Tackling Poverty Scourge through Elite Consensus

In their contributions to the current debate on poverty and ways to tackle the scourge, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Kingsley Moghalu, and renowned researcher, Damian Kalu, in their report, titled Nigeria’s Poverty Trap and How to End it, argued that only a collective effort of all the stakeholders can win the battle against the malaise, Festus Akanbi reports  

In Nigeria, as in other jurisdictions, there is a growing perception of a wide gap between the rich and the poor and between the top officials of government and the governed. 

This gap is often blamed for the lack of correlation between some of the policies of the government and the socio-economic needs of the people. This economic mismatch, according to some government critics, explains why successive administrations have found it difficult to tame poverty among the people.

Expectedly, the reality is that on the eve of every transition programme in Nigeria, the debate over the pervading poverty rate in the country is usually brought to the front burner by political officeholders. 

This may happen in form of ego-boosting by the incumbent administration to retain voters’ support. It could also be a weapon for the opposition which often draws attention to the rising poverty level in the country in a desperate effort to whittle the influence of the incumbent administration which it seeks to replace.

NBS: 133 Nigerians Multidimensional Poor

Despite the promise of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to lift more than 100 Nigerians out of poverty, the nation’s statistical body, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), recently disclosed that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. In its latest National Multidimensional Poverty Index report launched on November 24, the NBS said that 63 per cent of Nigerians were poor due to a lack of access to health, education, living standards, employment and security. 

The Statistician-General of the Federation and CEO of the NBS, Semiu Adeniran, said this was the first time the bureau would conduct a standard multidimensional poverty survey in Nigeria.

“The survey was implemented in 2021 to 2022 and it is the largest survey with a sample size of over 56,610 people in 109 senatorial districts in the 36 states of Nigeria,” he said. 

As expected, barely a week after the NBS report, opposition parties have begun to make the prevailing poverty level the issue of their political campaigns as the plot to unseat the current administration at the 2023 polls thickens.

For instance, the opposition was able to draw attention to the failure of the current administration to fulfill its promise of taking away about 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, saying instead, 133 Nigerians were driven into poverty by the current administration. The new figure represented 63 per cent of the nation’s entire population.

Fighting Poverty via Elite Consensus

In what looks like a wake-up call to all the members of the Nigerian political class, however, a new report released to the public domain last week by the Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation (IGET) indicated that the place to begin in any effort to lift 100 million Nigerians out of extreme poverty is in the political and elite space.

In the report authored by a former  CBN Deputy Governor, Prof. Kingsley Moghalu and renowned researcher, Damian Kalu Ude, the organisation stated that it was essential that a bargain be struck among the country’s elite, that taking 100 million Nigerians out of extreme poverty is the primary goal of politics and governance, aside the imperative of national security.

According to the document titled: “Nigeria’s Poverty Trap and How to End It”, this parallel has been observed in the country whereby a national economy can grow in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) terms but without addressing poverty.

“In other words, an economy can be growing while significant numbers of a population are getting poorer,” it stated.

The report identifies that factors that mostly affect Nigeria’s economy, including the prevalence of poverty, low productivity and systemic corruption, are mainly issues of political economy.

It, therefore, suggested that “Whoever is elected president of Nigeria in the presidential elections scheduled for 2023 must begin the process of building this elite consensus. Such a consensus must necessarily involve sacrifices on the part of the elite.

“This may include giving up some self-seeking advantages in return for other opportunities, provided the focus shifts to creating opportunities and investments for wealth creation for the urban and rural poor,” it added.

Dimensions of Poverty

According to the World Bank, hunger is a defining characteristic of poverty. “The absence of shelter is poverty. Being sick and unable to visit a doctor is poverty. Being illiterate and lacking access to education are both aspects of poverty. Lack of employment and day-to-day existence out of fear of the future is what constitutes poverty. Poverty has been characterised in a variety of ways and takes on several forms that vary from place to place and over time,” the report quotes the multilateral institution as saying. 

The report says an individual is deemed to be living in poverty if their income falls below the international poverty level, saying this is computed by taking the poverty line for each nation, multiplying it by the cost of the items required to support one adult, and then converting the result to US dollars. 

It recalled that the World Bank raised the previous worldwide poverty limit from $1.90 to $2.15 per day in September 2022, saying this is the definition of extreme poverty, which differs from the conventional definition of poverty as having an income of less than $5.50 per day.

Beyond Economic Strategy

Unlike the conventional yardsticks to measure poverty, the report maintains that while poverty is fundamentally an economic situation, eradicating it requires more than just technical economic strategy; it also requires political organisation and political will that is driven by a philosophical/psychological mindset among leaders and individuals.

“It explains that our perception of the world we live in and our place and purpose in it may lead to competent economic policy and its efficient execution.” 

The paper’s suggestions emphasise this political and political economy dimension as the essential framework for public policies that will free millions of Nigerians from the cycle of poverty. 

According to the report, China’s transformation and its eradication of poverty were made possible primarily by the rise of leaders who are preoccupied with development.

It cited as an example, that a society with a poor rule of law and a lack of true accountability will have a difficult time eradicating poverty and attaining development because it lacks the necessary conditions for the emergence of a stable political order.

Political Consensus

Saying that poverty and conflict have combined to make Nigeria a fragile state, the report maintains that, the evidence of current poverty numbers and trends suggests that the scale of the problem far outstrips the government’s capacity at this time to defeat the scourge of poverty. It recommended that a full-scale war must be waged against poverty – and won – if the country is to have any real future. It pointed out that the effort would require a political elite consensus across partisan divides. 

 “This challenge must now become, along with insecurity, the central issue in the economic and social challenges confronting the Nigerian state.

Drawing a connection between poverty and social unrest, the report says that Nigeria’s political leaders must also consider their enlightened self-interest as a class because increasing levels of poverty will lead to a further breakdown of security and, inevitably, to social unrest.

 Without a focus, a consensus, and a comprehensive plan and effective system to combat poverty, a fixation on achieving economic growth without vastly increased  levels of human capital would be a missed opportunity,” the report said.

 All Hands Must be on Deck

The consensus, according to the report, should involve former heads of state, retired military generals, leading politicians across the political parties, the most influential traditional rulers and clergy, the organised private sector, media proprietors and civil society-specific individuals.

“A fundamental aspect of this elite consensus must be clarity on the philosophical foundations for the huge effort that will drive the process of development transformation anchored on lifting 100 million extremely poor people out of poverty and into the middle class.

“To be consistent and robust, Nigeria’s policy choices must be anchored on an understanding of the roles of the state and the market, the balance between the two, which pathways to utilise state-leaning or market-driven or the precise weights to attach to the two broad choices where combinations from each are to be deployed,” the report said.

As preparations for the 2023 election gather steam, one expects contenders to the office of the president of Nigeria to tell the electorate how they intend to lift more Nigerians out of poverty in a manner that will accommodate the inputs of all the stakeholders in the Nigerian project.

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