This Day (Lagos)

30 November 2012

Nigeria: Reducing the Scourge of Poverty, Creating New Economic Spaces (1)

Many say poverty is a curse, if this is the case then quite a number of Nigerians are living under a great burden.

Nigeria is a country blessed with abundant natural resources; while agriculture is said to contribute over 45 per cent of Nigeria's GDP and provide employment for 90 per cent of the rural population, it is oil that tops the list of these largely untapped resources andaccounts for a large part of the country's income. The agriculture sector is still largely undeveloped.

In the first quarter of this year 2012, the National Bureau of Statistics said that the percentage of Nigerians living in abject poverty - those who can afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter and clothing - rose to 60.9 per cent compared with 54.7 per cent in 2004.

"NBS estimates that this trend may have increased further in 2011 if the potential positive impact of several anti-poverty and employment generation intervention programmes are not taken into account". They said poverty in Nigeria may have risen to 71.5 per cent. Although billions of dollars have been pumped into the county as aid by multilateral agencies and other donor organisations, majority of Nigerians still wallow in abject poverty.

The poor in Nigeria do not have access to many basic amenities, they have limited access to electricity, clean potable water, they cannot afford good medical care hence the rate of mortality is high, they also live in deplorable conditions and cannot afford food.

The increasing rate of poverty is a source of concern to everyone especially since it affects sustainable development. Widespread poverty affects everyone directly or indirectly, its consequences are far reaching and studies have shown that there are direct correlations between poverty and an increase in criminal activities and insecurity. These are the realities of what we now experience in Nigeria every day.

The frustrations of the poor and the desperate need for survival is said to drive some people to look for illegal meansof acquiring wealth. Even though poverty should never be an excuse for criminality, it is, however, a consequence in the real sense of things.

Whilst the rethoric continues on the need to engage in national and global activities that will result in a drastic reduction of poverty, what we need now are concerted efforts aimed atbringing about measurable changes in poverty reduction.

The question many ask is why hasn't several years of intervention in the name of aid worked? Why do we see and hear of nice economic indices and growth rates and yet they do not translate to ordinary Naira and Kobo for the poor Nigerian on the streets?

The overwhelming focus on urban development to the detriment of the rural areas also exacerbates the issues, leading to rising rates of rural urban migration; people coming to the city in search of a higher standard of living only to become more frustrated.

If several years of intervention have failed in addressing this issue, one needs to critically analyse what can work. According to the masses theory "the best form of society is one that is based on equitable provision of the access to socioeconomic empowerment".

This form of society is governed by leaders who understand that once you have provided the opportunity for everyone to make something out of their lives, wealth distribution will largely be just and fair and he or she who works wisely and hard has a greater chance of gaining access to wealth.

The direct opposite of this is a society where the leaders govern with corruption as the norm. Hence, when ordinary people are deprived of that equitable access to means of wealth generation it often leads to what we now see happening: chaos and violence.

It is quite clear that sustainable development cannot thrive where there is poverty. Some schools of thought believe that poverty can be ended or drastically reduced and this is enshrined in the tenets of the Millenium Development Goals and has become a major focus in all key debates. If this is the case do we then need to sound more warning bells in order to take measurable actions or engage in activities that will clearly make a difference.

We can't continue with the status quo, since we all know and acknowledge that by so doing we are sitting on a time bomb, we need to find solutions and the will power to make them to work if we are serious about ensuring all a sustainable future.

* George, a public analyst, wrote in from Lagos

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