Given the present socio-economic hardship in the country, expectations are high that President Muhammadu Buhari will revive the economy by creating jobs and alleviating poverty next year. In this piece, SANI ADAMU examines how this can be achieved through 2016 budget
By all accounts, the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari to redeem his campaign promise of removing millions of Nigerians out of poverty is significant and exceptional. Analysts observe that although successive administrations initiated various measures and policies aimed at alleviating abject poverty among Nigerians, such efforts have not yielded meaningful results.
A World Bank’s global poverty rating placed Nigeria among the five poorest countries in the world. The report revealed that most Nigerians lived on less than one dollar per day. Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank President, while releasing the report at the April 4, 2014 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in New York, emphasised that Nigeria had one of the largest concentration of poor people. According to him, seven per cent of the world poor live in Nigeria in spite of the rebasing of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that ranked it as the largest economy in Africa.
Concerned about this development, President Muhammadu Buhari has earmarked N500 billion for social welfare packages to the vulnerable persons. This is contained in the administration’s Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper presented to the National Assembly. Buhari said that the Federal Government would collaborate with state governments in the implementation of the N500 billion social welfare packages to the vulnerable.
“The Federal Government will collaborate with state government to institute well structured social welfare intervention programmes such as school feeding programme initiatives, conditional cash transfer to the most vulnerable,’’ he said. According to him, these interventions will start as pilot scheme and work towards securing the support of donor agencies and development partners to minimise potential risks. He said that the government would create a phased social welfare programme to cater for a larger population of the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians.
Also, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture, assured Nigerians of the Federal Government’s commitment to their welfare. He insisted that provisions made in the 2016 budget would reduce the sufferings of Nigerians, noting that the measures would be targeted at unemployed graduates, market women, artisans and farmers, among others.
“We are aiming to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty through massive social interventions,’’ Mohammed said. According to him, the school feeding programme that will provide one meal per day to school children, the conditional transfer of N5,000 monthly to 25 million most vulnerable Nigerians and access to loans by different categories of people, are among the measures for which provisions have been made in the 2016 budget.
“In addition to providing succour, these measures will also stimulate the economy; just imagine the impact on the poultry sector alone if, for example, one egg is given daily to one million school children,’’ he said. The minister observed that in spite of the global economic downturn, the impact of the current harsh economic environment on Nigerians would have been less severe if the previous administrations had managed the economy well.
“The gains of the boom when oil was selling at more than100 dollars were either stolen or frittered away. Yet, those who brought the nation to this sorry state have continued to grandstand, even having the audacity to further insult the victims of their impunity.
“The Buhari administration is not making excuses. That is why it has included in the 2016 budget the measures that will provide relief for Nigerians. But it is important for Nigerians to know the kind of deficits that the government ran since 2009 that partly brought us to where we are now.
“In 2009, the Federal Government was spending 228 dollars for every 100 dollars earned, leaving a deficit of 128 dollars. In 2010, the spending was 158 dollars for every 100 dollars earned, leaving a deficit of 58 dollars. In the next few days, the administration will start firing from all cylinders, starting with the unveiling of the 2016 budget.
“Nigerians will witness measurable and impactful progress in all spheres of governance. We shall not abandon our social intervention policies such as one meal a day for school children and the payment of N5, 000 monthly to each vulnerable Nigerian. We are committed to lifting millions of Nigerians out of poverty, this government will not give excuses,’’ he emphasised.
Mohammed said that the Federal Government would take advantage of the vast opportunities in the agriculture, solid minerals, and real sectors, among others, to also create more jobs. The minister said that the administration would invest massively in developing infrastructure because it would be difficult to create jobs without such investments.
“Job creation, which is our major promise, is going to be realised and all we are waiting for is the 2016 Budget to be put in place. You cannot create jobs without investing massively in infrastructure and I know that what we are aiming at this year is to ensure that most of our spending will be on infrastructural development.
Mohammed, who spoke during a familiarisation visit to the headquarters of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, expressed concern that between 60 million and 80 million Nigerians lived below the poverty line. “It is not that in the past there have not been attempts at poverty alleviation but it would not be at the scale we are aiming.
“We are embarking on these massive social interventions so that we will talk of millions of Nigerians that will be rescued from abject poverty. We have about five groups that we are talking about; we have those that we call vulnerable because they are poor, because they do not have access to basic medical care.
“We have those that are vulnerable because they live with disabilities and this group is different; then there are young Nigerians who are vulnerable because they lack the economic strength. We have plans specifically for unemployed graduates and this takes various forms, in the case of market women, we intend to advance them money through their cooperative societies,’’ he said.
The minister also said that graduates who had completed the National Youth Service Scheme and had been enrolled in a skill acquisition programme would be paid a stipend. He noted that the government was ready to work closely with persons with disabilities and to create a more accessible and enabling environment for them.
“We can make persons with disabilities in our society very productive by giving them the right incentives and we are looking into making public areas accessible to them,’’ he said. Social analysts, however, insist that although the initiative is laudable, the government must put in place a careful and meticulous strategy to ensure effective implementation of the social security packages.
They insist that government must also carry out a comprehensive census of the beneficiaries to prevent the hijack of the scheme by some unscrupulous persons. According to them, the government should involve the private sector in the implementation of the programme to ensure its sustainability beyond the tenure of the current administration. (NAN)