Nigeria’s worsening poverty index

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) last week released its 2019 Poverty and Inequality Index Report. In the report, NBS ranked Lagos as the state with the least rate of poverty among the 36 states in Nigeria and Federal Capital Territory. It said that Lagos, which is the commercial capital of Nigeria, has only 4.5% of its population below the poverty line. On the other hand, Sokoto was ranked as state with the highest poverty rate in Nigeria, as 87.73% of its population are poor.

Nigeria has an estimated population of about 200 million citizens and the latest poverty index report has classified 40.1% of this population as poor. This translates to about 82.9 million Nigerians who are considered poor. In other words, an average of four out of 10 individuals in Nigeria has real per capita expenditures below N137,430 per year.

In the urban area, poverty rate stood at 18.04% while it stood at 52.10% in the rural areas of Nigeria. However, NBS said that the statistics released excludes Borno State which, according to it, can’t be visited now due to the security situation in the North-East region of the country.

In case you are wondering how the NBS arrived at these figures, the report explained that in Nigeria, poverty is measured using consumption expenditures rather than income as done in many other countries. The NBS argues that consumption expenditure reflects the achievement of a particular level of welfare by a household better than income which represents the opportunity of reaching a certain level of well-being.

The NBS has also released the Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS), the official survey for measuring poverty and living standards in the country. The survey, the first of its kind in the last 10 years, was conducted between September 2018 and October 2019.

It was based on a sample size of 22,110 households and focused on demographics such as age, gender, marital status, access to education, health and basic services, employment, assets, and income.

The survey is used to measure prevalence of poverty and to estimate a wide range of socio-economic indicators including benchmarking of the Sustainable Development Goals.

One thread that runs through both reports is the worsening rate of poverty among Nigerians and the increasing number of people living below the poverty line. If the new national poverty line is N137,430 or $361 per person per annum, it means that  40 per cent of Nigerians live on $0.98 per day. We must point out that given the average growth rate of the Nigerian economy in the last 10 years vis-a-vis population growth rate, that more people may have dropped below the poverty line than this survey result suggests.

In fact income inequality may have widened in the light of the jobless nature of GDP growth rates even in periods of high crude oil prices. We also believe that things may even get worse with the current coronavirus pandemic and its negative impacts on the economy such as shut down of businesses, pay cuts and job losses.

We appreciate the painstaking efforts of the NBS in conducting periodic surveys and making its reports public and we encourage the statistical agency not to rest on its oars.

Surveys of this nature which mirror the level of poverty and standard of living of the people, reminds us that Nigeria is not exactly a country of rich people despite our much acclaimed petrodollars flowing from our oil and gas resources. These reports, therefore, should be a reawakening to the political leaders and managers of our economy.

We expect that those in government at various level would not dismiss the survey reports as abstract figures but harness the underlying information for the purpose of taking critical decisions on the policy direction of the economy.

If some of these statistics had been taken seriously by the Federal Government, it would not have been parading the National Social Register that has only 2.6 million households as potential beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer for the poor and vulnerable.

We recall that in October last year, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Presidential Economic Advisory Council with the express mandate to guide the government on how it can achieve its goal of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. No doubt, this is a tall order, but we believe it is achievable if the government takes more than a casual glance at the series of statistics churned out by the NBS and utilises these data in developing pro-poor policies for the economy.

Over the years, successive governments at all levels have paid lip service to the welfare of the vast majority of Nigerians who are poor. While those in authority seem to have perfected strategies to continue to live in obscene opulence, the downtrodden masses have been left at the mercy of poverty, hunger and disease. We need not be told that the rising incidents of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, armed robbery and internet scams are some of the repercussions of this unfortunate contrast between the haves and the have nots in Nigeria.

We must warn that the rate of insecurity and lawlessness would only get worse unless the government sits up, rolls up its sleeves and addresses the plight of the poor and vulnerable people in our beloved country. The dangers of leaving 89.2 poor citizens to their fate can better be imagined than experienced at the fullness of time.

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