Recently, the World Bank and the Chairman of the Presidential Economic Advisory Council, Dr. Doyin Salami, expressed worry that 15 to 20 million more Nigerians would join the poverty rank by 2022. With this projection, over 100 million Nigerians will live in extreme poverty by next year. Coming at a time government has promised to lift 100 million people out of poverty by 2030, the alarm is a call to reexamine the poverty reduction strategies.
Globally, over a billion people live in extreme poverty. In 2018, the World Poverty Clock pronounced Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. With an estimated 86.9 million people living in extreme poverty, Nigeria took over that position from India. Today, the figure has increased because every minute, almost six people fall into the poverty trap. This means that it will be difficult for the country to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to end extreme poverty by 2030.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation. According to the World Bank Senior Economist, Gloria Joseph-Raji, the disease hit the Nigerian economy so hard that it experienced its deepest recession since the 1980s in 2020 and the second in five years. Many companies shut down production due to the lockdown imposed across the country. Many people lost their jobs, as inflation hit the rooftops. Invariably, these engendered increase in poverty and hunger in the country.
Even before COVID-19, insecurity has been a major poverty-inducing factor in Nigeria. Insurgency in the North and the herdsmen/farmers clashes had led to thousands of deaths, destruction of property and displacement of millions of people from their homes. Late last year, Boko Haram terrorists slaughtered scores of farmers in a village in Borno State.
Besides, Nigeria pays little attention to education, and there is a correlation between poverty and poor access to education. Little wonder the country has the highest number of out-of-school children globally. The greater percentage of these over 13 million out-of-school children is in the North. This apparently explains why the region harbours the poorest people in Nigeria.
We commend the Federal Government for embarking on a number of measures to tackle poverty. On Monday, the Economic Sustainability Committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo met in Abuja. Highlights of the reports presented to the committee include the release of N37billion for Survival Fund covering N50,000 Payroll Support for three months to over 300,000 beneficiaries; one-time grants of N30,000 to about 100,000 artisans and 100,000 business name registrations paid for by the Federal Government. The Central Bank of Nigeria also reported disbursing over N192billion households/MSMEs grants to 426,000 beneficiaries across the country and concessionary loans of over N106billion to over 27,000 beneficiaries under collateral-free Agric Business/Small and Medium Enterprise Investment Scheme.
In the agric sector, a total of 5.4 million farmers have reportedly been enumerated to get support under the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP). A statement by the Vice President’s media office further indicated that “the clearing of 3,200 hectares of land for farming is ongoing in several states including Edo, Plateau, Ekiti, Cross River, Ogun, Kaduna, Kwara, and Osun while rural road constructions have reached about 28 per cent completion covering 344km, linking about 500 markets across the country.”
As commendable as these efforts are, the government needs to do more. It must increase the number of beneficiaries and make the interventions more sustainable.
As the World Bank has noted, there is need for Nigeria to implement key reforms so as to get the economy out of the woods and achieve sustainable inclusive growth. Government should stabilise the prices of essential goods and services through strengthening and managing monetary policies effectively. Conscious efforts must be made to expand economic opportunities for the citizenry, especially creating more jobs for the youths. This is the easiest way to lift more people out of poverty.
Investment in education, health care and technology, especially food canning, is another way to end poverty in Nigeria. Good education opens up different opportunities for people. Vocational and technical education, for instance, will empower people outside the formal school system to learn some practical ways of fending for themselves.
Government should also encourage entrepreneurship by giving some incentives to small and medium scale businesses through tax concessions. Multiple taxes will discourage investment and heighten the rate of poverty.
Also, there should be support for seed companies to enable them to produce and supply higher quality seeds to Nigerian farmers. When farmers have access to improved varieties of crops, as is the case in South Africa which has embraced biotechnology and genetically engineered seeds, it will boost crop yields, ensure food sufficiency and enhance their earnings. Let government prioritise measures to reduce poverty.