To arrest the trend, the citizenry must begin to demand equity, fairness and accountability from their leaders
While Nigeria’s labour population increased from 83.9 million in the second quarter to 85.1 million in the third quarter of last year, the country’s unemployment rate rose from 14.2% to 18.8%, according to the latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This should worry the authorities, especially when the NBS also stated that the total number of people in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) declined from 52.7 million in the second quarter to 51.1 million in the third quarter of the same year.
That there is no engagement of the report is indicative of the fact that the federal government is not interested in working with data. More disturbing, however, is that all the much-touted impressive economic growth rates of the last couple of years have not translated into good life for a majority of the people. On the contrary, Nigerians continue to be ranked among the poorest people in the world and this paradox can be linked to the growing inequality between the rich and the poor.
Meanwhile, it has long been projected that by next month, February 2018, Nigeria will overtake India as the country with the most number of citizens living in extreme poverty despite the fact that India has more than four times the population of our country. Living in extreme poverty, going by the parameters set by the World Bank, means living on less than $1.90 (N680) per day, an amount that cannot guarantee for any individual even the barest minimal needs for survival. This is another emblem of shame that should task all of us.
Some of the factors responsible for this state of affair include a growing population amid declining financial resources, high incidence of unemployment, predominant production of primary goods over finished products, aging public infrastructure and opaque systems of governance. The high rate of out-of-school children and poor output in the education sector also contribute negatively to deepening this inequality as the nation churns out a crop of uncompetitive youth in a world driven by technology.
The challenge is even bigger. Many of the rural communities in the country today are not connected to the national grid and as such, do not have any electricity. Some do not have access to potable water and many lack critical infrastructure for storage and transportation of raw materials from their places of production to markets. In several parts of the country where farming is the main occupation, the incessant clashes with herdsmen have made the profession a serious hazard.
The foregoing are a few of the challenges that have to be addressed to lift our people out of poverty. But the federal government must also stop providing undue advantage in form of waivers to few persons while the current regime of subsidies that do not impact on the poor is unsustainable. Government must focus on the people, their safety and welfare; the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery.
Therefore, we hope the federal government and the authorities in the 36 states of the federation will wake up to the reality of not only the growing gap between the rich and poor of our society but also the seeming hopelessness for a vast majority of our people. Ironically this is happening in nation blessed with enormous natural and human resources, but which has consistently been held down by poor governance at virtually all levels.
There is also a role for citizens. We must begin to demand equity, fairness and accountability lest this deepening cycle of poverty continues. Until we begin to do all these, Nigerians will find it increasingly difficult to maximise their potential in the bid to enjoy better lives.