EARLIER in June, the Brookings Institution, an American think-tank research group, published data from the World Poverty Clock which showed that Nigeria, with the latest estimated population of 200 million, had overtaken India (1.32 billion population) as the “poverty capital” of the world. Specifically, it reported that with 87 million people already living below the poverty line, six new people fall into extreme poverty every minute.
The institution’s data on the scale of poverty in Nigeria even paled beside that of the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, a Federal Government agency which in 2016 reported that a whopping 112 million Nigerians are living in abject poverty. Only last week, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, also trumpeted the poverty alarm before visiting President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja.
It was rather unamusing when the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Okechukwu Enelamah, in June this year, dismissed the reports, saying the figures must have been compiled when Nigeria was in recession. He told Nigerians not to be overly worried as the Federal Government was working hard to improve our infrastructure and the environment for business.
To begin to tackle our increasing poverty trap, we must first of all adopt a positive attitude. The Federal Government’s reaction to these self-evident truths was unduly self-defensive as if these reports were frontal attacks on its economic performance. That is not necessarily so. The rate of poverty in the country has been growing steadily for the past four decades, from 10 million in 1980 to what it is today. No regime was able to halt the trend, though it slowed down during some periods and picked up in others. The Buhari regime merely added its own quota to the trend.
We must stop living in denial and start working on reversing the ugly trend. This issue is beyond politics. It is a very dire situation which should trigger a frantic search for competent leaders to fix the trend.
We must study how other countries like Thailand, which were in the same bracket with us 40 years ago, were able to break the jinx and join the prosperity train with the rest of their Asian economic brotherhood.
We are strongly of the view that the structure of the economy is wrong. Nothing can change our situation unless the structure is addressed. We must decentralise the political and economic structures of the country back to the pre-civil war model that proved hugely successful.
Most importantly, we must control our population growth which is seriously far ahead of our GDP growth rate. Once we address these two main problems the rest will simply fall into line, provided we elect competent leaders to steer the economy at various levels.