OUTGOING President Muhammadu Buhari, about four years ago, promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, translating that 10 million Nigerians would be taken out of the scourge every year. By the end of Buhari’s second tenure in office, about 80 million Nigerians, according to this estimate, would have exited absolute material deprivation.
However, according to the National Bureau of Statistics in a report published in November last year, 133 million Nigeria fell into multidimensional poverty which stretches beyond mere monetary deprivation to include lack of access to health, education and basic infrastructure services. President Buhari’s poverty alleviation measures in the past eight years at best amounted to a poverty maintenance programme and the data published by the National Bureau of Statistics that more people fell into more vicious poverty simply means that the poverty eradication programme of the administration was a smokescreen.
The fact that poverty alleviation or eradication was treated as a mere humanitarian gesture to be extended to the poor through such handouts as cash transfer made the programme a honey pot for its elite handlers. The first thing to understand about poverty is that it is not a state of nature and therefore, no one is destined to be poor. It is neither inherent nor insurmountable. Poverty is basically the manifestation of the underdevelopment of capacity and a deficit of enabling social framework to develop and build capacity. The underdevelopment of capacity and consequent lack of capability translate to low aggregate of national human capital. A humongous loss of such colossal human capital to poverty cannot be responded to as a mere humanitarian gesture. Ending poverty or alleviating it to the barest minimum should constitute the fulcrum of government policy direction.
No serious national development on a comprehensive and sustainable basis can take place while more than half of the population is mired in multidimensional poverty. Elections, which are the core component of the democratic process are major decisions people make about their future and the future of the country and requires balanced judgement of a sound mind in a relatively healthy body. Poverty robs its victims of balanced judgement and sound mind and no democracy can be guaranteed or secured in the cesspool of widening and deepening poverty. A major accompaniment of recent Nigeria’s elections has been the issue of vote- buying and this is because of abject poverty.
Vote-buying and selling cannot thrive if there are reasonable levels of material security among majority of the electorates. For the future of the country’s democratic process, ending poverty or alleviating it to a good measure is a core and practical requirement. To the extent that poverty eradication is significant and very decisive to the destiny of the country and its future, the government of Tinubu and Shettima must tackle it as a major policy challenge.
Poverty is arrested human capital that needed desperately to be freed and mobilised for sustainable development. The only meaningful way to end poverty or substantially alleviate it would be to develop concise and targeted policy that will help victims of poverty to regain and build their capabilities. Cash transfers is the least of the critical indices relevant to enhancing the capacity of poor people to not only exit the social scourge but to become net wealth creators whose cumulative contributions could launch the country into a middle income category.
Any meaningful policy on the roadmap to end of poverty must enjoy a measure of national consensus. To this end, the new administration should institute inter governmental consultative mechanism to provide synergy among the three tiers of government in developing and coordinating anti-poverty measures.
The strategy of a roadmap to the end of poverty should consist essentially in rural revitalisation which should aim at re- energising the rural economy. Modest infrastructure connectivity focusing on feeder roads within and across communities in the country will boost trade and enhance rural productivity. When once people can earn money though trade within and across communities, the local economy will incrementally integrate to the national value chain triggering the growth of the rural sub-sector. The immediate consequence of revitalised rural communities through trade and enhanced productivity is the development of capacities and basic skills among the people. This virtuous economic multiplying value circle created by a targeted policy framework will work in enabling the rural dwellers to exit poverty on a sustainable basis.
To the end of instituting a wide range of rural infrastructure connectivity as the harbinger of serious poverty eradication effort, a former military era programme, the Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, DFRRI, need to be reevaluated and returned as an important strategy in the fight against poverty. Instead of cash transfer which under the Buhari administration was a barely disguised honey pot for the elites and the bureaucracy that support them, loans can be disbursed through organised cooperatives to support productivity.
To further enhance revitalisation as a strategy to end poverty, basic facilities such as primary health care centers, water supply and access to schools should be guaranteed. To sustain the momentum of the strategy to end poverty, inter-party consultative mechanism to enhance national consensus should be initiated with a view to generate a broad based framework for coordination and supervision of the anti-poverty roadmap.
Despite being Nigeria’s most existential challenge, not much focus is placed on the scourge of poverty. While there are numerous civil society groups focusing on wide ranging issues and raising hues over such matters as right abuses, electoral reforms, corruption and many others, no organised voice is raised on the problems of poverty. In actuality issues of right abuses, electoral malfeasance, corruption or even the women and youth questions cannot be resolved without addressing the pivotal question of poverty.
While the victims of poverty are marginalised and have no voice or even an organised advocate, they are the major contentions in defining the future of the country. Because they are in the majority and their ranks unfortunately have continued to swell, it is no gain saying that without resolving the poverty question, no other question, whether it is security, political stability, social consensus would be resolved . Those who think that Nigeria can thrive alone on elite consensus without inclusive social consensus comprising vast sectors of our society are deluded. The poor are latent and potential national resources waiting to be tapped, energised and mobilised.
The poor constitute the hidden wealth of the nation. What the poor loses in himself or herself is far smaller to what the country loses, for neglecting their latent capacity. The challenge for Nigeria today is to increase productivity because no matter how fair the existing wealth is shared, it would not be enough to satisfy the increasing want for a better life for the people, which is the ultimate aim of government. The art of good governance is to continuously enhance more wealth creation through increased and sustainable productivity.
Nigeria’s gifts of a huge population and diverse resources endowments are already a considerable comparative advantage to be harnessed by appropriate policy measures, especially in activating and enabling the capacities of our sizeable population currently trapped in the vicious scourge of poverty.
The roadmap to the end of poverty is actually the path to any meaningful national rebirth built on an inclusive and sustainable development.