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Tackling poverty in Nigeria

Once again, the Federal Government  came out hotly in self-defence over charges of worsening poverty rate in Nigeria.

The Country Director of the World Bank in Nigeria, Marie-Francoise Marie-Nelly, had recently reiterated the already published figures that 100 million Nigerians live in destitution, another term for extreme poverty. In a sharp repartee, the Presidency, through the Chief Economic Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan, debunked the claim.

He said with 112 million GSM lines active in Nigeria, the World Bank’s claim could not be correct, adding that most Nigerians could afford “a plate of food” for one meal, which he priced at N200 or approximately $1.25, the benchmark for measuring the poverty line.

In the first place, we consider the response from the Presidency as tepid and unconvincing. They did not provide adequate information to counter the assertion of the World Bank officer.

Secondly, the information used by the World Bank was a mere confirmation of the figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which earlier in the year alerted that in spite of favourable economic growth and performance, poverty rate jumped from 54.7 per cent in 2004 to 60.9 per cent in 2010. It had also added that while 100 million Nigerians lived in absolute poverty, 12.6 million were moderately poor in 2011.

We are very conscious of the fact that the President Jonathan administration is making a telling effort to reduce poverty through massive ventures into the agricultural sector. The regime has also instituted the YOU-WIN programme, aimed at growing new entrepreneurs and assisting them to create jobs. There is also the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), in which the Federal Government is also trying to create jobs through proceeds from fuel subsidy partial withdrawal.

But these are drops in the ocean, as the army of unemployed youth, which constitute the quantum of the poor, litter the Ngerian landscape. Some of them have broken bounds to engage in violent crimes, such as piracy, kidnapping, armed robbery, human trafficking and terrorism.

There is nothing to gain by engaging in empty arguments as to whether the figures quoted were correct. The message is clear: The scourge of poverty and increasing destitution must be tackled with every effort, and the time to start is now.

Nothing in this direction can be achieved unless the incidence of runaway corruption is curbed. The cost of governance must be brought down drastically. Let capital expenditure take lion’s share of budgets at all levels, rather than recurrent which takes as much as 70 per cent. This will free up funds for investment in the social sector for job and wealth creation.

Also the privatisation of power must be vigorously pursued to raise productivity of Nigerians. It requires more effective governance, across board to bring down poverty level in Nigeria.

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