That presidential initiative to reduce poverty – The Guardian

President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent promise to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years is a tall order that requires critical thinking and more details about implementation strategy for service delivery.

The target can only be achieved if government adopts a different socio-economic model. Unfailing commitment and resolve in implementing people-oriented policies and programmes are the keys that have been missing.

It is one thing to announce government’s desire to lift people from poverty, yet, it is another thing, altogether, to see to its realisation, especially, given that previous poverty eradication or reduction programmes failed to meet their targets.

What new strategy is there to see that the latest ambitious goal is realised? A 10-year strategic plan is required to see this beyond the present Buhari administration. Except that is done, the President’s promise might as well be taken with a pinch of salt. May it not end up as mere sloganeering without substance. But because of the importance of this promise, the presidency should note that the people will hold the President to his word.

More important, President Buhari made the solemn promise in his inaugural address for his second term in office read on the occasion of the maiden June 12 event to mark the return of Nigeria to democracy 20 years ago.

He said his administration would henceforth begin to lay the foundation for accomplishing the poverty redemption goal by offering leadership with a sense of purpose.

“With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years,” the President declared.

Consequently, Buhari pledged that the next four years would be dedicated to improving the living standards of the people, tackling emerging challenges, resettling the displaced communities and addressing insecurity in all parts of the country.

He also announced plans to integrate rural communities into what he called “national grid” of expanding the scope of small-scale loans to farmers and proprietors of small-scale businesses and simultaneously expanding available facilities to boost local production.

The President appealed to state governments, especially, those with large rural economies, to aggressively solicit for investments, adding that they should invest in developing human capital, reducing bureaucracy and corruption, hosting and attending investment summits and improving the ease of doing business.

That extreme poverty is prevalent in Nigeria is common knowledge. The manifestations are everywhere in the deplorable living condition of so many citizens. Many citizens can hardly afford a meal a day.

It is heartening, however, that rather than downplaying the existence of poverty, the President is, once again, putting it in the front burner. The Brookings Institution, in a recent World Poverty Clock, estimated that 87 million Nigerians were living in extreme poverty. That should put the authorities on their toes if they really care.

According to the organisation, Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty in the world.

Even without figures, one can perceive that poverty pervades Nigeria. Available statistics puts the national incidence of poverty at 75.5 per cent, with 70.7 per cent for urban areas and 79.2 per cent for rural areas. The quality of life in Nigeria is absolutely deplorable.

Although, the national incidence of relative poverty declined in some cases during the 90s after a sharp increase in the early 80s, the situation has generally been on the rise since the turn of the millennium. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) designed to reduce poverty failed woefully in the country.

It is relevant to claim that 20 years of unbroken democracy has not helped matters. Most policies of government have been counterproductive. Social investment is tokenism. The poverty alleviation programmes of government, over the years, have failed to change lives. The alternative, which is wealth creation, is better and should be pursued.
The GDP growth is not in consonance with the poverty level. There is no GDP inclusiveness as what is on paper contradicts the reality on the ground.

We have consistently noted that the Buhari administration’s plan to pay cash handouts to the poor is ill-advised and has not reduced poverty. It would rather promote corruption. The real poor people are being consistently short changed by state officials who manage such projects unaccountably.

It is on this ground that we advocate getting people into agriculture. State and local governments should mobilise people into productive agricultural engagement through which they are paid. The culture of giving free handouts is counterproductive and outlandish.

Better to engage people in public work projects through which they are paid than free handouts. Government should push for peoples’ programmes that would lift many out of poverty.

There are relevant examples in global context. Three countries, Brazil, Columbia and Malawi have demonstrated amazing commitment to reducing poverty. So, it is possible to reduce poverty through wealth creation.

For instance, between 2003 and 2009, 21 million people in Brazil reportedly escaped poverty. According to Brazil’s National Institute of Applied Economics Research (IPEA), the poverty incidence rate declined from 35.8 to 21.4 per cent.

Nigeria should take cue from these countries. The poverty trap remains a very serious challenge in national development. Government should give it the priority it deserves. That is the only way banditry and other festering social vices we spend so much to contain at the moment can be averted too.

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