There is not much on ground to justify this vaulted optimism
The goal of migrating majority of Nigerians from poverty in the shortest possible time is noble and achievable. But the recent optimistic declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari that “we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years”, has elicited several pertinent questions, some of which are: Has anybody interrogated the strategies and statistics from the referenced countries before coming up with the idea? Has there been a research into the policies undertaken by those countries with a view to understanding how they align with our current efforts?
Against the background that Nigeria last year surpassed India as the country with the most number of citizens living in extreme poverty despite the fact that India has more than four times the population of our country, the authorities will have to do more to alleviate the suffering of our people. Living in extreme poverty, going by the parameters set by the World Bank, means living on less than $1.90 (N680) per day, an amount that cannot guarantee for any individual even the barest minimal needs for survival.
Some of the factors responsible for this state of affair include a growing population amid declining financial resources, high incidence of unemployment, predominant production of primary goods over finished products, aging public infrastructure and opaque systems of governance. The high rate of out-of-school children and poor output in the education sector also contribute negatively to deepening this inequality as the nation churns out a crop of uncompetitive youth in a world driven by technology.
The challenge is even bigger. Many of the rural communities in the country today are not connected to the national grid and as such, do not have electricity. Some do not have access to potable water and many lack critical infrastructure for storage and transportation of raw materials from their places of production to the markets. In several parts of the country where farming is the main occupation, the incessant clashes with herdsmen have made the profession a serious hazard. Meanwhile, the current regime of subsidies that do not impact on the poor is unsustainable.
It is good to make promises but the federal government and the authorities in the 36 states of the federation must wake up to the reality of not only the growing gap between the rich and poor of our society but also the seeming hopelessness for a vast majority of our people in a nation blessed with enormous natural and human resources, but which has consistently been held down by poor governance at virtually all levels. There is also a role for citizens. We must begin to demand equity, fairness and accountability lest this deepening cycle of poverty continues. Government at all levels must focus on the people, their safety and welfare, the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery. Until we begin to do all these, Nigerians will find it increasingly difficult to maximise their potential in the bid to enjoy better lives.
If we take a close look at the figures for countries cited by President Buhari as models, where real measurable poverty reduction has taken place as a result of conscious government policy and action, can we say we have anything on ground to justify the optimism that we can replicate what they did? There is nothing currently being done by this government that indicates a serious commitment to poverty reduction. While the aspiration to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by the next decade is good to have, we must also realise that problems do not disappear simply because some presidential speech writer wants to capture headlines.