Oct 17: Can we Change The Poverty Narrative in Nigeria ?

As the world marks the world poverty allocation day, a period set aside for countries to self appraise on their efforts to eradicate poverty or reduce it. As it was before and it is today, Africa still remains the poster card of poverty with famine, disease and war ravaging the continent. A situation that has promoted the international community to doll out monies in form of grants and aids. As it stands today, over billions of dollars have been pumped into Africa as a form of  economic and social interventionist programs, ranging from UNESCO, UNSAID and world bank with other emerging countries like China making their input in Africa.

Eradicating poverty in Africa seems to look like pouring water in a basket. It is possible to eradicate poverty in Africa ,as we have seen that some of African countries like Namibia, Rwanda , Angola and some few African countries showing impressive growth curve . But, as it seems today a lot of African countries are embarrassingly poor and this has been a source of worry for the international community due to the immigration of Africans to the Europe and the attendant loss of lose in the Sahara desert in a bid to reach the European “Eldorado”.

Africans didn’t chose to be poor, the citizens are hard-working and optimists but why is poverty still ravaging the continent ? This is one question that has been on the lips of economist. A lot of theories have been put forth, ranging from corruption and inaccessibility to education and so forth.

Africa’s biggest and most populous country, Nigeria , isn’t immuned to this poverty malaise inn Africa, in a nutshell, Nigeria is an epicentre of rich – poor disparity.  The widening gap between the poor and the rich has been attributed many factors . Corruption is one thing . A former British prime minister described the country as “fantastically corrupt” a statement that Nigerian Patriots didn’t find great but the Brits must have seen the humongous and huge monies that Government officials spend . These ill gotten wealth that would have used to develop the country finds their way into the British and other European vaults. A walk at some of the European cities would show one the level of  prodigality and  ostentatious lifestyle these politicians have demonstrated as in the case of Mr.Ibori who was tried and jailed in the British prisons for such act , yet his state , Delta ,though oil producing is one of the poorest in the country with environmental challenges and dearth of human capacity skills . The huge money allegedly misappropriated by the government in the state would have been used for other means. But, as it is in Africa , so it is in Nigeria, the governor is the king and all must bow.

Education, it had been one major reason for poverty in Nigeria ,northern Nigeria is a case study. With the majority of the Nigerian poor coming from North, it is an established fact that the north is averse to education so it seems. In the words of a Nigerian youth service corp member drafted to north to serve, he has this to say

“Apart from the fact that so many refused to support me on the ground that I am Igbo (Yamiri) which was a major challenge, through this adventure, I learn that the North is backward academically isn’t because of the fact that the poor are reluctant to go to school but it is because a few individuals (the rich) don’t want them to”, A youth Corp member by name Ukatu Okwudiri Benedict, serving in Potiskum L.G.A Yobe state organises a spelling Bee Competition among secondary schools in the state.

This is one of the few cases of Northern Nigerian aversion, another is cultural predisposition towards education which majority of the region sees as a westernisation plot. Mind you, majority of the region are made up of Muslim population. The clash of Eastern (Arabic)culture  to  Western (European ) culture comes to play and the northern Nigeria seems to be the playground. This has given rise to a lot of groups that would want the status quo to remain. These group want things to be the way they are, with ultra conservatives running amok in the Northern zones, they have indoctrinated the poor that education is Haram and wrong ! This is the major ideology of the Islamist group known as Boko Haram. Schools have been bombed, students kidnapped and girl child education hitting an all time low.

Without education, the human development index dips ,the HDI is one of the major ways a region can get out of economic doldrums . Without formal education and the ability to read and write exposes one to poverty and relegating a society to the bottom of the pyramid. Most of the advanced society today put premium on education . A good case study is the Scandinavian countries . In Nigeria, the national budget for education is less than ten percent of the overall budget. This trend has given stakeholders enough reasons to have insomnia. With this trend today in Nigeria, poverty would still be around the corner for a long time unless the trend is changed.

Policy, policy, policy. Government policy is another way poverty is encouraged. With policies like stifling completion and ability to be innovative, a situation that the centre is so powerful that it renders states as appendages. The new song in Nigeria today is restructure. The Restructure can be looked at from many perspective from economic to political. We would be looking at the economic restructure vis a vis the poverty index in the country.

The way the country is been run today ,makes it to look as if there is an arrangement to rob Peter to pay Paul.  A situation that states have been made impotent and inefficient always looking up the capital. A state like Lagos has the capacity to generate it’s energy and electricity, this would create employment,  create wealth and the state can export the electricity to neighbouring states or Benin republic. But, with the exclusive list and current structure, Lagos hands and feet are tied. They can’t and won’t generate, they would hope on federal as it happened in Akwa Ibom. The circle of poverty continues .

A state like Anambra, has the capacity to develop an inland river port . With the states position as the hub of self owned enterprises and having the bank of river Niger, the state has demonstrated that they have the capacity to build a port by dredging the river ( one of the longest in Africa ) to the Atlantic. This would increase trade and commerce and thereby create wealth to the state and adjoining states like Kogi, Delta and Imo,but with the current status, Anambra can’t do this and won’t think of it.  What is the reason exclusive list. The same thing hopes to oil producing regions and derivation . These policies renders states incapacitated and redundant and makes some other states intellectually lazy.

Poverty alleviations isn’t a rocket science ( apologies to Fashola) but it’s not all about buying sewing machines that wives of some state governors do. It is about systematic and methodological approach to governance. Ranging from policies, institutions and cultural orientation. This was what the Chinese, Brazil and presently India has put in place , it has worked and if applied in Nigeria , it would work. The big question is , is their political will to change the poverty narrative in the country ?

According to United Nations , This year marks the 25th anniversary of the declaration by the General Assembly, in its resolution 47/196 of 22 December 1992, of 17 October as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Call to Action by Father Joseph Wresinski — which inspired the observance of October 17 as the World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty — and the recognition by the United Nations of the day as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

2017 theme — Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A path toward peaceful and inclusive societies

The Call to Action recognizes the knowledge and courage of families living in poverty throughout the world, the importance of reaching out to the poorest and building an alliance with citizens from all backgrounds to end poverty. The theme for this year’s commemoration reminds us of the importance of the values of dignity, solidarity and voice underscored in the Call to Action to fight to end poverty everywhere.

Anthony Emeka NWOSU

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