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One last dance with poverty before the elections

In a democratic system, politicians promise the electorate what they will do in office. As a general rule, the electorate considers what has been achieved…

In a democratic system, politicians promise the electorate what they will do in office. As a general rule, the electorate considers what has been achieved when their term ends.  

It is common for politicians to hold loudspeakers and make promises about delivering potable water, building roads and schools, and supplying farm inputs. These are all promises made to the poor and the working class without work. Once they side with a politician, they guarantee a landslide win. 

Buhari’s promise in 2019 was to lift an additional 100 million individuals out of severe poverty by 2030. That meant an average of 10 million people must be removed from poverty yearly starting in 2020. With only 26 weeks left in office, the hope of achieving this goal is gone. So many factors contributed to the failure to achieve this goal, including the double-dip recession, the pandemic, insecurity, corruption, budget padding, oil theft, incoherent policies and many more. 

Old Friedman once said that taking the opposite of the expected outcome of government policy can give you an accurate prediction of that policy. The November 2022 survey report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that the country has been pushing five million into poverty yearly for six years instead of lifting people out of poverty. There are currently 133 million multidimensionally poor people living in Nigeria, which is 62.9 per cent of the population. As of 2016, there were 103 million living in similar conditions, about 53.7 per cent of the population.  

With hindsight, one wonders if people would have voted for this government. No doubt, as a people, we are in a never-ending loop of making the same mistakes, failing to learn from our failures, and failing to change. Also, as humans, there are times when we stop, reflect and account for how things were allowed to go wrong. 

Some will try to explain why the Buhari government failed to lift 100 million people out of poverty, as I did above, but we must also comprehend how the poverty rate was measured. Failure to understand the situation could risk getting misinformed. 

The 2022 poverty report was conducted by the NBS, a credible agency, using a comprehensive and precise evidence-based poverty reduction approach – the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI does not use the shortage of money alone, like living below $1.90 per day. It adds the acute deprivations in health, education, and living standards that a person faces to the measurement. The survey reflects how people cannot access nutrition, schooling, cooking fuels, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, and basic household assets like radio, mobile phones, bicycles, etc. The interpretation of these are food security, water reliability, underemployment, security shocks and schooling delay, and child deprivations to create an even more comprehensive picture of poverty. It is a definition of dirt poor in a British man’s context.   

The multidimensionally poor states include Kano, with 10.5 million people in poverty out of its 14.7 million population. Kaduna state has eight million out of its 9.6 million population. Others include Katsina, with about seven million, while Sokoto, Jigawa and Bauchi have close to six million people each in poverty. Of the 133 million poor people, 86 million live in the North and 47 million in the South. It means about 65 out of every 100 poor people in Nigeria live in the North. Despite having a money shortage, people do not have access to basic human living needs, including education, health, and housing. As a result, 84 out of 100 children under five years are poor due to a lack of intellectual stimulation needed for childhood development.  

Poverty does not exist in nature. Humans created it – bad governance in Nigeria is a huge contributor. Until recently, in human history, access to our planet’s natural resources was unrestricted. We hunted and gathered for ourselves, our families, and our extended relatives. A few hours of effort every week might ensure survival. When humans developed private property, all of this changed. Those with authority fenced the commons, claimed ownership, and ordered those barred from the property to labour for the new owners.  

In Nigeria’s policy context, we adopted neo-liberal policies without understanding them and pursued unrealistic targets. Poverty as we know it was created by us. Our productive capacity is currently underutilised. The deprivation of food, healthcare, housing and security is completely unjustified. Poverty has become a legal status imposed on those excluded from legal access to basic human needs. It is an economic injustice. It functions as a weapon.  

According to his appointed economic adviser’s findings, Buhari said only 2.5 per cent of Nigeria’s arable land was cultivated at the beginning of the year. Still, he failed to account for the interventions to help. He recently elaborated that closing the border would force people to return to the farm as hunger begins to press. Buhari knows the power of poverty lies in people’s fear of it. Those terrified of poverty will take any job for any amount. They will undertake labour that you believe is bad, that harms others or the environment since it is preferable to starvation. 

The northern region accounts for about 65 per cent of the multidimensionally poor people in the country and has the land for agriculture but is the region that is seeing the least investment. Senator Ndume recently called for the Senate to probe the 2021 N500 billion loan disbursement by the Development Bank of Nigeria because it was unjust and unfair. Only 11 per cent was disbursed across all three northern geo-political zones, with one per cent  going to the North East. Lagos alone got 47 per cent  of the disbursement. But previous experience tells us this will be a storm in a teacup – a formality. Another policy is the currency redesign, which will come at the expense of the public and increase poverty. 

Reducing poverty in Nigeria will have a lot of good societal consequences. These include food security, which leads to better nutrition and health, better access to schools, reduced crime and insecurity, and better work prospects. We know the Buhari administration cannot alleviate poverty in the remaining six months. One wonders if they deliberately did this or if they were just incompetent. 

Hindsight is beautiful. The silent majority – the Talakawas – have made the mistake of electing the wrong people. However, people cannot keep repeating the mistakes made before.  

Crystal balls are not real. But predictions about electing the right leadership can be made based on available evidence. Candidates vying for office must bring manifestos and be sincere in their covenant with the Talakawas.