By Idorenyin Aquaisua
Since 1992, when the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, by resolution 47/196, designated October 17 every year as International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, to provoke awareness on the need to eradicate poverty and destitution globally, many countries have been making coordinated efforts at fighting poverty through the UN envisioned Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which in 2015 changed to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, even as the World celebrated the 2020 World Poverty Day (October 17), it is apparent that poverty still remains a suffocating menace in Nigeria and indeed a critical global challenge.
While the poverty index in many developing countries could be described as pathetic, that of Nigeria, for many proverbial reasons, is also gloomy, debilitating and irritating. By the combine effects of serial leadership misdirection and attendant economic contradictions, a nation blessed with abundant natural resources and tremendous economic riches is sitting comfortably, today, as a leading global poverty capital. Even the conservative September 2018 to October 2019 National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report on poverty and inequality, has not failed to acknowledge that about 82.9millions of Nigeria’s over 190millions population are currently living in extreme poverty.
Sadly, beyond highlighting the consistent statistical increase of extreme poverty ratio from 15% in 1960, 46% in 1985, 66% in 1996, 70% in 2009 to its ugly position in 2020, Nigeria’s poverty records also illustrate not just the distressing economic realities and debilitating living conditions of Nigerians but the painful paradoxes of the pervasive mismanagement of our commonwealth through leadership missteps; the miseries of avoidable impoverishment of the average citizens and attendant setbacks on sustainable development drives.
It is disturbing that with the insidious overcast of the COVID 19 phenomenon, a combination of the customary leadership dislocations, unfavourable socio-economic outcomes with imposing multifaceted setbacks have worsen the condition of the massive poor, pushing more and more households into extreme poverty. Perhaps, what is more disturbing is the projection by a new research that up to two-thirds of the global extreme poor could be living in fragile and conflict-affected economies by 2030.
As strongly emphasized by sustainable development experts including Dudley Seers (1969), any nation that genuinely desires sustainable development must fundamentally address poverty, inequality and unemployment. Therefore, it is beyond doubt that without addressing poverty, the outcome of the quest by successive governments for sustainable economic development in Nigeria will continue to end as efforts to blend oil and water.
Therefore, with the widening poverty gulf, it becomes increasingly imperative to acknowledge that the fight to reduce poverty in Nigeria demands serious and pragmatic actions and not sonorous slogans. For, as Obong Nsima Umoh, Ph. D, Founder, Pillar of Community Development (PCD), a service firm with the mandate to develop the potentials of the poor through access to affordable financial services and support for micro enterprises, rightly intoned, “If we continue to sit down and speak glibly about poverty and do nothing about it, then we have placed a discount on our common humanity”. To “speak glibly about poverty and do nothing” entails merely preaching poverty reduction without the corresponding responsible and realistic actions to address the problem.
Over the years, government has taken various broad initiatives to address the challenges of poverty including: setting up microfinance institutions, microcredit facilities, cooperative schemes, Social Intervention Programmes, Agric loans and special grants, etc. Even without realistic statistical evidence, it is patriotic to concede that these efforts have momentarily succeeded to marginally roll back the poverty index, and, could have yielded better results had they been more proactively strategic. However, it is also safe to attribute inaccurate valuation of the gamut of poverty or erroneous perception of poverty as an isolated socio-economic issue as a key reason for noticeable fundamental defects in many government poverty alleviation programmes and strategies.
The Microfinance Bank initiative, for instance, failed to adequately reduce poverty because of inherent structural and operational deficits including, concentration or physical distribution of banks in urban centers and incapacity to meet the credit needs of the unbanked rural populace; out-modeled banking practices, bureaucratic difficulties in accessing poverty alleviation resources on account of demand for strenuous collaterals and high interest rates. Many other poverty reduction schemes were unlikely to create sustainable impacts because, largely, their conception and implementation tantamount to throwing money at poverty. In essence, redressing challenges of poverty demands not just the proper understanding of the entire gamut of poverty but the seamless capacity to adopt fitting solutions to tackle the menace.
So far, many organizations set up or mandated by government to fight poverty have not demonstrated commensurate capacity to provide fitting practical remedies to push the frontiers of poverty backward.
The reasons are legion, but key among them is adopting poverty reduction templates that failed to appreciate the fact that just as the nature and causes of poverty are multifaceted, poverty reduction efforts must be multi-targeted and multifaceted. In other words, in developing relevant prescriptions and solutions to poverty, many organizations mandated to fight poverty deployed principles that failed to essentially adopted customized analytical approaches to establish the interplay of key social, economic, health, and environmental factors with poverty. In other words, ascertain, for instance: how or what environmental issues create health challenges and enhance poverty; what or how the daily activities of people in local communities impact on the environment; what it will take for the poor women in local communities who use firewood as cooking fuel to respect environmental laws or practice conservation; what or how healthcare issues contribute to poverty; impacts of activities of poor people in the rural areas on healthy living; what it would take for the poor populace in local communities to maintain healthy living standards; the relationship between population explosion and poverty rate; what it will take to dissuade poor people in rural communities from desiring unmanageable large-sized families, etc.
Apparently, many government promoted poverty reduction outfits operate with organizational mindsets that failed to reckon with the fundamental realities that: poverty is local; poverty is not merely an economic issue but a multi-dimensional phenomenon that includes deprivations, lack of income and basic capabilities to live in dignity; and more so, that poverty is exacerbated by dysfunctional leadership, illiteracy, poor environment and misinterpretation of environmental issues, lack of access to healthcare, poor nutrition, unequal access to justice, lack of good accommodation, unemployment and poor work conditions, lack of key information, etc. It is therefore not difficult to understandable why many poverty reduction initiatives in Nigeria merely preach poverty alleviation without according the necessary practical attention to adequate education, training, enlightenment and sustainable economic empowerment to its poverty reduction prescriptions.
Also, the operational focus of many government promoted poverty reduction initiatives are bereft of intentional commitments to building strong institutions to drive innovative mentorship and provide target-specific microcredit lifelines that are capable of not just providing the actual poor with sustainable livelihood options but ultimately empowering them to exit the poverty rung. Thus, many government poverty reduction initiatives serve more as political hands off and efforts at throwing money at poverty than a functional way of redressing the problem.
Notwithstanding our multifaceted national contradictions, redressing the worsening poverty situation is and will consistently remain fundamental to realizing Nigeria’s sustainable development goals. Thus it imperative for institutions charged with the mandate to fight poverty in Nigeria to be more innovative and proactively in focus and delivery. A more practical way of doing that will demand adopting a comprehensive approach that incorporates: enlightenment; advocacy; capacity building and skills acquirement; training; business mentoring and supervision; strategic development of entrepreneurial capacities and economic empowerment of the rural poor through easy access to readily-affordable financial services and key functional support that can lift many out of poverty, into the poverty reduction prescriptions and therapies.
By Idorenyin Aquaisua