Fallout of Brookings Report: ‘Nigeria’s Population Fast Becoming More of Poverty Liability than Huge Potential’

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Kunle Aderinokun

Following the Brookings Institution’s report, which placed Nigeria with a population of about 200 million, higher in extreme poverty than India populated with 1.3 billion people, reactions have continued to pour in from analysts and stakeholders.

To the analysts, the report did not come as a surprise as the growth rate of the nation’s economy is slower than that of the population. In fact, one of the analysts pointed out that the country’s population was fast becoming its poverty liability rather than a huge potential. According to another analyst, while the foregoing is apparent, there has not been a deliberate attempt by the government to end extreme poverty.

The Brookings Institution had reported that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor as at the end of May 2018.

The report titled, ‘The Start of a New Poverty Narrative,’ obtained on the institution’s website, also pointed out that the Democratic Republic of the Congo could soon take over the number two spot.

The Washington-based institution stated: “At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.

“In fact, by the end of 2018 in Africa as a whole, there will probably be about 3.2 million more people living in extreme poverty than there are today. Already, Africans account for about two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor.

“If current trends persist, they will account for nine-tenths by 2030. Fourteen out of 18 countries in the world—where the number of extreme poor is rising—are in Africa.”

However, the federal government has dismissed the report, saying the indices used for the report might have been complied when Nigeria was in recession.

The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, spoke while fielding questions from journalists after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting.

According to him, Nigerians should not lose sleep over the report since the current administration’s urgent infrastructure programmes and enabling environment for businesses would make poverty in the country disappear.

He argued that the Brookings Institution’s report might have been written based on when Nigeria was in recession, advising that the country should not kill itself over the report that poverty was increasing.

“I think first, we need to understand when we get these reports, there are reports that are lagging in indicators which means, people are reporting on history. There are reports that are leading indicators which means that they are forward looking and of course, there reports that capture generally what you do which is current.

“They are actually dealing with what is current. So, when you get reports from Brooking institutes or all sorts of people, you need to look at the context. Somebody may have written a report when we were in recession. Remember that if you are in a recession, what it means is that even though, your population is growing, people don’t stop procreating, your growth fact, which means that in theory depending on how they run those numbers, you will be going the other way.

“There is absolutely no question that there an urgency to create employment in Nigeria. And it has to be a collective responsibility. What I can tell you, with certainty based on ones background in business and economics, is that if we complete the things on infrastructure and you implement these reports we are doing, that is what I mean by a leading indicator, poverty will go down,” he stated.

But a renowned economist and CEO, The CFG Advisory Ltd, Adetilewa Adebajo, said, “This is most unfortunate for Nigeria but not surprising.”

“Our population is becoming a liability as our GDP has not kept up with our population growth of 3 per cent over the last three years. If we cannot reverse this trend with sustained GDP growth of at least 5 per cent per annum we will remain an improvised nation,” Adebajo said.

“The potential of a 200 million market will also remain an illusion that we might not attain and realise. This is ironic as Nigeria remains the largest economy in Africa, but its population is fast becoming a poverty liability instead of the huge market potential asset,” he added,

Similarly, another economist and CEO, Global Analytics Consulting Ltd, Tope Fasua, noted that, “This event occurred precisely on the 17th of January 2018, not today. Some of us had been speaking about this and of course being ignored. The World Poverty Clock is being ignored by the Nigerian government.”

According to him, “The import of this data is that Nigeria not only produces the largest sheer number of extremely poor people for the world but in real terms or per capita terms, we also have the largest ratio of poor people compared with any country in the world. India has about 1.3billion people and we have more poor people than that country. This is a national tragedy and not an issue only for the current government by successive governments since the return to democracy and even the military.”

“The fact is that we must now do something revolutionary. The fact is that we cannot keep kicking the can down the road. There is no elite consensus to end poverty in Nigeria and the elite are still sucking the people dry not knowing that if they had a better vision that empowers the poor, the rich will be even richer – and more comfortable,” Fasua advised.

Saying, “Our economic thinking is way too shallow,” Fasua advised the government to “study how India is now taking more people out of poverty on a daily basis.”

“One of their core policies is the Swatch Barat, Clean India, which is quite revolutionary that Bill Gates has written about it band studied it and praised it. The programme unleashes wealth from among the people, and helps them set their priorities right. The programme creates millions of small jobs at local level. India has built 70million toilets in 4 years. These are jobs for plumbers, bricklayers and so on. These are jobs for young enforcers who ensure that people stop defecating openly. Bill Gates called it the largest behavioural change programme in modern times. We need to think deeply here. There are jobs if we organise ourselves. There are jobs in the millions in the public sector, not only entrepreneurship,” Fasua noted

“Our governments have unfortunately been irresponsible by trying to shirk their responsibilities for the private sector. The private sector is not in the business of creating jobs, but maximising profits by using as few resources as possible. When you have 180 million people with 70 per cent of them being eligible to work, a government had better think of how these numbers will be engaged, and fast.

“We need a new ethos that begins to move away from the idea of getting rich by all means, and begins to emphasize dignity of labour. What the report didn’t say which is also a sad reality, is that Nigeria is the global headquarters of income inequality. We are decidedly class society. We revel in it. But that is our own undoing,” he lamented. In his own analysis, Director, Union Capital Market Ltd, Egie Akpata, posited that appalling poverty status of the nation would not change except there was a deliberate effort to foster growth of labour-intensive industries.

According to Akpata, “Countries that are able to lift their population usually focus on broad areas: create the enabling environment for labour intensive industries to thrive and broad based provision of quality, free education and healthcare. Nigeria has not been able to achieve success in these areas.

“It is unlikely that this trend will change unless there is a concerted and deliberate effort to remove the several impediments to growth of labour intensive industries. Issues like cost of power, poor transport infrastructure, high borrowing costs, port inefficiency etc have to be urgently addressed.”