The progress of societies is measured through economic outcomes, by the number of people living in material comfort.
National governments, being aware of their sacred duty to create the environment for their people to advance, spare no resource in making happiness a reality.
A government that is unable to deliver on this promise of decent basic living ceases to be one in fact or in deed.
Nothing makes leaders happier than seeing their people enjoying basic needs. It is an evidence of good service.
Although standards of development may vary by country, where there are too many people in dire need of food, shelter and clothing, it is generally believed that such a society is failing.
To drive home the importance of keeping people free from lack, at the headquarters of the World Bank in Washington D.C., USA, these words are inscribed: “Our Dream Is a World Free of Poverty.”
There is no better performance indicator for Nigeria’s socio-economic retrogression since the 1980s than the metrics revealing the increasing millions of the have-nots, who are almost outnumbering the haves.
While there is no statistical certainty, the Federal Government has officially acknowledged there are, at the minimum, 40 Million Nigerians living in abject poverty.
Preparatory to the economic tsunami heading towards Nigerians in 2022, when the Buhari administration plans to withdraw subsidies for petroleum and electricity, we know these many Nigerians now need shelter.
The government’s plan is to transfer ₦5,000 in cash to 40 million Nigerians for a period of six to nine months.
Somehow, the government has figured out those in whose lives ₦5,000 can make a difference.
The palliative is not going directly to the consumers of petroleum or electricity products – only the poor. At the inflationary rate, anyone needing $10 per month has to be as poor as a church mouse.
The mistrust of the government to deliver the cash to the right people aside, in a nation of supposedly 201 million people, 40 million is a lot of poor people. That is 20 per cent of all Nigerians. It is a mind-boggling number, knowing that this government is usually in denial.
Poverty can mean different things to different people, and development experts use different metrics to determine those living in extreme poverty.
One of the more popular measures is the multidimensional poverty index championed by Oxford University and the United Nations. It measures purchasing power against the complexities of living as a poor person, probing patterns between and within countries.
The poor can hardly take any more but to make matters worse, the government will pile N2.4 trillion on the national debt in order to address a N1.8 trillion problem – much of which Nigerians know will end up in private pockets
The most acceptable standard, however, is that by the World Bank which measures poverty simply by how much a person has to spend per day.
It divides the poor into the extremely poor, just poor and mildly poor – all based on a Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) of between $1.90 to $5.50 per day.
Using the PPP for measuring poverty in Nigeria, the government’s number is just the statistical half of the extremely poor. Those falling below the PPP of $1.90 or around N800 per day are 80 million or 40 per cent of the Nigerian population.
This means 11 per cent of the world’s 700 million poor are Nigerians.
This assumption is supported by the leading provider of market and consumer data, Statista. It wrote:
“In total, 40.1 percent of the population in Nigeria lived in poverty. On average, 21.4 percent of the population in Nigeria has experienced hunger between 2018 and 2020.
“People in severe food insecurity would go for entire days without food, due to lack of money or other resources. Over the last years, the prevalence of severe food among Nigerians has been increasing, as the demand for food is rising together with a very fast-growing population.”
Statista listed 10 northern states as having the poorest people, with a lone exception of Ebonyi, which is the fourth poorest state in Nigeria.
The World Bank’s data corroborates Statista’s.
Its statistics show that 39.1 per cent of Nigerians are extremely poor, while 45.6 per cent have multidimensional poverty.
But let’s not lose the essence of this story by burying our heads in the numbers. The import is not the statistics but the people and the lives living in a crushing daily experience of lack.
There is a mass, a creeping majority, who are unable to engage in the pursuit of happiness or explore opportunities to make something out of glaring unfortunate circumstances from which they cannot extricate.
We are talking about those who cannot see a doctor, even when their leaders spend billions of naira getting treated for simple things like knee problems abroad while their friends take turns to visit them in their palatial foreign fortresses.
The more worrying narrative is that the nation’s population is also exploding at a rate at par with the population of the poor. The government is scared.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said: “Given one or two decades from now, Nigeria will become the third most populous country, coming after China and India.
Right now, we are dealing with the youth population and we have not been able to provide solutions to some of the complaints in the country.”
What the SGF did not confess was the government’s own culpability for engineering a society that denies shared prosperity, fosters inequality and denies access to opportunities.
Progress is always about the privileged.
In Nigeria, factors such as your income level, family, access to power are extremely important for success. There is hardly anything won on merit. How far you go is dependent on who you know.
Today, nearly 40 per cent of Nigerians have no jobs. It is probably the worst rate in the world. Apart from unemployment and inequality, factors such as corruption, insecurity and poor infrastructure send waves of economic tornadoes to the downtrodden.
The poor can hardly take any more but to make matters worse, the government will pile N2.4 trillion on the national debt in order to address a N1.8 trillion problem – much of which Nigerians know will end up in private pockets.
Could the Buhari administration not have initiated longer term strategies for providing social safety nets?
Even if cash transfers are reasonable, do we have the data to efficiently, equitably and transparently distribute money in Nigeria?
What are the eligibity criteria for the handouts?
Brazil is an example of a country that has implemented a reasonable safety net. Its Bolsa Família programme provides cash transfer to the poor in exchange for a commitment to do certain things, such as ensuring the children are in school.
Should we not tie the handouts to development activities? It shows the lack of foresight and imagination in policy making.
It is also worrying to see the comfort that many Nigerians have developed around living with the poor.
A typical successful citizen is insecure. He lives in a prison-like home and avoids vast parts of the community and society. He has no shame paying a security guard or driver N20,000 a month but spend N50,000 on one night out at the restaurant.
Many of us see children selling goods on the streets during school hours and never pause to think about the sea of the poor. The sight of the extremely poor is tolerable.
One cannot blame successful Nigerian citizens who have worked hard for their money for the problems in the society, although they could be doing more to lift people up
Some of the elites show off their achievements by the number of children schooling abroad or the frequency of medical checkups and vacations abroad.
Each man lives for himself. There are so few programs to help the poor, the unfed and the homeless. Our collective attitude to poverty is an open sore.
We are deeply religious, but our religion lacks charity and empathy. How can the rich feel safe with so many poor souls watching?
A Yoruba adage states that one rich among many poor is a company of poor people. We are all poor when 40 per cent of us are struggling.
One cannot blame successful Nigerian citizens who have worked hard for their money for the problems in the society, although they could be doing more to lift people up.
The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of policy and decision makers – the clueless, the visionless and the dumb who have ended up in power.
These leaders have the morons to thank – those who have turned their votes into a merchandise, selling their future to corrupt politicians.
The character of those we entrust with power accurately reflects the character of the choice makers.
In the end, there is enough blame to go around; and blames will not solve any problem, will it?
Everyone must be concerned that too many of us live in extreme lack.
There must be new partnerships among the public and private sectors. Together, we can fight the disgraceful poverty rate in our society.
It is a daunting challenge, but it can only be tackled with hope.
If care is not taken, a time comes when the poor will eat the rich as suya.