In this report, GODFREY GEORGE examines Nigeria’s rising poverty despite various poverty-alleviation programmes launched by successive administrations since return to democratic rule in 1999
In November 2020, a report by the World Poverty Clock rated Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. According to that report, Nigeria had overtaken India, which according to United Nations data, had a population of 1.3 billion people – more than six times the population of Nigeria.
According to Endpoverty.org, nearly 90 million out of about 200 million people in Nigeria are living in extreme poverty. Worldpoverty.org puts the figure at over 86 million people, which is approximately 41 per cent of Nigeria’s population.
The World Bank defines “the extremely poor” as those living on less than $1.90 a day (N782.50).
Meanwhile, since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, each of the four successive civilian administrations had rolled out different poverty alleviation programmes. The irony, however, is that rather than decrease, the level of poverty in Nigeria seems to be worsening.
The Obasanjo era
In 1999, during the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, the World Bank released a report, indicating that Nigeria’s Human Development Index was only 0.416 and that 70 per cent of the population was living below the poverty line.
The government then set up three presidential panels to review the existing poverty alleviation schemes with a view to harmonising them and improving on them. The findings and recommendations of the panels were combined with the National Poverty Alleviation Programme in 2001.
Interestingly, the scheme had a robust plan, ranging from employment for the youths to wealth generation, improved infrastructure and provision of social welfare services, among others.
In the end, Obasanjo established the National Poverty Eradication Council, chaired by himself, with an Assessment and Evaluation Committee headed by then Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, to be funded by a Poverty Eradication Fund, state and local governments, the private sector, special deductions from the Consolidated Revenue Fund as well as contributions from donors.
Despite allocating N6bn as a take-off grant, specifically to establish poverty eradication projects in the states, Federal Capital Territory and the 774 local governments, not much happened thereafter. Not even the other poverty eradication schemes undertaken and funded by different ministries, which were allowed to continue, made much difference. Criticisms by analysts against the duplication hardly changed the situation.
After that, there were others. In 2002, the administration launched what it termed Special Programme on Food Security in the 36 states, and in 2003, there was Root and Tuber Expansion Programme, which was launched in 26 states, both designed to address rural poverty.
Before the end of the administration in 2007, other initiatives came up but poverty remained. According to the World Data Atlas, the poverty rate in Nigeria was about 56.4 per cent.
The Yar’Adua era
When the late President Umaru Yar’Adua assumed office in 2007, some of his seven-point agenda were even geared towards addressing poverty, if well implemented. The Economic Commission for Africa, Progress Report had observed in 2005 that there was an urgent need to address poverty around the world.
In October 2008, Yar’Adua said he remained committed to eradicating ‘any form of poverty and other related effects in Nigeria.’ Sadly, he died on May 6, 2010. Despite how laudable analysts found his programmes for the country, the harmonised Nigerian Living Standard Survey in 2010 indicated that 62.6 per cent of Nigerians lived in absolute poverty.
The Jonathan era
When his successor, former President Goodluck Jonathan, completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and got re-elected in 2011, he had his transformation agenda, being a roadmap between 2011 and 2015, to address the challenges facing the country.
In 2012, following the removal of subsidy on petrol, Jonathan’s administration came up with the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, popularly known as SURE-P, to address critical infrastructure projects and social safety net programmes with direct impact on the citizens of Nigeria.’
But by 2013, poverty in the country had become so serious that about 70 per cent of the population were said to be living below the poverty line.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission would later arraign some government officials for the alleged looting of SURE-P funds.
For instance, the anti-graft agency arraigned then Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, Clement Onubuogo, for allegedly diverting N664m from the funds voted to the SURE-P scheme by the Jonathan government.
The EFCC also separately arraigned a former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, and two of his former aides for alleged of N9.79bn from the SURE-P scheme.
In May 2013, the World Bank noted in its Economic Report that poverty rate remained high in Nigeria, particularly in rural areas, in spite of SURE-P and previous poverty alleviation schemes.
The report added, “These rates declined between 2003 and 2004 and 2009 to 2010, although not nearly as fast as would be expected from the pace of economic growth in the country. While the officially reported growth rates of GDP well exceed population growth in the country, the pace of poverty reduction does not. This implies that the number of poor Nigerians living below the poverty line has grown measurably.”
The report noted further that unemployment rate had been on a steady increase while progress made by Nigeria in the Millennium Development Goals remained disappointing.
Meanwhile, when Jonathan left office in 2015, the poverty rate was said to be about 39.1 per cent.
The Buhari era
Since it assumed power in 2015, the present administration led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) has also come up with many social welfare intervention programmes.
The National Social Investment Programme was created in 2015 under the direction of the National Social Investment Office, with the aim of ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women.
The office then created four programmes to address poverty and help increase economic development. One of them was N-Power, designed to provide young Nigerians with job training and education as well as N30,000 monthly stipend.
There is also the Conditional Cash Transfer programme which directly supports the ‘most vulnerable’ by providing ‘no-strings-attached’ cash to those in the lowest income group, helping to ‘reduce poverty, improve nutrition and self-sustainability, and supporting development through increased consumption.’
There is also the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme which is a micro-lending investment programme targeting entrepreneurs with a focus on young people and women. It provides cost-free loans to beneficiaries, helping to reduce business start-up costs.
TraderMoni, an arm of GEEP, was designed to provide small loans without collateral to small-scale traders or artisans that may not be able to access loans or credit through banks and traditional financial institutions. The two other arms of the GEEP were MarketMoni and FarmerMoni, targeted at market women and farmers, respectively. These were to improve the traders’ standards of living by expanding their businesses.
The TraderMoni scheme was designed to enable self-employed individuals who lack collateral access loans with ease, thereby reducing their vulnerability to risks. For TraderMoni, the amount given ranges from N10,000 to N300,000, whereby the beneficiary, on repayment of the first N10,000, qualifies for a higher loan amount till it gets to the N300,000.
Finally, under this office is the Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, geared towards increasing school enrollment by providing meals to schoolchildren, particularly those in poor and food-insecure regions. The programme works with local farmers and empowers women as cooks, building the community and sustaining economic growth from farm to table.
It is noteworthy that in 2018, the poverty rate in Nigeria was 39.1 per cent.
Following the economic hardship brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration commenced the payment of N5,000 monthly stipends, targeted at supporting one million of the most vulnerable and poorest Nigerians under social investment scheme. As of March 2021, the sum was said to have increased to N20,000.
According to data from the World Poverty Clock, a Web tool produced by World Data Lab, the number of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria rose from 86.9 million in 2018 to 93.7 million in 2019.
The Federal Government claimed that an estimated 5.4 million Nigerians were benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer programme. An infograph published on the Twitter handle of the National Social Safety Nets Coordinating Office @NasscoNigeria before the ban of the microblogging site in June showed that the CCT beneficiaries emerged from 1,080,240 households in 35,490 communities across 395 local government areas in 32 states.
Clearly, there have been many programmes geared towards poverty eradication and economic development, funded with billions of naira, yet Nigeria has yet to win the battle against poverty and many Nigerians remain poor.
In June, 2021, the President inaugurated the National Steering Committee of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy chaired by the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo. This, Buhari said, re-echoed his commitment to lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, with a well-researched framework for implementation and funding.
During the first meeting of the committee in July in Abuja, Osinbajo said the Federal Government would use a ‘common-sense strategy’ to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
Meanwhile, in June, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group said in a report that many Nigerians were expected to fall into the poverty trap amid rising unemployment in the country.
In same June, the World Bank said rising prices pushed about seven million Nigerians below the poverty line in 2020.
Checks on worldpoverty.io on August 25, 2021 at around 03:05am showed that over 73 million Nigerians in rural areas are living in extreme poverty. The figure of the urban areas was over 13 million people. Totally, over 86.8 million Nigerians, which accounts for about 41 per cent of total population, was living in extreme poverty.
Interestingly however, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Farouq, recently said the Federal Government had spent over $5bn since 2016 to fight poverty in the country. She explained that since 2016, the President had backed his pledge to pull 100 million Nigerians out of poverty by committing $1bn through the NSIP to reduce poverty and inequality.
As poverty level in the country keeps increasing despite Federal Government’s announcements of pumping multibillion naira into addressing the problem, many Nigerians have been left with doubts and questions.
Last week, an anti-corruption advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, sued the Federal Government, demanding the list of beneficiaries of 24.3 million Nigerians who are to benefit from N729bn being rolled out by the Federal Government.
In the suit filed before the Federal High Court in Lagos, SERAP wants the court “to compel the Federal Government to disclose details of proposed payments of N729bn to 24.3 million poor Nigerians, including the mechanisms and logistics for the payments, list of beneficiaries, and how they have been selected, and whether the payments will be made in cash or through Bank Verification Numbers or other means.”
Nigeria’s poverty multi-dimensional – Experts
A professor of Public Policy and Industrial Relations in the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja, Prof Isaac Obasi, feared that poverty rate might continue to rise in Nigeria, while describing Nigeria’s poverty as ‘deep-rooted and multi-dimensional in nature’.
“It will therefore require the implementation of fundamentally-rooted multi-dimensional programmes to attack its root,” he said.
“It is true that there are many poverty alleviation programmes and schemes, but the truth also is that they are not deep-rooted and life-changing in nature because of a combination of illiteracy, poor education and lack of good jobs for those who are educated.”
The don also stated that some of the schemes were more like palliatives rather than real poverty alleviation programmes.
He added, “Above all, their socio-economic transformative capacity or power is very low because they are simply drops in an ocean of poverty. Compounding all these is the rising rate of unemployment among the uneducated, poorly educated and well-educated. Based on these, it is simple logic that the poverty rate would continue to rise.
“You can only lift people out of poverty through a multi-dimensional approach. There is a need for a paradigm shift with regards to the government’s idea – perception and definition – of what constitutes sustainable employment or life-changing employment. It is such employment that lifts people out of poverty, not the short-term employment programmes.”
Also, a professor of Economics at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Prof Asiegbu Baldwin, said the poverty alleviation programmes could achieve their objectives if properly monitored and directed towards real output growth.
He added, “Our real output is low. There is a need to create conditions for increase in our productivity and more foreign investment for real output growth. But this requires a secured environment for foreign investors. We also need a lower inflation rate by producing more than we consume. Create jobs in agriculture, manufacturing, etc for real output production.
“The increased economic growth should be directed towards economic development and not be left in the hands of a few individuals.”
Another professor, Maishanu Malami, of the Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, described the programmes as only temporary and cosmetic.
He stated, “On a temporary basis, they do help, temporarily, but on a sustainable basis, no. I don’t think those things can take people out of poverty, because poverty is not something that you can miraculously change its direction overnight. It is based on a consistent framework which is being done from the grass roots.
“All these things that the government has done over the years are mostly cosmetic, just to tell the public that they are committed to alleviating poverty, but to a large extent, the poverty issue is probably going to remain with us for a very long period of time if nothing is done quickly.
“One would expect that if the government is truly interested in alleviating poverty, they should institute some frameworks, by tackling some of the major problems that contribute to poverty.”
He said with stable electricity and low exchange rate many Nigerians could creatively pull themselves out of poverty.
To professor of Economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Felix Onah, the question to ask is if Nigerians feel safe enough to come out to fend for themselves. He therefore urged the Federal Government to secure the lives of citizens.
He added, “Are Nigerians secure enough to come out of their houses in the morning to fend for themselves, before we talk about poverty reduction? You cannot reduce poverty when you cannot come out to look for your means of livelihood. So, first of all, let the Federal Government make the country safe so people can go out and fend for themselves.”