By Emmanuel Onwubiko
AT the recent 2016 annual Board of Director’s meeting in Abuja, the International hierarchy of Heartland Alliance International, led by a Puerto-Rican born American citizen, Ms. Evelyn J. Diaz, was one of the facilitators.
The mandate of Heartland Alliance is summed up in the beautiful Phrase of “Ending Poverty”. This piece is to drive the point that certain groups of people believe that poverty can indeed be eradicated.
At a point, the Nigerian government set up an entire office dedicated to the “eradication of poverty” even though bureaucratic bottlenecks successfully stifled the achievement of this noble goal. President Muhammadu Buhari seems to have dusted up the file from where the moribund National Poverty Eradication Programme left it and has created what he calls social protection plan. According to a study it conducted the World Bank found out that it has become more difficult to reach those remaining in extreme poverty.
Access to good schools, healthcare, electricity, safe water and other critical services remain elusive for many people. Moreover, the World Bank noted that for those who have been able to move out of poverty, progress is often temporary: economic shocks, food insecurity and climate change threaten to rob them of their hard-won gains and force them back into poverty.
Nigeria, being the largest population of black people all around the globe, is confronting some of the severest cases of systematic and systemic poverty. More and more Nigerians are becoming extremely poor even as the educational institutions are not really set up with the correct frame of mind to churn out young graduates who are skilled with the technological knowhow and vocational skills that would make them gainfully employed. Capacity building of our younger population is not properly anchored to comply with best global practices.
As observed by the World Bank, access to good schools, healthcare, electricity, safe water and other critical services remains elusive for many people, especially in our modern day Nigeria where the standard of infrastructure in most parts has nosedived. Public primary healthcare is next to zero in most local government areas as there is no functional national health insurance scheme transparently administered to benefit all and sundry as is available in a place like the United Kingdom.
So, the income disparity between these privileged children educated abroad and the millions of children from deprived homes in Nigeria will keep expanding, except fundamental revolutionary measures are implemented. Few years back when the American economist, Professor Joseph Stilglitz, raised the alarm concerning the danger posed by the widening income inequality, little did we know that he was indeed speaking about the same issues that have contributed to the ever expanding frontiers of poverty in Nigeria.
Income disparity between the rest of Nigerians and the less than one percent of political office holders can at best be described as unacceptably high.
For instance, while most States are said to be insolvent to meet up with the statutory obligation of payment of salaries of their workforce, some state governors are globetrotting with half a dozen of them spending two weeks in Germany to learn about vocational trainings. The illegal security votes running into billions of Naira annually are still being taken away by only 78 executive public office holders (governors/deputy governors/President/Vice President) even in the midst of economic recession. Still speaking on the critical issue of income disparity, it is a fact that while a bag of rice which is a staple food in most homes has sky rocketed to N19, 000, the average civil servant in Nigeria earns a minimum monthly salary of N18, 000. This certainly can’t buy the worker even a bag of rice. An average civil servant in NIgeria has five or more dependants.
Coupled with the fact that there are less than 15 percent of Nigerians working as civil servants in the public sector, majority of Nigerians of all ages are too poor to feed themselves. The way out of this quagmire is to bridge the income gap between the rich and the poor. We also need to eradicate the high rate of public sector corruption pervading our national life. The current administration needs to fashion out much more effective strategies to empower the army of highly impoverished citizens.
The social welfare scheme being coordinated by the Special Adviser to the President, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, must be transparently administered so that all segments of the poor population can benefit and become gainfully engaged to reduce the high unemployment rate, especially amongst the young populace. President Buhari and the relevant committees of the National Assembly must monitor closely the implementation of the strategic plan put in place by the Mrs. Maryam Uwais-led social protection plan office in the presidency. Mrs. Uwais is a renowned lawyer and a leading child rights activists with whom yours faithfully served on the board of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission as federal commissioners. Mrs. Uwais has for many years worked among the poorest of the poor. She is the brain behind one of the most successful charitable organisations in Northern Nigeria known as ‘Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative’ which she registered and domiciled in Kano in December, 2009.
Let the Presidential Social Protection Plan office be adequately structured with the statutory legal frameworks to make it permanent. This is because fighting poverty requires a much more institutionalized commitment and not just merely an ad-hoc arrangement.
Also, Let the Social Protection Directorate of the Presidency be administered in such a way that the criminal disparity of income that exists in Nigeria is addressed.
Onwubiko heads the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)