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Nigeria’s poverty pandemic

For nearly one year, the entire world has been battling with a life threatening disease known as coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Nigeria has had its own share of the virus with cases of infection running up to 65,000 cases, 1,162 deaths and 60,790 recoveries. With the recent breakthrough recorded by Pfizer and Moderna, there is hope that effective vaccines may be found and the virus brought to its knees. However, while the world tackles COVID-19, Nigeria is also facing the poverty pandemic.

The country holds the unenviable gold medal in the poverty race. As the country with the highest number of poor people on earth, it is said to be the poverty capital of the world. In the latest reading of the World Poverty Clock, it was revealed that over 105 million Nigerians now live in extreme poverty. According to the most recent report posted on its portal, Nigeria which has an estimated population of 205,323,520 people has about 105,097,856, representing 51 per cent of them living in extreme poverty.

The grave implication is that these extremely poor Nigerians live below $1.90 or N855 a day. By comparison, this is a further slide in the condition of living of Nigerians as the World Poverty Clock showed that a total of 40.1 per cent of Nigerians lived in extreme poverty as at September 2020.

This drastic change, which was recorded in less than two months, might not be unconnected with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy and the well-being of the people. The latest report also indicates that more men than women have been impoverished in Nigeria. According to available data, about 53,133,553 men are living below the poverty threshold while 51,564,303 of women are also extremely poor.

The model also provides a target escape rate that Nigeria must meet to escape extreme poverty. It is set at 0.3 people per second. Unfortunately, Nigeria falls short of this target with -4.4 people escaping poverty per second in the country.

The World Poverty Clock is a tool to monitor progress against poverty globally and regionally and provides real time poverty data across countries. It was created by the Viennabased Non- Governmental Organisation (NGO), World Data Lab and launched in Berlin, Germany at the Republica Conference in 2017.

The clock is programmed to project the poverty level in any country with a high degree of accuracy. This means that there are clears indices which the clock takes into consideration in calibrating the rate of poverty in each country. No doubt our current rating on this clock shows that poverty has reached a pandemic level in Nigeria.

We are not unmindful of the efforts of the Federal Government to tackle poverty in the country. President Muhammdu Buhari has said that his administration plans to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. He made this pronouncement as he began his second term which will expire by 2023. Quite frankly, the administration has rolled out several programmes geared towards poverty alleviation, particularly in agriculture as well as small and medium scale enterprises.

But, how far have these programmes helped in reducing poverty among the people? Recently, the Senate Committee on Finance conducted an x-ray on some of these poverty alleviation programmes including the N52 billion Special Public Works Programme designed to provide jobs for 1,000 persons in each of the 774 Local Government Areas across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of the country.

The lawmakers acknowledged the existence of the N25 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund as well as the N75 billion Survival Fund Programme meant to support and protect businesses from potential vulnerabilities. However, they pooh-poohed these programmes as either lacking clear implementation strategies or not having mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation. Their damning verdict was that these programmes, laudable as they seem are not making the expected positive impacts on the citizenry.

In other words, we have been in a circus of motions without movement. We sincerely believe the lawmakers were right because if these programmes were what they were presented to be and implemented as they ought to, Nigeria should have recorded a significant improvement on the World Poverty Clock. We think that most of these programmes, particularly the likes of Trader Moni, Market Moni and Farmer Moni which were created in the heat of the 2019 electioneering season were conceived in deceit and proved to be vehicles for voter inducement rather than genuine economic investments in the people.

We have had enough of these tokenism and sloganeering in the management of our economy in the last six years. It is high time we moved to the higher ground of real investments in industrialisation and technological innovations that will create millions of jobs for Nigerians. We urge the National Economic Council (NEC) to review the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan as well as the Economic Sustainability Programme and realign these efforts to clear policies that could attract foreign direct investments into the country.

This also means that government at all levels must pay more attention to the long overdue improvements in basic social infrastructure such as roads, rails, water, electricity and affordable housing across the country. With the high rate of poverty and unemployment in Nigeria, only investments in large scale industries across various sectors of the economy can do the magic.

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