Amid the deafening cynicism that has trailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration that 100 million Nigerians would be lifted out of poverty in the next 10 years, many economic experts believe Nigeria has the potential to achieve this landmark if the government can muster the political will to make the dream a reality.
Statistics from both local and international agencies say Nigeria has a mountain to climb in the fight against poverty in the country. But the President on the other hand and in total disregard of a recent claim by an Austria-based agency, World Poverty Clock, which says 93.8 million Nigerians, as of June 2019, suffer from extreme poverty, believes his administration has the magic wand to rescue no fewer than 100 million Nigerians out of their current excruciating living conditions in the next 10 years.
Yet experts are unanimous in their view that both the past and present governments, if anything, have only succeeded in fighting leprosy with an antidote meant for ringworm in their bids to alleviate poverty in the country. “Starting from the Babangida era, Nigeria has witnessed series of efforts which successive governments claimed were aimed at alleviating or eradicating poverty. But how many poor Nigerians have they succeeded in lifting out of poverty? The fact remains that our economic policies and programmes do not support such poverty-reduction initiatives,” Dr. Afolabi Adebisi of Department of Economics, University of Lagos, noted.
The President had during his 2019 Democracy Day broadcast promised that the ruling All Progressives Congress government would lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. But as heartwarming as the president’s promise may sound, many Nigerians are taking the promise as the usual political statement. Their cynicism over the statement, is perhaps, buoyed by frightening indicators of prevalence of poverty in the country. The National Bureau of Statistics put inflation rate in the country at double digits while other integrals to poverty eradication such as access to business loans and lending rates remain unfriendly to businesses in the country.
Many experts are pretty confident that Nigeria’s best bet out of poverty is to make the environment conducive for businesses to thrive. Director General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, Muda Yusuf, in an interview with Sunday Sun, said the over 30 million micro-and-small enterprises in the country hold the aces in bringing government’s dream of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty to fruition. Yusuf wants the government to focus on small and micro enterprises, which according to him, have the potential to create 10 million jobs yearly.
His words: “The government should focus on small businesses. If you create enabling environment for small businesses, it will be very easy to lift people out of poverty. It is through employment, through job creation that people can be lifted out of poverty. If you have over 30 million SMEs and we are able to create enabling environment that will make them to grow and employ more people, you can imagine what will happen if 30 million micro and small enterprises are able to create 10 million jobs per annum, that will definitely achieve what the government is talking about. So if we focus on creating the right environment for small enterprises. I am so sure that will make the difference.
Many business owners are complaining about the difficulty in transportation and production. If the infrastructures are in place, that will be part of creating the right environment. Access to financing -affordable credit – is also part of the right environment we are talking about. The tax environment should be made friendly; if we don’t have the problem of multiple taxation and its attendant harassments, it will help. If the power situation improves, business will function very well. If we have the right kind of tariff policy and trade policy that give business owners easy access to raw materials and intermediate products, whether domestically or from abroad, that will help.
The government should also ensure that the regulatory institutions are friendly, it will also help. These are some of the things the government can do to help micro and small enterprises. So it is all about creating enabling environment to those who can create the jobs and through job creation you can alleviate poverty in a sustainable way. It is not the issue of feeding them at school or sharing trader’s money, which are temporary. But if the businesses on ground get the needed supports from the government that will be a major way of lifting people out of poverty.”
The LCCI DG has soul mate in Adebisi, who despite his cynicism about government’s seriousness to fight poverty in the country maintained that reliable policies geared towards supporting individual entrepreneurs who have the skills to grow their businesses would help to accelerate government’s poverty reduction initiatives.
Adebisi pointed out that government needed a sound programme on how to create massive jobs for Nigerians to be able to lift the people out of poverty. “To get people out of poverty the government must have a sound programme on massive job creation. But my problem with the government is that they don’t seem to understand what it means to create jobs. It is not by doling out money to traders.
Lately there has been emphasis on entrepreneurship programmes. If the government can fashion out a reliable policy of assisting individuals that have the skills through accessible and affordable loans, that in a way will help to alleviate poverty in the nation. It is not just enough for government to say they want to create jobs or alleviate poverty. Concerted efforts should be made to ensure that individuals who have the knowledge and the skills to create jobs get commensurable support and assistance from the government,” he posited.
Dr Tayo Bello, a monetary and development economist, believes the government can achieve the dream of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty if it takes a realistic decision in re-channeling the money being spent on fuel subsidy, which according to him, is a leeway for corrupt enrichment.
“Lifting 100 million of people out of poverty requires a lot of money and sound policy making. One major mistake we are making that is still affecting us in this country economically is the issue of subsidy. How can government be subsidizing petroleum to the tune of over N1 trillion on yearly basis? Nigeria is the only country throughout the world where such thing is being done. A lot of these petroleum products are being smuggled out of the country because it has been subsidized and people are making money out of it. The first thing for government is to take a realistic position by removing the subsidy. When subsidy is removed you can imagine what we can do with N1 trillion left in the coffers of the government. Government will be able to invest in infrastructure facilities, education, health and employment.
In a particular year, Nigeria generated about $16 billion and about $8 billion was paid for subsidy. It means that the money collected had gone into the thin air. Where are our refineries? The Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries are all gone. Yet there are people at these refineries who are still receiving salaries. Immediately we bring out the crude oil from offshore it is exported by NNPC and the refined products imported back into the country. So where is the creativity? How can we generate employment with such arrangement? And if we don’t generate employment how will the government lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty? It is not impossible to lift 100 million people out of poverty. But government must demonstrate more seriousness in doing it. In as much as government continues to subsidise petroleum, I do not see how this can be achieved,” Bello said.
For Mrs. Fayo Williams, former Vice President, NECA’s Network of Women and Business Development Consult, the starting point in lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty is to review the success stories of nations that have been able to achieve similar milestones with the intention of picking some of the best practices from such countries.
Hear Mrs. William: “First, we need to review what other countries have done in respect to poverty eradication and then pick some of the best practices from countries such as Bangladesh which is known with the Grameen Bank, where you have micro-credits made available to wide range of the people and which helped to spread economic prosperity. China on the other hand seems to focus on the manufacturing sector and now has become one huge manufacturing site for the world.”
Mrs. Williams also urged the government to see to the improvement of the nation’s power sector as well as basic infrastructure. “The government must also look at the power sector, look at infrastructure that have to be provided in order to back the plan of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. Nigerians have the entrepreneurial spirit and once you can provide power and other major infrastructure, we would see a remarkable improvement in productivity and definitely job creation and its attendant economic prosperity.
We also have to get the government to adopt a multi-sectorial and multi-ministerial approach. You cannot talk about lifting people out of poverty if they are not well. So the government must also focus on SDG III, which is wellbeing and good health. The government has to look at SDG VII, which is about clean and affordable energy. Another area the government needs to concentrate on is agriculture. Right now there is quite a good success story with regards to rice production. That can be replicated with other crops. Agriculture, previously the mainstay of the economy, should be brought back to its years of glory,” Williams said.