The average Nigerian is a poor man. Indeed, Nigeria is a country of riches and poverty- splendid wealth in few hands and extreme abject poverty at most people’s doorsteps. The problem of poverty is colossal and pervasive in the country and it has many causes. The number of people living in poverty has increased due to rising disparities in the distribution of resources in the country. However, the basic cause of poverty in Nigeria is the absence of an enabling environment that will free the people from the prison of poverty; uplift their living standard and provide ways to assist them turn their dreams into reality.
It is a fact that primary factors that lead to poverty, such as overpopulation, unequal distribution of resources, lack of basic education, absence of employment opportunities, as well as environmental degradation are quite intractable and not easily eradicated, but the average Nigerian can leapfrog the ladder of prosperity; once the routes to achieving basic living standards are smoothened. Who should create these conditions? - The government at all the three levels. How? By imbibing the political will that propels new thinking within the political class as well as brings sustained all-inclusive economic growth.
In most cases, government actions and inaction create a good number of the causes of poverty. Therefore, the government that contributed in making people poor must also create conditions that will bring opportunities for prosperity. For the 50 years of the Nigeria’s existence, various governments have put in place poverty eradication programmes and policies. Yet, the average Nigerian is worse-off. The National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), the primary agency of government charged with the responsibility of coordinating and monitoring all poverty eradication activities has designed many programmes and policies meant to reduce poverty, one of these is The Village Economic Development Solutions Programme, a community based programme aimed at encouraging mass participation in the economic development process through the establishment of anchor economic activities at the grassroots, helping peasant farmers get ready markets for their farm produce. This is a good initiative, but it cannot in anyway reduce poverty, because, subsistence farming and unproductive manual jobs cannot remarkably improve a country’s GDP. And, a country’s level of poverty can depend greatly on its mix of population density and agricultural productivity. Bangladesh, for example, has one of the world’s highest population densities, with 1,078 persons per sq km. A large majority of the people of Bangladesh engage in low-productivity manual farming, which contributes to the country’s extremely high level of poverty. However, some of the smaller countries in Western Europe, such as The Netherlands and Belgium, have high population densities as well. But these countries practice mechanized farming and are involved in high-tech and small industrialization; therefore have high standards of living.
If we claim that such initiative by NAPEP cannot reduce the abject poverty in Nigeria. Then what needs to be done? It is embracing of holistic and reductionistic approaches in tackling developmental issues-this is the time Nigeria needs both approaches– approaches that will tackle poverty by uplifting individual and at the same time develops systems and processes, while also strengthening the structures on ground. For example, in recent decades, some nations have become fairly wealthy by developing their economies with small scale industries, simple technologies and more importantly, by creating employment opportunities for their citizens through education, training and reliable micro-finance systems. Nigerian can benchmark such ideas.
The hallmark of poverty in Nigeria is the high level of unemployment. If Nigeria can tackle the high rate of unemployment in the country; then one of the most important ways to smoothen the path for prosperity in the land has been found- thus, the goals of vision 20:2020 can be achieved easily. We must acknowledge that even in developed countries, unemployment rates may be high and availability of employment also tends to fluctuate, creating periods of high joblessness. Nigeria being a country with high population, an unemployment level of only a few percentage means that millions of working-age people will be unemployed and unable to earn an adequate income. This should be an issue of great concern to the political leaders and managers of Nigeria’s economy.
Nigeria can create productive employment for its millions of unemployed citizens and those engaged in unproductive-manual jobs through various means. The country has artisans such as shoemakers, fashion-designers, carpenters, goldsmiths, woodcrafters, welders and technicians, etc., who have the skills but lack the resources to setup productive and sustainable businesses. Offering assistance to such group of people will have huge impact on the country’s economy. For example, Turkey, Morocco and Iran are enjoying huge foreign exchange from handmade carpets made by small firms owned by individuals living in urban, semi urban and rural areas of these countries.
Equally, there are thousands of graduates in Nigeria who never dream of a pay-job either from the government or private sector, but their zeal is to be entrepreneurs. Government can assist such group of young people. The CBN’s N500bn intervention fund designed to boost the operational capacities in the manufacturing, small and medium enterprises and the power sectors as well as the recently announced Creative Industry Fund by President Goodluck Jonathan are good steps toward the empowerment of the citizens. The accessibility of such funds should be flexible and part of it should be used in developing many sector including the movie, music, I.T. sport, advertising, farming and technology-invention industries. For instance, there are hundreds of illegal solid minerals mine fields in Nigeria; government can organize the people who engage in such activities into smaller organized firms. This will create legitimate wealth and employment, in addition to more revenue for the government.
We shouldn’t forget the fact that, it is a little bit difficult to determine the poverty threshold of Nigeria because of many factors including lack of reliable data and statistics; however, there is general agreement among Nigerians that the hallmark of absolute poverty in the country is the high level of unemployment that cut across the nation. If the level of unemployment can be reduced by half of its current standing, Nigeria’s vision 20:2020 will be achieved. In fact, the country will be the fifth member of the BRICs. This thought should be close to the hearts of Nigerian leaders. They should start dreaming with the people on the streets, because it is time to reduce poverty in Nigeria.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, firstname.lastname@example.org, 08036070980.