A PATHETIC, PERPETUAL COLONY OF THE WRETCHED?
Nigeria cannot afford to remain the world’s poverty capital, writes Monday Philips Ekpe
Like a fairy dream gone awry, Nigeria, once a land of food and prosperity, appears to have settled into a self-inflicted status of a helpless, hopeless entity, living dangerously from the proverbial hand to mouth, barely getting by. Majority of its citizens sit and watch the aspirations they hold dear slip through their fingers. Nigerians are mostly lively in normal times, full of hope for tomorrow, never allow the hitches of the moment to interfere significantly with their visions of the future. Some years ago, they were aptly pronounced the world’s happiest set of people, courtesy of a reputable international survey. Not because they didn’t have challenges but for being capable of weathering whatever storms they encountered and moving on all the same. They demonstrated that attribute as individuals, families, communities and a nation. The people still do, to some extent, but the current stark socio-economic realities strongly indicate that the smiles and laughter on their faces are in danger of becoming frozen.
As I often argue, I disagree with those who put the blame squarely on the government in power. There is hardly any difficulty we’re up against now which does not have pre-existing roots. But far from exonerating the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, some of the knocks it has received are justifiable. Even its staunchest loyalists would concede the fact that it didn’t assume the saddle with the right personnel and policies to frontally confront the numerous burdens it inherited from its predecessors, thereby squandering the enormous goodwill of the electorate that had enabled it to unseat an incumbent government. Instead of tangible solutions to the puzzles that threaten decent and progressive subsistence, the public is regularly served excuses and more excuses. Not even the greatest of optimists and supporters of the present administration can deny that the change being experienced across the country today is antithetical to the one longed for and promised eight years ago. Many people have not forgotten Buhari’s intention expressed in 2019 to reposition 100 million citizens to exit extreme poverty by 2030, specifically by lifting 10 million annually, beginning from 2020. Today, sadly, if indeed the journey on that path has started, meaningful signs are yet to be seen. But then, whining has never helped anybody. Neither can we afford to ignore the glaring rapid descent of our nation into the depths of penury.
Right now, relevant statistics are not smiling at all. In March this year, the World Bank released figures that were considered alarming in certain quarters, despite the friendly title. Some government persons simply dismissed them as exaggerated, the handiwork of an agency which utilised inadequate data to arrive at invalid conclusions. Captioned, “A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment 2022”, the submission is a mouthful. According to it, “Were the crisis (Covid19 pandemic) not to have hit the counterfactual scenario, the poverty headcount rate would be forecast to remain virtually unchanged, with the number of poor people set to rise from 82.9 million in 2018/19 to 85.2 million in 2020 and 90.0 million in 2022, due largely to natural population growth.
“Given the effects of the crisis, however, the poverty headcount rate is, instead, projected to jump from 40.1 per cent in 2018/19 to 42.0 per cent in 2020 and 42.6 per cent in 2022, implying that the number of poor people was 89.0 million in 2020 and would be 95.1 million in 2022. Taking the difference between these two scenarios, the crisis alone is projected to have driven an additional 3.8 million Nigerians into poverty in 2020, with an additional 5.1 million living in poverty by 2022.” Ninety-five million despondent human beings existing in a country of approximately 200 million people in 2022! All was then set for the worst to happen to our already despicable profile.
Against the predictions of many pundits, however, only last week, the news got worse. Here, the source of information isn’t a foreign ‘meddling’ and ‘imperialist’ institution. The government’s own National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put the findings of its Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2022 Survey on the table and it was time for every truth-loving, self-respecting, patriotic Nigerian to be ashamed and worried. One hundred and thirty-three million compatriots representing a whopping 63 percent of the entire population, far more than the World Bank’s projected 95 million, are now in the grip of a slave master aptly called multidimensional poverty, a term that captures how nations are placed on a scale that weighs critical indices like healthcare, nutrition, water, shelter, sanitation, education, energy and income, and found gravely wanting. Very much like being entangled in a morbid web, with remote chances of escape.
Not surprisingly, the northern part of the country is ahead in hosting these damning conditions, with Sokoto State leading the pack. Conversely, Ondo State produces the nation’s best story in this regard. Since those revelations were made, the urge to politicise them as usual, though not loud, is noticeable at some fora. Only people who are condemned to mediocrity and primordial inclinations would trivialise such a monstrous, debilitating and transgenerational matter. The demographic distributions of the NBS results should bother everyone. Two-third of the children under 17 years are poor; 29 percent of school-age kids are not schooling now and 94 percent of them are wretched. In countries where heritage or legacy means anything, this situation would give the leaders sleepless nights. You just can’t have a chunk of the drivers of tomorrow at the mercy of rampaging foes and respond feebly to the onslaught.
For long, alleviating poverty in Nigeria has been a thriving industry of its own. Numerous conferences have been held to address the issue. Related official pronouncements are not in short supply. Relatively handsome budgetary allocations have continued to be made. Domestic and global organisations have devoted resources to the quest for sustainable answers. Different projects and programmes have been designed and executed, all in the pursuit of productive pathways. While the sincerity of these efforts cannot be casually dismissed, Nigerians haven’t reaped real, purposeful and lasting outcomes.
Now that the country has worked its way to this ignoble spot, remaining here is not a reasonable option. Enough of blaming our misfortunes on epidemics, impossible local business climate and the vagaries of world trade. Let those jostling for various positions in next year’s elections realise that the task of creating a conducive social and economic environment must not be left for non-state actors. We need to study how nations like China, India and Brazil that were once in a mess similar to ours successfully worked their way out and have now become glowing reference points. Interestingly, they are even more populated than Nigeria, thereby debunking the notion that our size is weighing us down. They have shown that rather than being a liability, numerical strength, if properly galvanised, can be deployed for optimal benefits.
Luckily, average Nigerians are hard-working. They have continued to make their marks at home and abroad, against intimidating odds. A visionary, pragmatic leadership at all levels of government could just be the catalyst required for the liberation of the masses from the jaws of crippling deprivations. The private sector and other stakeholders can then follow. Huge opportunities in agriculture, solid mineral, entertainment, Information and Communications Technology (ICT), for instance, are waiting to be explored if given the right push.
Getting indigent Nigerians to migrate to positions of wellbeing, productivity and self-actualisation must genuinely concern us all. The late Nelson Mandela put it succinctly: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in the world, none of us can truly exist.”
Dr Ekpe is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board