President Goodluck Jonathan recently faulted the World Bank Report which placed Nigeria among the five poorest countries in the world saying the country is not poor. According to the president, Nigeria’s problem is not lack of money, but equitable distribution. It is conceded, however, that management of funds has been the bane of Nigeria.
Pundits have averred that Nigeria is a country of millions of poor people suffering amidst plenty. Despite the taunted rebased gross domestic product which revealed Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa, poverty haunts a very large segment of the citizenry. There is hunger, starvation, deprivation, disease, high level of unemployment and general despondency among the citizenry.
It has been argued that the monocultural nature of our economy is partly responsible for our economic predicament. Elimination of poverty requires a systematic effort geared at fully exploiting our agricultural resources and shoring up the utilization of the installed capacity in our industries. Governments must strive to totally liberate the creative energies of the people. One of the most important means of doing this is for government to concentrate on the provision of highly improved infrastructural facilities especially of transportation, communication and energy and ensure that these are constantly maintained. It should then withdraw from direct involvement in all manners of productive activities although its policies and programmes must be supportive of private initiative in these areas. Of more fundamental importance is the need for government to ensure stability and consistency of policy over a sufficiently long period. This will inculcate a strong sense of operational discipline and promote a high level of financial accountability. Regardless of change in personnel, a culture of transparency in governance must be developed while great attention must be paid to resource mobilisation and financial prudence. It is particularly important that there must be consensus on the minimum welfare package that is compatible with the investment needs of the economy if the development effort is to be sustained at a high level of performance on a long term basis.
Above all, governments must avoid haphazard strategy for the elimination of poverty. It should focus sharply on and regard as its primary responsibility the challenge of seeing the country as essentially a human development. Even when the emphasis is on promoting the role of the private sector in stimulating the growth of the economy, government still has an enormous role to play to ensure that all this takes place in the context of greater equity and less inequality in the productive rewards to individuals.
There is the need for the government to address the problem of the wage issue. This should be preceeded by a survey of cost of living of an average wage earner, the findings of which should be used to implement hike in workers’ pay. However, a review of the national wage policy is not the total solution to the plight of the common man. More still needs to be done in the area of price control that would ensure that prices of food items are not arbitrarily hiked as the wages are received. Even if there is 1000 per cent wage increase, it will not translate into concrete benefit unless prices are kept at a reasonable level. For example, there was a time the government tinkered with the wages but the upward review was eventually reduced to nought by the influence of inflation. Moreover, given the fact that out of a population figure of over 150 million people about 80 per cent of Nigerians are not in paid employment and for that single reason wages can only be addressed in respect of just 20 per cent of the total population.
So, from the economic point of view, it is the total income of the household that should be looked into because the total income of the household is higher than individual salary. Even then, one has to make allowance for the work done outside the normal jobs and the income generated by members of the household before determining the standard of living.
Any government policy of staff rationalization will work in opposition to the above suggestions as this depletes the number of income earners in the households and thus thrusts the burden of family upkeep unexpectedly on other shoulders. Poverty dehumanises and when poverty engulfs a whole nation, it is a colossal calamity. All aspects of life will, before long, suffer. Even the spiritual side of life itself will be in no doubt that something is wrong. Particularly when it is needless poverty or redeemable deprivation, the pain will be deep. A country that has found it rosy cannot manage poverty as well as another country that is naturally impoverished from time immemorial. As observed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as long as Africa remains a continent of competing beggar nations, so long will poverty, ignorance and disease, with their concomitant phenomena prevail in Africa.
The reduction of poverty will be impossible without generating jobs and incomes in urban areas. This applies to absolute poverty- decrease of incomes and salaries below acceptable thresholds- as well as relative poverty and increasing inequality.
To overcome the situation of poverty, the masses have to join popular organisations and use such organisations to educate their members on the critical issues of public affairs which affect their interests. They should stand for elections to ensure that the government pursues policies that will serve their interests. The masses should not adopt an “I don’t care” attitude towards policies because if they do, they will suffer from selfish politicians. The masses should realise that their direct participation in government through contesting elections or saying their mind is their best guarantee against being cheated. If people don’t get involved in taking their own decisions, some selfish people will take decisions for them.
The most important way for the people to control their own affairs is to form their own political party they can democratically use to choose their leaders, develop their policies, promote their welfare, reduce their poverty and build a strong, prosperous and united nation. Nigeria should have no business with poverty. Poverty is a permanent state of violence, inequality and inequity. And until policy strategies can be designed to overcome it, national and global development will be impaired and growth cannot be sustained.