Government must design and implement a strategy towards reducing extreme poverty

Nearly a fifth of children (more than 385 million) in developing countries are living in extreme poverty, according to a new report by the World Bank and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Majority of those children are in sub-Sahara Africa. “Children are not only more likely to be living in extreme poverty; the effects of poverty are most damaging to children,” Anthony Lake of UNICEF said. “They are the worst off and the youngest children are the worst of all, because the deprivations they suffer affect the development of their bodies and their minds.”

Unfortunately, most of those deprived children are domiciled in our country. Some 110 million Nigerians out of a population of about 180 million live below the poverty line and most of them are children. More than 10 million Nigerian children are out of school; many of them die from preventable diseases like malaria and dysentery; most have no access to pipe water and basic sanitation just as many are stunted and underweight because of poor nutrition.

More worrying is the fact that the situation will likely worsen because of the severe economic crisis in the country. Many parents are out of jobs while those who are working are also finding it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of their children. The social disharmony in many Nigerian homes has become a veritable threat to the survival of the family institution. Child marriage, child trafficking, child labour and rape of underage boys and girls are on the increase in many parts of the country.

This crisis is exacerbated in the North-east of the country because of the brutal Boko Haram insurgency in the last seven years. The children, like other displaced people, are traumatised and exposed to high level vulnerability. They live in desperate conditions in many of the internally displaced peoples’ camps.

Indeed, a study by the nutrition division, family health department of Federal Ministry of Health revealed that with over 11 million stunted children, Nigeria is facing a crisis of malnutrition. This will, no doubt, affect the physical and mental development of the children. The study further showed that each year, about one million Nigerian children die before their fifth birthday and malnutrition contributed to nearly half of these deaths.

With the UN setting a target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, there are questions for the authorities in our country: What can Nigeria do to ensure that extreme poverty among the populace is reduced drastically? Are policymakers aware of the dangers of a bulging population that is not being planned for? Are the relevant stakeholders worried that in this age and time Nigeria is topping the list of countries with malnourished children aside the fact that most of these children are increasingly becoming victims of modern-day slavery, prostitution and forced labour?

In his 2016 budget speech, President Muhammadu Buhari amplified his campaign promise of a social welfare programme which targets an estimated 25 million vulnerable citizens. But the promise of a social welfare policy aimed at alleviating and reducing poverty in the society is not a novel one. From the National Poverty Eradication and Empowerment Programme (NAPEP) by the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration to the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) by President Goodluck Jonathan, none has been able to meet the formidable challenge. That 110 million Nigerians still live below poverty line today is a monument to the abysmal failure of these poverty reduction policies.

The federal government must therefore review the subsisting poverty reduction policies within Nigeria and elsewhere, and design a strategy that would steer the nation towards the World Bank goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Nigerian children have a fundamental right to live above poverty.