Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: Poverty Indices Versus Reality

The controversy that trailed the recent poverty rating of Nigerian states is quite predictable in view of the issue of credibility that defines the process of generating figures and data, which are supposed to be of strategic importance to the country's overall sustainable development. After all, there are hardly any official figures and statistics including the population of the country and that of the individual states, which are accepted by all or even the majority of the people of Nigeria. Vested interests, regional, tribal and religious prejudices and of course mediocrity make it absolutely impossible to efficiently generate accurate figures and gather precise data on any particular sector in our national endeavour, which necessarily affect the process of drawing appropriate policies and implementation strategies.

Incidentally, in functional countries, figures and statistics are painstakingly generated through absolutely scientific processes, which are largely objective and devoid of any political considerations or any other vested interests for that matter. It is on the bases of such figures that appropriate development policies are formulated, as they also represent scientific yardsticks for measuring the extent of success achieved or setback suffered in the course of implementation during a particular period of time.

In Nigeria however, figures are largely fabricated, inflated and/or depleted according to the influence of the interests involved in a particular sector. At various occasions for instance, many banks and other financial institutions which had previously been regarded as financially robust, suddenly collapsed and plunged many people into financial distress, after it turned out that they were simply surviving on phony figures being deliberately concocted to mislead the public. Yet, due to the deep-rooted culture of corruption and impunity in the land, the perpetrators were able to literally go away with it while some of them even got recycled and reabsorbed into various sectors of the country's economic and political establishments

In any case, though most of the official figures released in Nigeria are inaccurate, those related to people's economic wellbeing e.g. unemployment and of course poverty level generate more argument in view of the irrefutable contradiction between the figures on one hand and the reality on the other. Official figures always seek to counter the reality by underestimating the severity of poverty and unemployment levels in the country and exaggerating the rare instances of growth achieved within a particular period of time. Government officials predictably do this in their bid to cover up their failure and/or escape from responsibility for the situation altogether.

Meanwhile, even the relatively more credible statistics and figures prepared and released by various international organizations on Nigeria, which are by the way largely negative, often fall short of reasonably depicting the actual reality anyway. Yet, Nigerian officials swiftly reject them and allege a "conspiracy by some foreign interests working against Nigeria's interests."

Anyway, notwithstanding any argument on the authenticity or otherwise of any particular research and the figures generated on its basis, the reality is that, the extent of rot that has pervaded the entire country's body system is too much to underestimate let alone deny. After all, it is obvious that there is hardly if at all a single sector that functions at the basic standard of efficiency.

On the other hand, the rare instances of achievement e.g. the so-called improvement in power generation which is being touted by Nigerian officials as an achievement to the excitement of many Nigerians, appear that substantial to Nigerians simply because, having literally come to terms with the culture of mediocrity over the decades, they have unconsciously lowered the standards of their expectations hence come to regard any measure of superficial and unsustainable growth and achievement as an accomplishment to celebrate, whereas much better quality projects could be delivered at much lower costs and within shorter periods of time.

In any case, the official doubt and denials that trailed the recent poverty ratings of the states in Nigeria particularly from the states that appeared to have fared badly highlight the ruling elite's insensitivity to the misery they have plunged the people into, and indeed show how much disdain they have for our collective intelligence. This is particularly what makes me sad because morally speaking, even if one is not in the position to be of any help to some people in misery, he should never show such amount of insensitivity to their plight, as long as his conscience is alive.

Anyway, the reality is that, notwithstanding any official or unofficial figures about poverty, no right-thinking person can doubt, underestimate let alone deny the fact that poverty is the most obvious phenomenon in Nigeria. And no matter how rich one is or where he resides in the country, he can't help being literally overwhelmed by extremely pathetic cases and scenes that leave no one in doubt on how poverty reigns supreme in the country. As a matter of fact, if not for the sake of procedural formalities and practices, the severity of poverty in the country is too obvious to require any research to prove in the first place. Hence any official denial or underestimation of its severity in any particular state in the federation simply confirms the elites' unwillingness to live up to their leadership responsibilities, and indeed confirms their unapologetic insistence to maintain the status-quo of endemic and scandalous plundering of public resources with impunity.

Worse still nevertheless is how so many among the poverty-stricken indigenes of some of the worst rated states seek to cast doubt, underestimate or deny the extent of poverty in their respective states anyway, under some silly pretexts revolving largely around false sense of pride and patriotism thereby denying the severity of their plights. This unfortunate irony makes it extremely difficult to raise public awareness and mobilize the people to push for a sustainable economic reform where this level of miserable poverty and deprivation could be drastically reduced.

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