Sub Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where extreme poverty, defined as living under less the US 1.90 per day, is on the rise. More worrisome is the projection that if the trend continues, Sub Sahara Africa will be host to nine out of every ten extremely poor people in the world by the year 2030. In the same vein, Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the highest number of extremely poor people. The foregoing is the damning and glooming statistics about current status and trend of extreme poverty in Africa by the World Bank and the World Poverty Clock.
Numerous factors contribute to poverty and it correlates well with the lack of inclusive economic prospects, illiteracy, huge burden of diseases, wars and weak socio protection mechanisms. Poverty is a big barrier to personal and national development and security. Poverty takes mental toll and reduces human aspiration to immediate and basic needs of life – long-term personal development and investment are almost impossible and potential of millions of citizens cannot be unleashed if they swim in murky water of extreme poverty. Worst still, extremely poor people could be trapped in poverty as their income is consistently below their subsistence level living little or no resource to invest in mental, financial or physical capital that can generate returns. Even the quality of social capital is hampered in a state of destitution.
The contribution of poor people to public revenue is grossly suboptimal as poor people are barely taxable hence, the country loses opportunities to expand its economy because its teeming population is far less productive and not taxable. Poverty also affects development indices in other ways; extremely poor people are not able to afford basic social goods including preventive and curative health services, quality education and decent housing without robust social protection mechanisms. Poor access to quality health services and education in turns perpetuate vicious cycle of poverty, illiteracy and also huge burden of diseases.
Although present administration’s social investment program is geared towards safety net for the poor, Nigeria needs a more articulated poverty reduction strategy that addresses multi-dimensional factors that cause and perpetuate poverty. Therefore, government at levels need an integrated fiscal and social policy framework that promotes an inclusive economic growth on one hand and investment on the human capital development and socio protection on the other hand. Government in the past have adopted a reductionist approach to poverty alleviation like procurement of tricycles popularly known as ‘keke’ NAPEP for unemployed youth to start transport businesses. This type of approach doesn’t take into consideration the complex nature of poverty as a beneficiary of ‘keke’ NAPEP may be forced to dispose his only means of livelihood i.e. the tricycle to settle hospital bill due to lack of health insurance, therefore, returning to him abject poverty.
The Nigeria national social protection policy should be domesticated at the state level and government at all levels should be held accountable for its implementation. Other social protection-related policy reforms including health insurance decentralization, pension scheme, affordable housing and others should be fast-tracked. State governments especially should be held accountable for design and implementation of inclusive economic development blueprint that will create jobs, expand fiscal space for socio protection and lift millions of people out of poverty in their respective states.
Considering the toll of poverty on personal and national development, poverty eradication needs to take a center stage and should constitute a cardinal focus of the government. We should therefore put poverty eradication at the political front burner during the forthcoming electioneering campaign. Political parties should be held accountable for clear and practical manifestos that explicitly address poverty eradiation in Nigeria. We should scrutinize aspirants to elective offices for their knowledge and agenda for eradicating poverty in the country.
If China and India could lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in the last few decades, Nigeria has the human and natural resource to achieve the same feat and provide the necessary leadership to other Africa countries to do the same. Nothing shows the strength of the powerful than the wellbeing of the powerless.
Dr Gafar Alawode
Network of Social Entrepreneurs