DR. Magnus Kpakol, Senior Special Assistant to the President and National Coordinator of National Poverty Eradication Programme, NAPEP, says 80 million Nigerians live below the poverty line.
We knew that years back. Disputes over statistics on Nigeria’s poverty index have always been on how far reaching poverty is.
However it is remarkable Kpakol is making these marks. He has always been around, at least long enough to know that growth in poverty has been with us for as long as he has been in government, first as the Chief Economic Adviser to the President, that is Olusegun Obasanjo way back in 1999. What does he not know about poverty in Nigeria? Why is he accepting now that more than 50 per cent of Nigerians are poor?
As recently as 2009, Kpakol denied a United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, report on poverty in Nigeria. He said the organisation did not conduct any research on Nigeria and was not in a position to know how many Nigerians were poor. The debate about poverty in Nigeria is more about how many Nigerians are poor not the fact that Nigerians are poor and that something needed to be done urgently about it.
Lagos State, famously stated as the richest State in Nigeria, according to Kpakol has the highest poverty percentage of 62.
It is not unexpected. As poverty levels rise in other States, those who hear about the changes in Lagos want to be part of the opportunities. Many of them arrive without skills that can keep them out of poverty. They add to the calculations.
Some globally accepted definitions of poverty help in putting the Nigerian situation in more appreciable circumstances.
“Poverty is pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions. It includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity. Poverty also encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one’s life,” the World Bank stated in its publication, Poverty and Equity Reduction.
The United Nations added this position, Indicators of Hunger & Poverty, “Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit.
It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.”
If we follow these indices, which the likes of Kpakol reject, then poverty in Nigeria is above the 80 per cent mark.
Instead of debating about how poor Nigerians are, government should initiate policies to reduce poverty. In denying the extent of poverty, and the profundity of its consequences, the likes of Kpakol are providing defences for the failure of programmes like NAPEP.