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Interrogating Nigeria’s 63% Multidimensional Poverty Rate

Last week’s piece in this column, “Waiting for government’s poverty figures,” in a way received an immediate response.  The day after the piece was published,…

Last week’s piece in this column, “Waiting for government’s poverty figures,” in a way received an immediate response.  The day after the piece was published, the government, through the National Bureau of Statistics, came out with a revelation that as much as 63 per cent of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor! 

In other words, almost two out of every three Nigerians experience poverty in one aspect of life or the other. This is a complementary measure of monetary poverty in Nigeria, which put the national poverty line at N137,430 per year per person. Anybody whose consumption in a year fell below that amount was classified among the 40.1 per cent poor Nigerians, according to the 2018/19 study.   

While both approaches seek to proffer an understanding of poverty from different perspectives, their results differ, with the MPI usually giving a higher incidence of poverty, NBS explained. 

The Multidimensional Poverty Index measures poverty in terms of deprivations or exclusions that individuals suffer in four broad areas – health, education, living standards, and work and shocks. 

This approach to poverty measurement, as innovative as it appears, is really an extension of the monetary measurement of poverty. Simply, it disaggregates the impacts of monetary poverty, showing us what poor Nigerians are missing by virtue of their monetary poverty which imposes limitations in terms of consumption choices. 

By the way, the other name for the poor is those who have been excluded from the mainstream economy. They are the landless, those who have no property and investments, and those who lack the skills that can give them good jobs, whether they work for other people or for themselves. 

The overall result tells us that the MPI for this year is 0.257, which implies that poor Nigerians experience just over one-quarter of all possible deprivations. The possible range is from zero (no poverty) to 1, universal poverty, and deprivation. 

Poverty is not by choice. Circumstances breed poverty in most cases. If people are excluded from the mainstream economy, they can only pick the crumbs that fall from the masters’ tables until they receive a power that can enable them to break free from the inhibiting factors. So it is with deprivation. If people are deprived of benefits from these four areas covered in the study, it’s hardly their choice. 

According to the report, 38. 7 per cent are deprived of medical care or services. This cannot be of their making. Medicare is a social service that should be provided by the state, at least at the primary healthcare centres. Rich people ordinarily travel out at least once a year for a medical checkup. The poor certainly do want to be like their rich neighbours, but unfortunately cannot afford it. The point here is that the MPI presents a disaggregation of the impact of monetary poverty. 

Many Nigerians are slum dwellers. There are slums everywhere, and they exist side-by-side with the affluent and powerful in the highbrow areas of our cities. Why are the Lagos slum dwellers not living on Banana Island or Lekki? Why should there be slum dwellers in Abuja, when Asokoro and other choice areas are there? The answer, simply, is monetary poverty, which excludes the poor from securing accommodation in such places.   

Put another way, monetary poverty deprives the poor of the opportunity of having good accommodation for themselves and their children. They cannot afford the rent and other things that go with living in such places. This is deprivation, and it is rooted in monetary poverty. 

Rural priorities would also include skills training and lifelong learning opportunities for adults who never completed primary schooling, and good quality housing materials. 

In his 2014 book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” Yuval Noah Harari declares that throughout history, humans have suffered from two types of poverty: “social poverty, which withholds from some people the opportunities available to others; and biological poverty, which puts the very lives of individuals at risk due to lack of food and shelter”. 

Harari’s first part of poverty or what he calls social poverty is what this report and other studies on poverty describe as deprivation. As I argued above, deprivation is a product of the social structure that creates and sustains inequality, excluding some from certain benefits or opportunities. Generally, the poor do not deprive themselves of these opportunities; it is usually the society that does. 

While in many countries biological poverty has become a thing of the past, according to Harari, social poverty cannot be eradicated.  Biological poverty has been virtually eradicated in some countries, not because conditions that precipitate it have ceased to exist or occur once in a while, but because there are social safety nets stretched below people that hold them when calamities strike. 

It is not so with us. Indeed, in Nigeria, both forms of poverty subsist. This explains the finding in the study that as much as 38.6 per cent of Nigerians currently face the threat of food insecurity, while 28.7 per cent face exclusion from nutrition. Together, 67.3 per cent, or more than the MPI itself, have issues with food generally.   

The report notes that while health deprivations are “worryingly high in both areas (urban and rural), food insecurity is relatively even higher in urban areas. Food insecurity is currently a major issue in Nigeria, as rising prices push food out of the reach of families. 

And, if we add here the fact that as much as 50.6 per cent of the entire population, over half of the population are multidimensionally poor and deprived of cooking fuel (the report says they cook with dung, wood, or charcoal), then there is an added challenge with food for more than half of the population. 

The takeaway from this study is that there is still work for the government to do in the fight against poverty. Essentially, it calls for a change in strategy in the battle, whether against social poverty or biological poverty.