By Supo Balogun, The Nigerian Expression (TNE)
Recently, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released a report indicating that inequality improved in 2016, the first time since it took a dive in 2004. The statistics bureau, using the Gini coefficient or Theil framework, stated that inequality in Nigeria worsened between 2004 and 2013 but improved in 2016. Inequality as measured by Gini, the bureau says, worsened from 0.356 in 2004 to 0.391 in 2013 but improves to 0.391 in 2016.
Nonetheless, the hungry and impoverished Nigerian is not much interested in statistics but to see that the best has begun to happen after the locust ravage of past rulers.The reality now is that no one is immune to the ravaging poverty in the country, as the rich and the poor are crying.
While the bureau agrees that there is no agreed standard definition of the Nigerian Middle Class, it says for the purpose of the report using certain frameworks, it found out that the upper class was responsible for 58.39% of national income/expenditure, down from 59.42% in 2013.
The biggest gainers of income/expenditure shares between 2013 and 2016 has therefore been the middle class, while the lower-class share remained constant, with the high-class shares reduced.
Significant as these findings by the nation’s statistics body are, they only reinforce what many Nigerians already know: poverty is still raging across the country while government’s efforts may take a while to bear fruits.
Only recently, the House of Representatives called for effective implementation of programmes to tackle extreme poverty. This was sequel to a unanimous adoption under an Urgent Motion of National Importance moved by Rep. Muhammed Wudil (Kano-APC) at plenary.
Moving the motion, Wudil said the UN General Assembly had passed a resolution which adopted Oct. 17 as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. He said the 25th anniversary of the resolution was a wake-up call for governments across the world to rise up to the challenges of providing basic necessities of life.
The lawmaker says more than 80 million Nigerians or 64 per cent of the country’s population live below 1.9 dollars a day.
Rep. Mohammed Monguno (Borno-APC) believes the North-East remains the least developed zone in the country, adding that poverty is endemic in the zone.
But Rep. Hulayat Omidiran (Osun-APC) adds that the South-West Zone is equally feeling the pains of hardship. She notes that the poverty in the land is so unusual that people now beg for food without shame, a situation hitherto unheard of in the zone.
Her colleague, Rep. Wale Raji (Lagos-APC) says a situation where less than 10 per cent of the nation’s population controls over 90 per cent of national resources is unacceptable. But it is not only the lawmakers that are worried about the poverty level in the country.
A labour leader, Mr Issa Aremu, wants government to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor to avert a breakdown of law and order. Aremu, the General Secretary of the National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria( NUTGTWN) says a situation whereby a few Nigerians live in affluence while majority of the people live in abject poverty is unacceptable.
The labour leader, who is also the Vice President of Industrial Global Union, says: “Nigeria must bridge the gap between the few rich and poor millions, through progressive taxation and creation of opportunities for many to earn a decent living.’’
“We commend the government’s N500 billion programme which has assured 200,000 jobs, conditional cash transfers and feeding of primary school students. However, the poor should not depend on charity. “What the poor need are opportunities opened to the rich so that they can get sustainable jobs with sustainable incomes,” he says.
Even the clergy are unanimous that the poverty ravaging the flock must be stemmed if social cohesion must be sustained. According to the Chief Imam of Uyo Central Mosque in Akwa Ibom, Alhaji Mohammed Adamu, insists that the Federal Government must revive the nation’s economy by fashioning out policies and programmes that will reduce the sufferings of Nigerians.
Adamu says Nigerians, regardless of tribe and religion, have been going through difficult times. According to the cleric, the Federal Government has initiated good programmes for Nigerians, adding that these policies and programmes must be translated into better living condition for citizens.
The Archbishop, Ecclesiastical Province of the Niger and Anglican Bishop of Aguata Diocese, Most Rev. Christian Efobi, also says these are hard times for majority of Nigerians. He says the Federal government must map out far reaching measures that will reduce the high rate of poverty and unemployment in the country.
Human rights activist and lawyer, Femi Aborishade, belives government must initiate moves that will bring about redistribution of income to enhance the living standard of the citizens.
But since its landmark victory in the 2015 general elections, the Buhari administration has left no one in doubt about its commitment to bridging the inequality gap and alleviating poverty through several initiatives. Early into the life of the administration, the fight against extreme poverty received a boost with the Federal Government signing of a $2.3 billion assistance agreement with the United States Agency for International Development.
The agreement is to cover activities of the government for the next five year running from 2015 through 2020.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had signed the agreement on behalf of the Federal Government while the USAID Head of Mission in Nigeria, Mr Michael Harvey, signed on behalf of the US government.
“The issue of the extreme poverty of a vast majority of Nigerians is a very important issue for us; it is at the heart of our economic policy, at the centre of our agenda. You can’t have that vast number of poor people and don’t plan around that and for us, this is crucial and absolutely important,” the vice president was quoted as saying at the forum.
One of the administration’s flagship programme to tackle poverty in the short term is the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT).
From the nine pilot states of Borno, Kwara, Bauchi, Cross River, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti, the initiative has been extended to other states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, with each beneficiary placed on N5,000 monthly.
While many commend government over the CCT initiative, others argue that the sum in itself may not lift beneficiaries out of the clutches of poverty.
Godwin Eohoi, the Registrar of the Chartered Institute of Finance and Control of Nigeria, says, “The level of poverty in the country is very high and far beyond what can be addressed by the payment of N5,000 monthly to vulnerable Nigerians.”
“While the payment is commendable, it is not sufficient in getting people out of poverty because it is not a model that is sustainable.
“The rate of poverty in the country is quite alarming. I will say rather than pay N5,000 monthly to vulnerable Nigerians, the government should intensify efforts in creating an enabling environment that will promote investments in key sectors of the economy.”
“In doing this, there is a need to ensure transparency in the management of the foreign exchange market by narrowing the spread between the official and black market rates.
“It is only when you have investments that jobs can be created because when people are employed, they earn income through wages or salaries and their purchasing power rises, thus increasing the standard of living,” he adds.
A don, Prof. Siyan Oyeweso, however, wants beneficiaries to see the stipend as seed capital for investment in small trade.
“The money certainly cannot tackle the problem of poverty in Nigeria. Even if you give somebody N100,000 today, it can’t tackle poverty. What the beneficiaries can do is to invest the N5,000 in small trades like ground nuts, plantain and other petty trading so that they will be able to make some gains, which will solve part of their existential problems.
“The beneficiaries should not see the money as a bail-out. They should try and invest it in anything that can generate some profits no matter how little.The government should pay the N5,000 in addition to looking for other ways of boosting the economy to make the lives of the majority of the people better. Our people should also stop depending on white collar jobs and learn vocations and other trades which they can set up by themselves.”
With the commencement of the CCT, the federal government is now implementing all four of its flagship social investment programmes for poor and vulnerable Nigerians.
The other three programmes are the N-Power Volunteer Corps which is designed to hire half a million unemployed graduates; the National Homegrown School Feeding Programme which aims to provide meals to school children and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) which provides soft loans ranging from N10,000 to N100,000 for artisans, traders and market women among others.
Under the N-Power programme, selected graduates who are being paid N30,000 each are deployed to states to work as assistant teachers in schools, community health aides and agricultural extension workers.
Under GEEP, thousands of cooperatives, market women associations, farmers and enterprising youths are identified, registered and now receive soft loans through the Bank of Industry.
The National Home-Grown School Feeding programme, which had helped boost school enrolment, has also spread from the initial 18 pilot states to other states of the federation and providing food for 5.5million school children for 200 school days under the first phase.
As head of the nation’s Economic Management Team, Vice President Osinbajo’s sense of fulfilment was evident at a public forum while reflecting on government’s poverty eradication scheme. He says Nigeria has demonstrated that a massive programme could be initiated and managed on-line.
“The N-Power programme is the largest post tertiary jobs programme in Africa. We now know that we can train large numbers of people electronically. We have demonstrated that a transparent process of employment is possible. All of these young men and women have testified that they knew nobody, paid nobody to get the jobs they now have, shown us that it is possible to run a programme that is transparent.
“We have achieved great success in our financial inclusion efforts by bringing in many, especially the extremely poor in the hinterlands into the formal banking system. Beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer programme, home grown school feeding vendors and cooks now have BVNs and bank accounts.
“We have also demonstrated that electronic payment on such a huge scale, across the nation is possible,’’ he says.
Already, the gains of government intervention programmes are bearing fruits, even if minimal. Only on Tuesday, Yemi Kale, the nation’s chief statistician, said annual inflation in Nigeria slowed for the 11th month in a row in December.
Kale, the head of the NBS, says in his personal twitter handle that inflation slowed to 15.37 percent from the 15.90 percent a month before. A separate food price index, he says, also shows inflation at 19.42 percent in December, down from 20.30 percent in November. Many will recall that Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele had said in October 2017 that inflation rates will fall at a faster pace and reach the high single-digits by the middle of 2018.
With the country emerging from its first recession in 25 years in the second quarter of 2017, many Nigerians are certainly looking to the future with much optimism.
They also look forward to 2018 as a year they will be extricated from pulsating poverty, after three years of APC administration and extensive adjustment of the economy, to present a successful scorecard to the electorate for reconsideration at the 2019 general elections. Nigerians want to see clearly to thumbprint and not be blinded by hunger. The Buhari administration has demonstrated it means well and it cares, but the clock is ticking fast towards Verdict 2019.