Lagos — The 2010 Global Monitoring Report (GMR) of the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which revealed that about 92 per cent of the Nigerian population survive on less than $2 daily, while about 71 per cent survive on less than $1 daily, is a major embarrassment for the supposed 'Giant of Africa.'
Interestingly, the report, entitled 'Reaching for the marginalized,' came against the backdrop of fears earlier expressed by many concerned individuals and organizations, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that unless urgent steps are taken by Nigeria and other African countries, they will not meet the 2015 target date for attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is Goal No.1 of the development strategy produced under the umbrella of the United Nations to enable member countries, especially the developing countries, to reduce the poverty rate by at least 50 per cent in 2015.
Sadly, current indices show that Nigeria and most countries in Africa are not even moving in the direction of achieving the MDGs by the set target date.
That Nigeria, with its enormous resources and potentials, is sitting 20th among the world's poorest countries, is to say the least disgusting.
The truth is that there is, indeed, widespread poverty in the land, and the consequences of this to the development of the nation have been grave.
Nigeria moved from a per capita GDP of US$1,200 in 1981, to about US$300 in 2000 with about 70 percent of its population falling below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Considering that nothing much has changed development-wise in the country since then, the latest report would not have come as a surprise to many, except government officials, who dissipate more energy denying the obvious than they expend on addressing the frightening problem of poverty.
Indeed, most of governments' poverty alleviation programmes, which receive billions of naira in grants and allocation, have been roundly criticized as mere direct transfers of cash to politically selected beneficiaries.
As a result of large scale corruption, the quality of life of most Nigerians has been progressively on the decline.
While the generality of Nigerians continue to wallow in abject poverty, however, a privileged few, live in opulence.
Poverty has, indeed, become the face of Nigeria and poses a serious threat to the development of the country.
Although poverty is more acute in rural areas where the people hardly have access to any basic infrastructure, city dwellers, especially those who live in urban slums, still grapple with this unfortunate situation.
Going by the UNESCO latest report, it is clear that Nigeria is still very far from meeting the global economic development target.
The situation is so bleak that an average salary earner cannot earn enough to support a family because of rising cost of food items, transportation, healthcare, among numerous other challenges.
Added to this, is the fact that the material condition of women, who comprise 50 percent of the population, is even worse than that of men.
The well being of women in general, including their education, and active participation in political activities, has been so neglected over the years that the few concessions being made to them now, have not been enough to make any difference.
While government officials may continue to kick against these statistics by international organizations, the basic fact is that the quality of life of most Nigerians has been on the downward trend. The rising poverty level is the consequence of mass unemployment and corrupt leadership, which denies the people access to basic infrastructure such as roads, potable water, electricity, healthcare among others.
This may well explain the alarming level of insecurity and crime in the country, leading to high incidences of kidnapping, political violence, sectarian violence as well as prostitution and child trafficking.
We acknowledge that one way out of poverty is not to indulge in these vices. We, however, stress that government must take seriously, the saying that an idle mind is the devil's workshop.
Our youths must be trained and be engaged in productive ventures for the benefit of the nation. In doing this, girl-child education must be given serious attention, since a nation that ignores the potentials of its female population is obviously planning to fail.
To reduce the poverty level in Nigeria to the barest minimum, government should, as a matter of urgency, work towards the diversification of the country's economy, to reduce dependence on oil revenue, especially in the face of the current global financial crisis.
There must be more investments in intensive mechanized agriculture just as efforts should be made to develop small scale and medium scale enterprises, which are important for the growth of the economy.
There should, also, be credible elections where people will be free to choose their leaders. The war on corruption, which at the moment, seems to have slowed down must be fought more vigorously.
Mass literacy programmes must be embarked upon since education is a potent weapon against poverty.
Above all, government must create the enabling environment for business to thrive.
Nigeria, with its enormous resources, has no business making the poverty list. The gap between the rich and the poor should not be as wide as it has continued to be, in the interest of all.