OXFAM International announced last week that 94,470,535 people in Nigeria live below the poverty line, according to the latest World Poverty Clock. OXFAM International Country Director in Nigeria, Constant Tchona, said this in Abuja at the organization’s Programme Quality Review and Planning meeting with the theme “On the Road to Becoming an Influencing Hub.” He decried the fact that such a high number of Nigerians live below the benchmark of N684 per day.
Although the figure of 94,470,535 (roughly half of Nigeria’s population) is alarming, it reflects the harrowing difficulties of survival and financial straits faced everyday by Nigerians. Almost six people in Nigeria are said to fall into the poverty trap every minute. It is believed that the causative factors can be traced to the existence of a mono- product economy and our exclusive dependence on oil which has led to high level of corruption. At the root of poverty lies the inability of people to access basic necessities such as food, healthcare, sanitation and education. To make matters worse, the conditions necessary for the setting up of industries, especially small and medium scale enterprises (SSMES), are onerous.
The resultant effect is the frightening level of employable school leavers and graduates roaming the streets in search of elusive jobs. The educational system which is not premised on skills acquisition, through robust and well-funded vocational education and training programmes, but rather predicated prominently on filling exhaustive white collar jobs is an added pressure that creates a widening gyre in the poverty index. Unlocking private sector partnerships through incentives, boosting entrepreneurial ecosystems with strong emphasis on apprenticeships, are major ways to spur growth and reduce poverty as has been proven in other countries. Notwithstanding these limitations in Nigeria, access to microfinance is also needed to reduce poverty.
It is important to bring people into the financial system to enable government plan and integrate services for the poorest of the poor. Recent statistics from various global economic and financial authorities including the World Bank, and International Monetary Fund, also corroborate OXFAM’s report. The World Bank report on Nigeria indicates that between 2006 and 2016, Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew at an average rate of 5.7 per cent per year, as volatile oil prices drove growth to a high of 8 per cent in 2006 and a low of 1.5 per cent in 2016. Nigeria also emerged from recession in 2017, with a growth rate of 0.8 per cent, driven mainly by the oil sector. Last week, the World Bank and the IMF also observed that growth in the non-oil sector had been sluggish.
The poor economic projections should be a wake-up call on concerned stakeholders and policy makers to reverse the trend by embarking on massive diversification of the economy and injecting monetary and fiscal measures that will in turn change for the better the economic situation in the country. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) is key. According to the World Bank, people can be said to be living in extreme poverty if they live on $1.90 per day which translates to N693.5 per day. Nigeria is also saddled with more than 10 million out-of- school children. Two-thirds of the children are found in the North West and North East geo-political zones, both of which have been ravaged by the terror group, Boko Haram, resulting in an educational emergency believed to be affecting over 2.8million children. Nigeria must, therefore, increase its investment in education, healthcare, especially for young people.
The UN projects that Nigeria will have an estimated 398 million people by 2050, making it the country with the third largest population in the world. Lower population growth is not an automatic panacea for poverty. Rather, an educated, healthy, and enterprising youthful population, as has been the case in China, is the best catalyst for growth. However, absence of planning or an allocation of insufficient resources towards taming a bulging population could spell danger. Economic productivity and opportunities for citizens must be improved. This entails investing in human capital, creating jobs, increasing financial access and opportunities in the rural areas and embracing technology.