The Brookings report on growing poverty in Nigeria is another wake-up call

A recent global poverty ranking which places Nigeria at the bottom of the ladder has continued to rankle the authorities. But a more productive approach would be for the federal government to take the report in good faith and begin to make efforts to reposition the economy so that majority of our people can be productively engaged. For, whatever government officials may say, the indices of poverty are everywhere and all-pervading across the country today.

The American Brookings Institution which carried out the research says the number of Nigerians in extreme poverty increases by six people every minute. “According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of Congo could soon take over the number two spot. 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”, said the report. It added, “Africans account for about two-thirds of the world’s extreme poor and that if current trends persist, Africa will account for nine-tenths by 2030.”

Even though the federal government has tried to dispute the report, not many Nigerians doubt its veracity. However, it should not be seen solely as an indictment of the current administration that has spent only three years in power. In a profound sense, successive governments have not done much to improve the standards of living for majority of the people in our country. Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is among the lowest in the world. Yet, according to the late Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of Singapore, the ultimate test of the value of a political system “is whether it helps to improve the standard of living for the majority of its people.”

 In faulting the report, the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning argued that the “Poverty clock does not directly rely on household survey data as national statistical offices in most countries do. It is, in essence, just a model based on a lot of assumptions which cannot substitute for field work involving actual data collected from households in a consistent and representative way.”

 For us, those are just semantics. Even before the report, it was already evident that poverty has become a common staple for majority of Nigerians, given the desperation by many of our young nationals to risk all in futile bids to cross to Europe through the Sahara desert. A combination of sustained negative economic growth and a demographic bulge has put the country in a very difficult and potentially explosive situation. Nigeria, the seventh most populous country in the world, has a fertility rate that far outstrips its economic growth. So, driven by economic desperation and sometimes by misinformation, hundreds of thousands of able bodied young men and women on a daily basis embark on this perilous journey.

 While states and local governments seek oil-rents and jeopardise internally generated revenue, successive national governments have also not adequately used oil revenue to lift the ordinary Nigerian out of poverty. Rather, and in addition to rent-seeking, these revenues have served as slush funds and continue to enrich a few corporations and individuals over the masses and this paradox can be linked to the growing inequality between the rich and the poor.

Given the foregoing, it is our hope that the authorities at all levels will see the report of the growing poverty in Nigeria as another wake-up call for a nation blessed with enormous natural and human resources, but which has consistently been held down by poor governance to the detriment of majority of its people who wallow in abject poverty.