By Charles Onunaiju
AT the event to mark the significance of the widely acclaimed credible, free and fair but annulled election held on June 12, 1993, and honour its presumed winner, the late MKO Abiola, President Muhammadu Buhari said “with leadership and sense of purpose, we can lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years”. He had earlier pointed out that to “…lift the bulk of our people out of poverty and unto the road to prosperity…is by no means unattainable. China has done it, India has done it, Indonesia has done it. Nigeria can do it.”
In claiming that “China and Indonesia succeeded under authoritarian regimes”, President Buhari breached the simple rule of diplomatic etiquette by referring to friendly countries in labels stuck at them by their ideological foes. China and Indonesia have never admitted to being authoritarian regimes but are democracies with their unique national conditions.
Delivering a report at the 19th national congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, general secretary of the party and also president of the country, Xi Jinping said that: “No two political systems are entirely the same and a political system cannot be judged in abstraction without regard for its social and political context, its history and its cultural traditions”. In underscoring the fact that “no one political system should be regarded as the only choice”, he told the party delegates that “we should not just mechanically copy the political system of other countries”, and further exhorted that “we must uphold in long term, and steadily strengthen China’s socialist democracy, make active and prudent efforts to reform of the political system of improving the institutions, standards and procedures of Socialist democracy”.
Given the fact that China has in the past 40 years, since her modernisation drive and economic reforms, lifted more than 840 million people out of poverty to become the second largest economy in the world, it is very important to pay serious attention to the context of the country’s enigmatic transformation than the simplistic approach of sticking a label.
Mr Narenda Modi, India’s Prime Minister who just won a second term in office, in his first term connected all the 600, 000 Indian villages to the national electricity grid and built 92 million toilets in his commitment to eradicating “open defecation”. For the more than one billion Indians, Mr Modi has inaugurated 57 person-member cabinets, including a prime-minister for his second term in office with a view to bringing clean drinking water to every Indian home.
As President Buhari said in his speech, it is absolutely attainable to lift a hundred million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years or even earlier, if there is focused leadership with a sense of commitment. Former Brazilian President, Mr Lula Silva and his Workers Party, lifted over 30 million of their citizens out of poverty.
However, to take measures that would lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within ten years or even earlier, it is important to review some critical national institutions and how they can blend to the strategic goals of poverty reduction and eradication. The review of the institutions must be done in the context of the national existential reality, not in the abstract. Only in the context of their measurable outputs can they functionally contribute to the strategic goal of poverty reduction and elimination. More importantly, the meaning of poverty, its implications for the victims and national development should be objectively assessed.
Poverty reduction or elimination is not charity or any humanitarian gesture towards victims of the scourge. In fact, victims of poverty are simply arrested and unaccounted national assets, a missing link in the totality of the national productive capacity. They constitute an un-mobilised national resource that subtracts substantially from the aggregate national endowments. Poor persons are redundant national assets and no serious leadership can afford complacency when a huge swath of its national resources is untapped or depreciates in the constant erosion of values, inflicted on the majority of its population by the scourge of poverty.
To lift people out of poverty must be a fundamental policy imperative, designed to purposely unleash chains of value creation and multiplication in a bid to guarantee sustainable and inclusive development. To understand the imperative of poverty reduction and eradication as a condition for inclusive and sustainable development means to engage a policy framework that has its context in the national reality and focused on wealth creation.
Economic policy targeted at poverty reduction must address itself to critical linkages in the construction of an integrated economy in which strategic network of economic activities is linked to a domestic market, the sure-footed guarantor of self-reliance. An effective domestic market provides the necessary comparative advantage and specialisation to enable any nation to seek integration into the global value chain.
Any meaningful policy framework on poverty reduction must focus on the revitalisation of rural infrastructures such as the network of feeder roads that connects villages with one another, allowing them to trade in goods and services. Rural electrification will support simple processing machinery which would form the nucleus of secondary industries. The multiplier effects of this kind of activity would be to create a value chain stretching up to the cities and enabling the creation of a vibrant market that can nurture local start-ups and unleash a chain of entrepreneurship across the board.
Poverty cannot be eradicated by distribution and redistribution of the existing value and wealth even as fair and just as that might be seen, but in unlocking new wealth avenues, through which values are created and multiplied. In fact, the over N500 billion so far reportedly spent on Federal Government social investment programme which consists of primary school feeding, trader moni, cash transfers and others would have considerably fixed the rural infrastructure and enable poor people not only to climb out of it but to integrate into the productive value chain as wealth creators.
Lifting people out of poverty is a serious issue that spans the trajectories of profound introspection, analytical engagement with the reality of our unique condition, appropriate and consistent policy framework derived from such engagement and meticulous policy execution in which all key institutions are blended to the strategic objectives. Tackling poverty and promising to lift millions of people out of poverty is not a normal politics of our clime but a fundamental reformation of politics of putting people first and where the key measure is the evident improvement in their conditions of life and not abstract tirades that have dominated politics for a long time.