*Say COVID-19 to worsen poverty level
*Poor electricity impoverishing Nigerians
By Michael Eboh
Economic analysts, on Monday, described the Nigerian poverty statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, as a gross under-estimation of the poverty situation in Nigeria.
In an interview with Vanguard in Abuja, the economic analysts and labour leader further disclosed that Nigeria’s poverty level would worsen post-COVID-19, while also noting that lack of electricity had contributed in no small measure in worsening poverty in Nigeria over the years.
Professor Uche Nwogwugwu of the Department of Economics, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, disclosed that far more Nigerians are living below the poverty line than the number stated in the report, adding that the novel coronavirus pandemic had exposed the true poverty level in Nigeria.
He said: “The number is an under-estimation of the poverty level in this country. Previously, they used the official status of urban residence, now, even this issue of COVID-19 pandemic has actually exposed the fact that we are in deep trouble with respect to poverty alleviation in this country.
“The rural dwellers cannot just complain, they are just managing to survive, to keep life going. Most of us have the opportunities of going to see what is happening in the rural areas.
“Those people are just managing. It is a sign that government has to do more, as well as all the people concerned. The agencies responsible for alleviating poverty and those responsible for empowering the poor; they also have a lot of work to do.”
He noted that though successive governments claimed to have alleviated poverty, the major lacking ingredient is the issue of sustainability.
He added: “It is a matter of sustainability, which is key. If you give somebody who is hungry some money and he finishes it and becomes hungry again, that is not sustainable.
“Government has actually spent some money on this issue of poverty. But for the fact that the poor still remain poor; there is no visible evidence to show those who have exited poverty; that means there is need to re-examine the methods used.
“Even those that they claim they have alleviated their poverty, there is no evidence to show that is the case; instead we have poverty increasing.”
Also speaking, Uche Uwaleke, Professor of Finance and Capital Markets at the Nasarawa State University and former Commissioner for Finance, Imo State, queried the methodology used in arriving at the number of poor Nigerians, noting, however, that the claim that only four out of 10 Nigerians are poor calls for further investigation.
He said: “On the recently released national poverty and inequality numbers for Nigeria, the National Bureau of Statistics deserves commendation for successfully conducting the Living Standards Survey nearly 10 years after the last one was done.
“This particular survey, conducted with support from the World Bank, witnessed a clear departure from the previous exercises, especially in the area of methodology.
“Of note is the use of consumption expenditure approach rather than income measure which the NBS justified as being in line with best practice. If the new National Poverty Line is N137,430 or $361 per person per annum, which translates to $0.98 per day and captures about 40 percent of the total population, it tells of considerable improvement over the years.
“The same conclusion can be drawn regarding the Gini index, a measure of economic inequality, which has seemingly improved from over 50 to 35.
“Be that as it may, given the country’s average growth rate in the last ten years vis-a-vis population growth rate, it stands to reason that more people may have dropped below the poverty line than this survey result suggests.
“By the same token, income inequality may have widened in the light of the jobless nature of GDP growth rates even in periods of high crude oil prices. So, to say that in today’s Nigeria, only four out of 10 persons are poor — by whatever yardstick — and that economic inequality is low as suggested by the low Gini index leaves much to be investigated.
“Future surveys should consider increasing the sample size of households from the current 22,110 to make it more representative in a country of nearly 200 million people. The government is advised to see what use it can make of these survey results while seizing the opportunity of COVID-19 to pursue pro-poor policies.
“Given the critical place of accurate data in this regard, adequate funds should be made available to the National Bureau of Statistics to be able to deliver on its mandate.”
Poverty would worsen post COVID-19
In his own submission, former President of the Trade Union Congress, TUC, Comrade Peter Esele, said: “I do not think the government has done enough. It is not just from this current administration, it has happened over time. What we have always had is more of band-aid, or let me use the common phrase now, palliatives. Palliatives do not solve any problem, it is just something to help one get by for the time being.
“What we always lack is a system, as the Chinese did; like setting a target that in the next 10 years, we would remove 50 million people out of poverty. How do you do that? It is not by dashing or giving money as a gift; because when you start giving out this money, you start building what is called an entitlement culture. It involves deciding to use a systemic way of having everybody to be able to stand on their feet.
“In the world, Nigeria has the highest number of new entrepreneurs entering the economic space; but all of these are not being optimised by the government; so we have them coming up and fading away.
“The first thing I expect the government to do is to register all small scale entrepreneurs; know how many they are, and those that can create a minimum of two or three jobs. Once they are identified, you register them and follow them up to identify their challenges; and you give them grants.
“The truth is that at this point that the NBS is coming up with this figure, they did not factor what we happen after COVID-19. Post the pandemic, we are going to have a lot of small scale businesses that are going to fold up. We do not have a system whereby you can come to the rescue of these small scale businesses, so that they can survive and create employment. If you have a system in place then it would be easier for us to reduce the poverty level in this country.”
Poor power supply fuelling poverty
“Another thing worsening poverty in Nigeria is power. We have had uninterrupted democracy for over 20 years now. These years are enough for us to have taken care of power in this country.
“If you take care of power, you would have taken care of the problems of employers and those of individuals seeking to become entrepreneurs.
“All the N20,000 and N30,000 or N5,000 the government is sharing will not help. It would just be a band-aid, but status quo ante remains.”