“A country is known by the money it keeps. Healthy money and a healthy economy as rule go hand in hand.”
Federal Reserve Bank of New York, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ p 163.
By Dele Sobowale
If you really want to know what foreigners think of Nigeria, its leaders and our economy, stand close to some of them in the open markets of Nigeria when they receive the change due to them after a transaction. One Asian young lady, after collecting the dirty, stinking and mutilated notes, dropped them in a nylon bag she brought specifically for that purpose. She then ordered for a bottle of water and proceeded to wash her hands with soap – also brought for that purpose. I was thoroughly ashamed of my country. Nigeria must have the filthiest currencies in circulation in the whole world. Nothing defines poverty more than foul odour. Nigerians live with it every second of the day.
POINTS TO PONDER
“According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extreme poor in early 2018, and the Republic of the Congo could soon take over the number two. At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million living in poverty compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing at six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall – World Poverty Clock, WPC, June 2018.
The first response to that report was from a Minister of the Federal Republic under Buhari, who argued that the WPC projections were based on 2010 data. That was ignorance on display and it is strong indication of how we became poorest in the first instance and will remain so for a long time to come. WPC publishes an annual report. The only reason it failed to attract our attention in the past was because we had not won the gold medal of poverty. Now we have it.
Some comparisons with India will help us to understand the predicament in which we find ourselves. When India, for decades, was adjudged the poorest nation on Earth in terms of per capita income, no Indian government official rejected the reports; no Minister dismissed it. Instead every Indian government accepted the challenge of creating the conducive environment to enable them reduce poverty. And, now they are succeeding marvelously. Today, India with a population of 1.1 billion has only 73 million regarded as living below the poverty line; Nigeria with population of 198 million or 20 per cent of India’s has 87 million economically destitute people. While only about 6.6 per cent of Indians are now living in extreme poverty, 43 per cent of Nigerians are in that category. What is more, despite the great strides made by India, the governments of that country are not relenting in their efforts. Buhari’s government officials, ably represented by the ignorant Minister, are busy denying the truth and have no plans to reverse the trend towards making Nigeria the Federal Republic of Beggars.
That transition might be closer than some of us think. It has already started with the mindset at the top of government. People who grow up in communities where begging is considered disgraceful and anti-social conduct will naturally develop a different attitude to the situation in which Nigeria finds herself as a result of which close to half of our people are now extremely poor and must depend on charity and begging. Such leaders would want to put an end to the national disgrace as soon as possible.
On the other hand, leaders who have accepted begging as a way of life cannot understand what the fuss is all about. Have they not been surrounded by beggars all their lives? That explains why there is now no urgency attached to reversing the trend towards making Nigeria a nation of beggars. However, for those who still believe in creating a nation of proud, self-reliant people living in healthy economy and spending healthy money, set out below is the situation in which we find ourselves now, the projections to 2023 and what we need to do about it.
A country adding six poor people every minute increases the number by 360 per hour; 8640 per day, 259,200 per month and 3.110,400 per annum. By December of 2018, we will have almost ten times the population of Iceland to our population of people living in extreme poverty. And, if the trend continues un-reversed, we can expect 15 million more Nigerians to dive below the poverty line by 2023. At that point, they might constitute a majority of Nigerians alive.
Right now, the population of Nigeria is estimated at 198 million people and growing at 3.2 per cent every year. That means we will be adding six million people every year until 2023. That also means that 30 million more Nigerians will need jobs by that year; otherwise poverty increases.
To avert the disaster which these projections portend for us, Nigeria needs more than denials and statements of good intentions by government officials. To begin with the denials are totally worthless from the standpoint of solving the problems associated with that monster problem – poverty reduction. At any rate, even if he gets re-elected, Buhari cannot in four years totally wipe out extreme poverty from Nigeria because his government did not create it. It was inherited.
In 1991, I was the representative of the Nigerian Institute of Management, NIM, on a panel funded by the World Bank, to address the issue of Poverty Alleviation in Nigeria. As I recall, among our findings was the fact that 37 million Nigerians were then living in extreme poverty. Furthermore, our panel had concluded that unless the Nigerian economy grew steadily at five to six per cent per annum, the number of Nigerians living below the poverty line will increase to about 70 million by 2010 and over 80 million by 2020. These projections were made long before Buhari became President in 2015.
Since that study in 1990, Nigeria had failed to grow at five or six per cent per annum more often than not. Only in three years – 2011 to 2013 – when the price of crude stayed above $100 per barrel did the country attain the benchmark growth rate. It has been downhill since 2014 till now. So, we need a concrete plan to achieve five per cent GDP growth because good intentions are never enough. We also need strict, even ruthless, implementation to reverse the trend towards a Federal Republic of Beggars.
Above all, we need a leader who understands the urgency of the problem. Buhari does not. Granted nobody can turn Nigeria into a rich country in four years. But, a leader who demonstrates a high level of indifference can make the situation much worse in four years and create a more difficult hurdle for his successors to scale. Buhari and his incompetent Economic Management Team, headed by Vice President Osinbajo, have no plan to execute in this regard. They have failed to put firmly in place the building blocks which will make poverty reduction possible by the poor implementation of the annual budgets for 2016, 2017 and now 2018. Already, we know the following to be true and cannot be denied even by the most recalcitrant officials of that government.
Buhari’s administration inherited the 2015 budget from Jonathan. So, it cannot be held responsible for the estimates. But, unlike Nigeria, every Indian government accepts responsibility for all the programmes it inherits – including efforts aimed at eradicating poverty. The Nigerian economy grew at less than 1.5 per cent in 2015. Fast forward to this year, 2018 and we have another disaster on our hands. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, the nation’s economy has started off on a sad note in the first quarter, Q1, of 2018. The GDP grew at an annual rate of 0.9 per cent. With the budget delayed until late June this year, it is clear that the end year GDP growth will fall below two per cent again. When you need five per cent to reverse the trend to more poverty, two per cent means only more problems.
Even the Economic Recovery and Growth Programme, ERGP, designed to provide faster growth is not expected to deliver five per cent until 2020. That is if all goes well with the projected estimates for the Medium Term. But, things have never gone as planned since 1999 in Nigeria. Most likely 2020 will arrive and the GDP growth will remain below 2 per cent per annum.
“It ain’t the things that you don’t know that cause the problem; it’s the things you think you know that ain’t so.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 117.
The vicious cycle of poverty will remain with us unless we can find new leaders and fresh ideas to get us to five per cent. Buhari and Osinbajo just don’t know how to do it. They should be patriotic enough to go.