Concerned that many Nigerians are living below poverty line in an oil-rich country, the Senate, last week passed for a second reading a bill which seeks for an Act to establish the National Poverty Eradication Commission. OLUGBENGA SALAMI writes
National Bureau of Statistics, NBS has revealed that a staggering 112.5 million Nigerians representing 69 per cent of the country’s total population estimated to be 170 million live in relative poverty conditions. It became more worrisome when in a 26-page report, “The Nigeria Poverty Profile 2010,” released, in Abuja that year by the Bureau; it noted that the figure might continue to increase especially if the potential impacts of several anti-poverty and employment generation intervention programmes are not factored in.
The highlight of the report shows that the North-West and the North-East had the highest poverty rates in the country in 2010 with 77.7 per cent and 76.3 per cent respectively. However, the South-West geo-political zone recorded the lowest at 59.1 per cent.
Of all the 36 states of the federation, Sokoto had the highest poverty rate of 86.4 per cent, while Niger had the lowest at 43.6 per cent. The 2004 poverty rate showed that Jigawa State had the highest rate of 95 per cent while Anambra, with a poverty rate of 22 per cent, was the least poverty-stricken state.
Perhaps it is against the backdrop of high level of poverty in the country that made the Senate to begin the process of establishing of a commission to eradicate the disease among the populace with legal backing, as against various agencies that had been established in the past without required enabling laws for their operations.
Towards this, a bill which seeks for an Act to Establish the National Poverty Eradication Commission, sponsored by Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi Gobir (APC Sokoto East) was last week passed for second reading in the Red Chamber after overwhelming support by all senators at the plenary.
Senator Gobir, while leading debate on the bill, unlike the National Poverty Eradication Programme, NAPEP and similar agencies already established by the federal government, the proposed commission, would be backed with relevant laws as a statutory body vested with responsibilities of coordinating and monitoring all poverty activities in Nigeria.
He said the intendment of the bill is for the commission to maintain a data bank on all poverty issues in the country and act as government agency for catalyzing resources at all times for the purposes of eradicating poverty for mass participation in the economic development process.
The lawmaker added that the commission when established would be saddled with responsibility of quarterly informing Nigerians of percentage reduction in poverty.
The commission would also be made of five directorates to be headed by a Director- General under the supervision of a Chairman and six other members from each of the six geo- political zones.
Virtually all the senators who contributed spoke in support of the bill to be read the second time, saying it was timely and boost security across the country if passed into law.
According to Senators Godwill Akpabio (PDP Akwa Ibom North-West) and Jibrin Barau (APC Kano North), the bill if becomes an Act would go a long way to minimize the rate of crimes in the society, saying poverty has direct correlation with crimes anywhere in the world.
Senator Abdullahi Adamu (APC Nasarawa West) lamented that previous administrations in the country had never been serious about poverty eradication as various agencies established in the past have little or no impact on the social welfare of the citizens.
He therefore commended the present administration for its efforts at poverty eradication and fight against corruption to improve the nation’s economy and the people’s welfare.
In his remarks, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who presided over the plenary, said the bill was a welcome development as regards poverty eradication in the country because the gap between the rich and the poor in the country is unacceptable.
According to him, for the commission to well-funded, instrumentality of taxation needs to be used by taxing luxury goods and others.
“What we have been seeing in the past, is giving mere handouts of N5,000 to N10,000 for people to sweep the street and other menial jobs but with the intended commission, Nigerians will be put in productive ventures that would definitely transform them”, he said.
However, it was a thing of joy that the present administration noted that poverty rate in the country is becoming alarming. According to the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo, no decent nation can tolerate the level of poverty currently ravaging Nigeria and unless there is a functional social system where the highly vulnerable are assisted to survive, vast majority of the population would die before long.
Though the policy could no longer be realistic, the number two citizen, who expressed concern about the pitiable plight of large numbers of the population in the country, said the federal government’s policy of conditional cash transfer where those without jobs would be given the sum of N5, 000 each to assist them, would make life bearable for them.
“Social protection system is absolutely essential to assist the highly vulnerable in our society but I hear some critics say that people should work to earn money but the only way out for now is to ensure that people who earn nothing can eat to avoid preventable deaths”, Osinbajo had spoke recently in Calabar, Cross River State while delivering a keynote address on the 10th anniversary of the late High Court Judge, Peter Bassey Foundation Lecture.
He said while the government is working towards creating jobs and enabling the private sector to revamp and build industries to provide employment, government has a responsibility to ensure that the vast majority of Nigerians who are extremity poor are catered for through the conditional cash transfer system to enable them eat and take care of their health needs.
“If we have to wait until the industries are functional and the government is able to provide jobs for everyone, most people would be dead by the time we get to that stage”, the Vice President who also spoke on the poor values in the country said, development has eluded the country this long because of the lack of values in the society, maintained.
It is a known fact that amongst the factors that most feed the cycle of poverty in Nigeria and other West African countries are mass unemployment and lack of productivity. Unemployment causes the huge human waste you are all familiar with, and includes issues of income, well-being and diseases that can all be attributed to this. A lack in productivity means a lack of supply in goods and services in the country.
A study of women entrepreneurs in Nigeria revealed very interesting aspects that can help with poverty in the country. For a majority of women, what drove them to entrepreneurship was mostly the ideal of gaining control of their lives and/or makes more money. But for a third of them, it was also because they had no other choice since no there was no job to be found around town. But the main discovery was about cultural differences in the way entrepreneurship is perceived.
Most worrisome is corruption that has remains the main cause of systematic waste of Nigeria’s resources, and therefore the main cause of poverty in the country. Corruption contributed immensely to the rising rate of poverty in the country. Corruption in Nigeria and to a greater extent in Africa remains the most important obstacle, if not nuisance, to economic and social development.
So far, all attempts to tackle corruption in the country have failed for many reasons. First, politics are openly deemed the best way to become rich (before any political agenda whatsoever). Secondly, and as a consequence of this, there is no true political will to fight corruption. On the contrary this would affect politicians’ businesses. Thirdly the great ethnic diversity in Nigeria contributes to the lack of national cohesion and opposition to the problem of corruption.
What is frustrating is that Nigeria does have the financial resources to fight corruption and develop proper law enforcement agencies.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently alluded to the fact that corruption remains the main reason for the prevalence of poverty in the midst of plenty in Nigeria, lamenting that two-thirds of Nigerians are extremely poor.
The President declared that corruption had eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation. He, however, vowed to uproot the menace saying that was the only way Nigeria could be saved. “Corruption in our country is so endemic that it constitutes a parallel system. It is the primary reason for poor policy choices, waste and of course, bare- faced theft of public resources”, he said.
“Our fight against corruption is not just a moral battle for virtue and righteousness in our land; it is a fight for the soul and substance of our nation. It is the main reason why a potentially prosperous country struggles to feed itself and provide jobs for millions”, he added.
According to the NBS, the 2010 report was arrived at based on a survey of randomly selected 20 million households with an average of between four to six family members using the relative poverty measurement. It said this measurement compares the living standards of people living in a given society within a specified period of time.
Also, other poverty measurement standards used in measuring poverty by the NBS such as absolute measure, the dollar per day measure and the subjective poverty measure, show that the poverty level is on the increase.
For instance, absolute measure puts the country’s poverty rate at 99.284 million or 60.9 per cent; the dollar per day measure puts the rate at 61.2 per cent; and the subjective poverty measure puts it at 93.9 per cent. The report, which provides details of poverty and income distribution across the country, put the 2004 poverty measurement rate at 54.4 per cent. It also shows that income inequality had risen from 0.429 in 2004 to 0.447 in 2010.
It is time the government must have enough money to lift millions out of poverty in Nigeria without the need for extra help. If waste and corruption were overcome, money could finally go to the country’s infrastructure like hospitals, water, education system, roads and electricity, among others.
Governments in the North-West and the North-East, the most affected geo-political zones, should wake up and come up with pragmatic measures to halt the level of poverty in their region. The affected states should ensure that their citizens are given access to education and job opportunities.
A system that encourages some class of people to solely depend on other peoples’ wealth and generosity for their livelihood as practiced in some northern states will always breed high level of poverty. It is regrettable that some wealthy people in the North encourage and support this ideology of over-dependence. There is no doubt that things can be better if this orientation of dependence is changed.
Also, governments at all levels should work in concert to reduce to the rising rate of unemployment in the country by embarking on practicable job creation drives. This will definitely reduce, if not eradicate poverty in the country.