The National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, poverty-to-headcount index for 2015 was both distressing and disturbing for some states. Delta State was huddled between 6th and 10th position, a status unbefitting of its profile as an oil-producing state. Besides, Deltans are famed for their industry, hard work and raw chutzpah.
The NBS statistics for 2015 also returned a not-too-impressive verdict on the average national poverty index. That year, the states with best poverty-to-headcount ratio were, surprisingly, Niger State followed by Osun, Ondo, Bayelsa and Lagos in that order. The worst states were Sokoto (sitting at the bottom), Katsina, Adamawa, Gombe, Jigawa, Plateau, Ebonyi (the only south east state in the bottom bracket).
Fast-forward to 2020. The table has turned. The latest NBS report released in May this year showed Lagos leading the chart (4.5%) of prosperous states on poverty-to-population ratio. Let’s do some interpretation. It means that only 4.5 percent of Lagos population survive on the breadline of less than $1 per day. Conversely, a good 95.5 percent of Lagosians live above $1 per day. Lagos is closely followed by Delta (6.0%), Osun (8.5%), Ogun (9.3%) and Oyo (9.8%).
A critical analysis of the charts between 2015 and 2020 showed that Delta achieved the fastest transformation of dragging more of its residents out of poverty. The national poverty to population average for 2020 is 40 percent of 200 million Nigerians which equates to more than 82 million Nigerians presumably living on less than $1 per day, according to the NBS.
By 2019, Nigeria was ranked the poverty capital of the world after she ingloriously dethroned India. It means that between 2015 and 2020, more Nigerians had slipped into the extreme poverty club. It’s something to be ashamed of. In a nation well governed, poverty is a thing to be ashamed of, but in a country poorly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of (apologies to Confucius). In the Nigerian instance, the high poverty index is a function of bad governance. It should bother us how the nation with all the resources within could easily and quickly ship her citizens into the blinding and soporific pit of poverty.
Between 2016 and now, the nation has dithered from recession of various grades. Some even argue that she has suffered depression. Not far-fetched. The economics of needs and wants has not been fair to Africa’s biggest economy. The full import of ‘resource curse’ assumes its full essence in Nigeria. A nation so blessed is in eternal wedlock with poverty. Such irksome irony! Rather than make progress and gain traction in global competitiveness, she retrogresses. Stripping her men of their manliness and her women of their womanhood and pride. And the children? They are left to the vagaries of vicious elements; wandering in interminable want for care. Out of school, out of food. Bereft of confidence; trapped in the nadir of despair.
But there appears a whimper of hope typified by the Delta story. How did a state that was not among the top five states in poverty-to-population prosperity index when there were huge receipts from the sale of crude oil break through the limiting veil to emerge as number two in a season of poor cash returns from crude oil? The answer is leadership.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa came with the mantra of ‘prosperity for all Deltans.’ It looked so simplistic but only just in nomenclature. His battle cry to pull Deltans out of poverty became the chief pulley that turns the engine of his administration. He is among the few governors that came prepared. He did not unduly enrich the already wealthy elite. He tailored his programme to empower the alternative social actors in the state: the poor, women and the unsung youths. It was a deliberate state policy to actively engage the hitherto neglected but very critical mass of the population: the youth. Nigeria has a huge resource base in her teeming youth population. Unfortunately, poor vision at the centre stretching over several administrations has kept the youths out of the loop of prosperity; tethered to the stump of poverty.
The jump on the national poverty-to-headcount chart by Delta State in the last five years obviously has a bearing with the efforts of the Okowa administration to create wealth by empowering youths in the state with skills and seed funds for entrepreneurship. He created the office of the Chief Job Creation Officer (the first of its kind in the state) as a special purpose vehicle to drive the job and wealth creation component of his vision.
The office initiated three main programmes namely: Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); and Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP), all aimed at diversifying the economy of the state. The goal was to empower the beneficiaries to become bakers of the cake rather than sharers of same. These programmes have become huge successes to the acclamation of Deltans. On account of this, many young Deltans have taken to agriculture, playing active roles in the entire agriculture value chain.
Whether intended or not, the Okowa exemplum at wealth creation mirrors the Asian model. China, for instance, has built mega corporations and multi-nationals in all sectors from telecoms to construction. But the super-structure of the Chinese economy, like most progressive first world economies, is sustained by a vibrant bottom-up small and medium enterprises base. The Asians do not break their heads searching for white collar jobs. The system puts the youth through skill acquisition and technical-oriented knowledge mill that makes most young Chinese creators of wealth and jobs. The success of China as an emergent world power owes so much to the development of her small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) which today make up over 99 percent of all enterprises in China. Economists say the output value of SMEs in China accounts for at least 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Conservatively, SMEs in China are said to generate more than 82 percent of employment opportunities in the country.
China made it a deliberate policy to create oasis of production lines across a wide spectrum of the primary sector. The result is a plenitude of ‘made in China’ products most of which are shipped through the export market and end up in homes and offices around the world.
This is why Okowa’s direct approach to youth engagement deserves to be replicated across the federation. From the outset, he served notice in unambiguous terms that he was intent on changing the narrative. And he has succeeded in doing so by empowering the youths. Re-modelling technical colleges in all the senatorial districts of the state also helped to increase the wealth-creation capacities of the youths.
But it’s still morning on creation day. Okowa and his team must keep working the mills until every Deltan is liberated from the bogey of poverty. The state has taken a Chinese leap. Sustainability is key to make it count.