Available data show at least 10 million Nigerians have slipped into, than come out of, poverty.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Saturday said his government has lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty in the last two years.
In his speech delivered to mark the nation's Democracy Day on June 12, the president said those the government lifted out of poverty include farmers, artisans, market women, and small-scale traders.
"Our overall economic target of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years is our goal notwithstanding COVID-19," Mr Buhari said.
"In the last two years we lifted 10.5 million people out of poverty - farmers, small-scale traders, artisans, market women and the like.
"I am very convinced that this 100 million target can be met and this informed the development of a National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy. The specific details of this accelerated strategy will be unveiled shortly."
By referencing the last two years, Mr Buhari refers to the period between June 2019 and June 2021.
Interestingly, the president made a similar reference to the government's poverty alleviation plans in his Democracy Day speech two years ago.
"In face of (these) challenges, our Government elected by the people in 2015 and re-elected in March has been mapping out policies, measures and laws to maintain our unity and at the same time lift the bulk of our people out of poverty and onto the road to prosperity," Mr Buahri said in June 2019.
"This task is by no means unattainable. China has done it. India has done it. Indonesia has done it. Nigeria can do it. These are all countries characterized by huge burdens of population. China and Indonesia succeeded under authoritarian regimes. India succeeded in a democratic setting. We can do it.
"With leadership and a sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years."
But how true is the new claim of lifting 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty in the last two years?
The last poverty survey from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed that 40 percent of the Nigerian population, or almost 83 million people, live below the poverty line.
According to the NBS '2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria' report, which was based on data from the Nigerian Living Standards Survey conducted in 2018-2019 with support from the World Bank's Poverty Global Practice, the nation's poverty line was put at 137,430 naira ($381.75) per year.
In 2019, however, the World Poverty Clock put the number of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria at 77.9 million or 39 per cent of the population, while the country's total population stood at 199 million. By 2020, the number of people living in extreme poverty had jumped to 84.8 million, representing 41% of the population.
In June 2021, checks by PREMIUM TIMES show that the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty according to the World Poverty Clock has increased slightly to 86.8 million, representing 41% of the nation's 209 million population.
In effect, the data from the World Poverty Clock shows that within the two-year period referenced by Mr Buhari, at least 10 million Nigerians slipped into extreme poverty, rather than come out of it as the president claimed.
Earlier in June 2018, Nigeria overtook India as the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, as an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country's population, were reported to be living on less than $1.90 a day.
In October 2018, in its second-ever Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) index compiled by Development Finance International (DFI) and Oxfam, Nigeria placed bottom in a ranking of 157 nations. The CRI Index ranked the commitment of national governments to reducing the gap between rich and poor citizens by measuring three factors considered "critical" to reducing the gap, including social spending, tax policies and labor rights. At the time of the report, Nigeria ranked bottom of the index for the second consecutive year.
In his new claim on June 12, President Buhari specifically listed the 10 million Nigerians the government lifted out of poverty to include farmers, artisans, market women and small-scale traders.
The two major programmes touted to have lifted the farmers, artisans and market women out of poverty are the Anchors' Borrowers Programme (specifically for farmers) and the National Social Investment Programme (for others).
"In the Agricultural sector, for instance, the Anchor Borrowers Programme resulted in sharp decline in the nation's major food import bill from $2.23billion in 2014 to US$0.59billion by the end of 2018," the president said in his speech.
He added that his vision of pulling 100 million poor Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years has been put into action and can be seen in the National Social Investment Programme, "a first in Africa and one of the largest in the world where over 32.6m beneficiaries are taking part."
PREMIUM TIMES found that despite the government's exaggerated claim about the impact of these poverty alleviation initiatives, the two programmes (Anchors Borrowers and SIP) have been dogged by allegations of shoddy practices, distrust, fraud, among others.
Anchors Borrower Programme (ABP)
The programme thrust of the ABP is the provision of farm inputs in kind and cash (for farm labour) to smallholder farmers to boost production and stabilise inputs supply to agro-processors. Each farmer is given a loan of N250,000 per hectare of rice for land cultivation plus inputs such as herbicide, fertilisers and water pumps. At harvest, farmers are expected to sell their produce to anchor or off-takers; the anchor will then pay the cash equivalent of the produce into the farmers' bank accounts.
But in 2018, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed that claims by the Nigerian government that beneficiary farmers who travelled to Hajj or married additional wives had been lifted out of poverty was misleading because the farmers may not have done so from the proceeds of actual farming but from their share of the over N55 billion disbursed by the government for the Anchor Borrowers' Programme (ABP), which the farmers thought was largesse for voting in Mr Buhari.
The SIP on its part has been riddled with so much controversies and allegations of fraud that the leadership of the National Assembly in 2020 faulted its implementation.
The senate specifically expressed dissatisfaction with the model adopted by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, particularly its claims that it used a World Bank model to determine the beneficiaries.
Related closely to the SIP among the government's poverty alleviation programmes is the Cash Transfer Scheme, which has equally been trailed by issues of transparency in the selection and disbursement of the funds to the beneficiaries.
In essence, PREMIUM TIMES found that although the poverty alleviation initiatives of the government have been commended in some quarters, the implementation phases have been riddled with allegations of fraud and faulty models. The government, therefore, may be having an exaggerated estimation of their impact, as available data do not support government's claims of poverty reduction.
Despite the Nigerian government's claims of lifting 10.5 million out of poverty in the last two years, the World Bank said in January that the macro-micro simulations showed that more than 10 million Nigerians could be pushed into poverty by the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis alone.
In its report, the bank emphasised that were the Covid-19 crisis not to have hit, "the poverty headcount rate--as per the national poverty line--would remain virtually unchanged at a little over 40%, although the number of poor people would be set to rise from 82.9 million in 2019 to 90.0 million in 2022 due to natural population growth."
"Yet with the economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis, the national poverty rate is instead forecast to jump from 40.1% in 2019 to 45.2% in 2022, implying that 100.9 million Nigerians will be living in poverty by 2022," the report said.
"Taking the difference between these two scenarios shows that the COVID-19 crisis alone is forecast to drive an additional 10.9 million people into poverty by 2022."
In his speech, Mr Buhari also identified poverty and youth unemployment as underlying drivers of insecurity in the country. Nigeria's unemployment rate rose to 33.3% between 2018 and 2020, according to the statistics bureau. The nation also slipped into yet another recession within the period, just as inflation remains skyrocketed amid sharp increases in food prices.
Earlier in 2019, a World Bank report listed several African countries that made impressive gains in reducing poverty. The list included Tanzania, Chad, Congo Rep., Burkina Faso, CongO DRC, Ethipia, Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda and Uganda.
But Nigeria was never mentioned in the list.
Given that Nigerians whom the Buhari government claimed it purportedly lifted out of poverty (farmers, traders, artisans etc) operate in the informal sector, there are no verifiable data from the nation's statistics bureau to support Mr Buhari's assertions.
Rather, a World Bank report said that Nigeria's poverty rate within the period, which would have remained "virtually unchanged" had the Covid-19 crisis not occurred, would jump upwards due to the effect of the pandemic.
Additionally, the World Poverty Clock also showed a rise in the number of Nigerians that slipped into extreme poverty within the period.
Therefore, President Muhammadu Buhari's claim of lifting 10.5 million people out of poverty is not supported by data. It is grossly misleading.