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Rising poverty in Nigeria

Published by Guardian on Tue, 21 Feb 2012

RECENT official report of the deteriorating standard of living in Nigeria is as damning as it is alarming. So many years after independence, the Nigerian state is not making progress where it matters. Our human development index when compared with other countries is quite low. We are behind neighbours such as Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic, all of which are visibly less endowed than Nigeria in terms of natural resources. Nigerians are frustrated and angry as their hope for a better future never comes. The root cause of our stagnation may well lay with corruption and the diversion of the nation's resources to a select few at the expense of the majority.The report, recently released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), confirmed what many have vaguely suspected, that in the midst of increasing oil revenue, the people of Nigeria are in fact getting poorer. The report found that almost 100 million Nigerians were living in absolute poverty, that is to say, on less than a $1 a day in 2010. Assuming a population of about 150 million, the report said about 112.47 million Nigerians were recorded to be living below poverty line during the period under review. The proportions of the extremely poor, moderately poor and non-poor Nigerians were 38.7 per cent, 30.3 per cent and 31 per cent respectively in 2010. Poverty projection for 2011, ignoring any possible government palliatives, was set to rise further.The report also showed that poverty was worse in the North West and North East zones of Nigeria whilst the South West and the South East recorded the lowest poverty rates in the country. But the number of persons living in poverty has been rising since 1980 as revealed by the following table from NBS: ' 1980: 17.1 million; ' 1985: 34.7 million; ' 1992: 39.2 million; ' 1996: 67.1 million; ' 2004: 68.7 million; ' 2010: 112.47 million.The NBS report makes it quite clear that with more and more Nigerians being sucked into poverty, a second mishap is also waxing stronger ' the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. This income inequality can be seen from consumption patterns. The top 10 per cent income earners were responsible for about 43 per cent of total consumption expenditure; the top 20 per cent were responsible for about 59 per cent of total consumption expenditure and the top 40 per cent were responsible for about 80 per cent of total consumption expenditure.Curiously, as poverty and unemployment are increasing and the manufacturing sector is in the doldrums, Nigeria continues to record impressive GDP growth rate of 7.75 per cent. With population growing by a mere three per cent per year, such a growth rate would ordinarily indicate that things are getting better for Nigerians. With no visible improvements on the ground, we agree with the NBS that there must be a disconnect somewhere between these touted growth rates and the endemic poverty all around. If these growth figures are right, why are they not accompanied by social transformation' One answer must lie in the corruption and kleptocracy that have enveloped the nation. The people's money is not getting to the people.It is now public knowledge that the money from sale of crude oil is being used as a platform for corruption by rent-collecting elite. The widespread corruption that is visible in almost all aspects of Nigerian life is eating up the growth of this nation. Our infrastructure from roads to bridges is in decay. There is no modern railway system or commuter service. We are not self-sufficient in refineries, and remain fixated on humiliating foreign imports that impoverish the people and export our jobs abroad. Electricity supply is grossly inadequate. In fact, the entire electricity being generated in this country is just as much as will be required to power a midsize European city in spite of our abundant gas reserves which we continue to flare with meaningless penalties for offenders. The educational system is in crises and many are opting to subject their children to schools anywhere else but here. Our health care system is in a shambles and many, including rapacious government officials, travel abroad for any conceivable malady. The cost of governance at both federal and state levels is simply outrageous but apparently no one can bring sanity to the profligacy. Collectively, the impact of these inadequacies is strong enough to push the country's positive growth rates into negative territory.As an agricultural country, Nigeria fails to invest in agriculture that would have given employment to millions. According to NBS, unemployment doubled between 2006 and 2011. In the same breath, we have allowed our factories to run down in favour of a trader economy that imports everything from China. If we must use the Chinese, why don't they come here to manufacture the goods and create jobs'Clearly many things are wrong with the economy.The generalisations of macro economics are not helping Nigerians. It would be more meaningful for government to focus on the particular ' the micro ' and tell the people in plain language what it intends to do, complete with milestones and deadline.The NBS has done its duty of presenting the bitter facts, which is akin to making a clarion call on the government. The authorities have a corresponding duty to profit and act from the sound professional advice, so as to reduce the poverty level in the land.
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