A report the other day that Nigeria of barely 198 million people has just dethroned India of more than one billion people as the global capital of extreme poverty is a sad commentary of public affairs in the county.
It should be an unacceptable paradox of development that the world’s most populous black nation on earth, generally known to be blessed with vast resources could be so reported as poverty-ridden. It is an insufferable perception of human development index.
Despite the denials, clarifications, and staccato policy attempts towards that much-bandied goal of poverty alleviation by government after government, the situation appears to be growing worse by the day.
An uncomfortable number of Nigerians continue to lead a life of want, paralyzed by fiscal fears and uncertainty over the whereabouts of the very next meal.
Indeed, as the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, referred to the dark spot the other day, the poverty index should not be part of our identity.
Sanusi, an economist, noted that “if every country continues its present trajectory, by 2050, 80 per cent of all the poor people in the world will live on the African continent.
But that is not the frightening thing. One half of this 80 per cent will be in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The two countries will account for 40 per cent of all the poor people in the world and Nigeria will therefore remain the poverty capital of the world.”
The tag and the verdict should not be surprising to Nigerian citizens in all walks of life.
This newspaper has been contextualising all the indices of human development tragedies for decades and the grin statistics have not changed for the better.
Who can miss the myriad of evidence of lack stamped everywhere across the face of the country?
There are numerous out-of-school children hawking (some of them also stealing) on the streets and highways; sick people, obviously uncared for, taking to begging for alms on their own and in person; professionals having to resort to the taking of bribes to meet the basic needs of their families.
These and many more other sights stand in ubiquitous attestation to Nigeria’s profile in poverty narrative.
The government of the day has floated a number of programmes, such as the School Feeding Programme and the N-POWER initiative, etc, aimed at tackling the searing poverty within the country.
But these poverty reduction measures have, for one reason or the other, proved to be ineffective.
This raises the question of what poverty really consists in and the alternative ways in which it might be dealt with.
In formal economic analyses, certain factors are employed in measuring the general quality of life that a group of people enjoys.
The rate of poverty is thus determined by the extent to which any person or group lives in denial of these indices of economic wellbeing.
One of the most important of these factors is the average level of income.
This does not, however, refer merely to nominal income but real income; that is, income that can actually buy sustenance for its earner without having to necessarily fall into debt.
Since internationally, the poverty threshold is pegged at about $2.00 (at least N720), and since the minimum wage in Nigeria has remained N18,000 for a very long time, it means that far too many Nigerians are living below this universally accepted poverty line. This is dehumanizing!
The foregoing is a straight forward and generalist analysis, empty of the debilitating socio-cultural and economic peculiarities of human existence in Nigeria.
This is a country wherea heartbreaking population, after having gone through the sparsely rewarding rigour that is left of the educational system, remains painfully unemployed; meaning that even the paltry minimum wage is not guaranteed to the unemployed lot.
In Nigeria today, many of those who are employed do not get their wages and entitlements regularly, either through fiat of the employer (government agencies inclusive) or because they are employed under one queer contractual agreement or the other.
Even for those who have their salaries paid as due, such cultural constraints as a horde of extended dependent relatives waiting on the not-so-robust income of one man/woman still remain scary.
How then can anyone be surprised that this is the poverty capital of the world? The worry is not about veracity: it is about how long the inhuman condition will remain.
Nigeria, at this point, is looking like a failing project that defies all solution. It is clear, therefore, that there is a fundamental problem with the system that it runs.
This fundamental problem, as this newspaper has continued to point out, is absence of true federalism that once catalysed the country’s development until 1966 when soldiers of fortune struck down democracy and stopped the country’s steady growth in human development index.
No doubt, the country’s political structure will continue to hold down the county as long as its leaders remain complacent about the expediency of restructuring.
It is a jarring contradiction that a nation made up of 774 local governments, each of which has at least one really valuable natural resource, should have its people languishing in extreme poverty.
There is no rocket science involved in surmising that if each of these local governments were to be allowed to harness and develop its own natural resources, there can be no place for poverty in the polity.
Therefore, let the power elite and the Sanusis of this world note that the story of poverty will not end as long as people are denied the opportunity to work for themselves.
It is time our leaders and aspirants to leadership positions at this time noted this newspaper’s position that unless we restructure the country to reflect federalism in its true sense, extreme poverty will continue to stare us in the face even beyond 2050.
It is hoped that sustainable development goals (SDGs) main drivers in the country’s National Economic Council (NEC) are aware of this national priority.