What makes nations great is how much of advancement they make in terms of social development. It is a matter that goes beyond periodic counting of projects. The improvement in human condition should be paramount among the criteria used in measuring progress. It is amazing that the president of a country with the level of poverty as we have in Nigeria could proclaim a sense of satisfaction governance delivery. That should worry all lovers of progress.

The danger in the backslapping going on in Abuja is that it may make policymakers lose the sense of urgency that is needed in posing the big questions about poverty eradication. Without looking at the big picture qualitatively development will remain a token. Take the example of the transport sector. Some coaches have been refurbished and rail services have been restored to some extent. No one can objectively deny such executed projects.

But is that what Nigeria should   be celebrating as development in the transport sector 2013? The contradiction in the official pronouncements is often lost on the policymakers themselves. Nigeria is aspiring to be one of the 20 biggest economies in 2020. Which of the existing 20 biggest   economies are talking of rail transport at the level Nigeria is advertising.  Nigeria aspires to produce 10,000 megawatts of electricity next year, which of the nations that Nigeria likes to compete with is managing its economy with less than 10, 000 megawatts?   Yes, some federal universities and tens of secondary schools for girls have been established. But it is also a fact that none of Nigerian universities is rated among the best in the world. In fact, Nigerians are paying billions for university education in Ghana. 

Funding tertiary education remains a national riddle to be resolved. Yet, officially the nation is said to be doing well in education.  It is true that a few hundreds of youths have been registered for jobs in some government-inspired schemes. But does that not amount to a token in the face of the scourge of youth joblessness ravaging the land?  In other climes where governance is taken more seriously, officials speak about significant reduction in unemployment rate. They talk of hundreds of thousands if not millions of jobs created in the economy as a result of a good mix of sound policies. Indeed, the performance of a government in Nigeria today cannot be reasonably measured without asking questions about youth unemployment. In a sense, the great issues of our time are jobs, jobs and jobs. Even if you go by the official figures, what is on display is a far cry from what is required given the magnitude of the problem of unemployment. 

In the proposed debate on the performance of the Jonathan administration, the point is not to deny the execution of projects here and there, the physical evidence of which is, in any case, there on the ground. The essence of the debate should be to nudge the administration to think big in matters of making poverty history in this land. No one reasonably expects this administration or any one for that matter to solve all Nigeria’s problems. But relative to the resources available and the growing potentials, there is a lot more that can be done about stamping out poverty in this land if that is the aim of policy. For the avoidance of doubt, there is nothing utopian about this proposition. China is reputed to have moved 680 million people out of poverty in two decades. That is more than four times the population of Nigeria. Brazil under President Lula achieved significant poverty reduction to a global acclaim. India has recorded a success story of moving millions out of poverty.  This is the typology of progress that Nigeria should embrace.

It is clearly a tendency towards complacency to be romanticising the execution of some projects without demonstrating how it has significantly improved human condition. It is important for policymakers to be mindful of the qualitative summation of these executed projects for social development; here we are talking about how the positive effects of these projects would make people improve their condition and take control of their lives in a climate of freedom. That would be the true measure of progress. And the good news for Abuja is that there is still time for the administration to improve significantly on its performance.

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