Last Wednesday, October 17, was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The day came and passed but the Nigerian government didn’t take any notice. The day is officially recognised by the United Nations and nations set this day aside to discuss ways to eradicate poverty. That’s what happened across the world on Wednesday.
It is quite telling that the Nigerian president and his handlers didn’t even mark the day. And that is for a country that has 110 million of its 167 million citizens living below $1 a day. That, precisely, shows how seriously Nigerian leaders take their people. This is further proved by the 2013 budget estimates just submitted to the National Assembly in which agriculture, which employs the vast majority of the people, received only 1 per cent of the budgetary allocations. Governance in Nigeria is not about the people.
It is extreme poverty that has compromised the security situation of the nation. It is what breeds the Niger Delta militancy, the Boko Haram insurgency and, substantially, the criminality that stalks the land. And this extreme poverty is engendered by the extreme corrupt practices of those who govern the country. It is this extreme corruption that will make it possible for N2.6 trillion of the about N4.5 trillion budget of last year to be stolen in the name of fuel subsidy payments. If we add the deficit, then, the actual budget of last year was less than N4.5 trillion. And it is from this that N2.6 trillion was stolen. That means that nearly three-quarters of the budgetary allocation was stolen last year. There is nowhere in the world that such brigandage would happen and the government would still be in power.
Imagine what would have happened if N1 trillion of the stolen N2.6 trillion had been ploughed back into agriculture in the six geopolitical zones of the country. To give an idea: the total investment of the four GSM companies since GSM came into Nigeria is just a little over N1 trillion, and we all know the level of activity and employment that the GSM revolution has generated in the past 11 years. And imagine that the balance were put into the implementation of policies that would create millions of small businesses that are the engine of job creation. An average small business creates between two and five new jobs. So imagine that five million small businesses were created. That could potentially mean the creation of up to 25 million new jobs. This is how it is done in serious countries and it could be even more successful in Nigeria where the average Nigerian, including the barely educated, is at heart an entrepreneur.
Free enterprise is the basic engine of prosperity, but, as has been established by such leaders as Deng Xioping of China, who was basically the harbinger of China’s economic superpower status, government has to invest in the big things that private companies cannot do, apart from adopting the right policies. That is also what is responsible for the economic success of South Korea, Thailand, Israel, Malaysia, Brazil, Singapore and a host of other countries that have successfully created jobs for their citizens.
In the United States today, the internet has created a boom in its economy, but it was the government that did the initial hard work and the very heavy investments to create the internet in the first place that made it possible for entrepreneurs to create Google, Yahoo, Ebay and Facebook and a host of others. So even in free enterprise economies, government is necessary to do the very big things. And serious governments all over the world busy themselves with how to make life easier for their people through policies and interventions that create jobs and eradicate poverty. But not the Nigerian government, apparently.
The Nigerian government could start encouraging internal job creation by patronising the few industries and service providers that are now barely surviving. If all government officials, including the nation’s legislators, used only Peugeot and other cars assembled in Nigeria as their official vehicles, for instance, PAN in Kaduna would pick up and other car manufacturers would open plants in Nigeria to create jobs. It is the reason that Toyota, Mercedes and BMW all have plants in South Africa, even though South Africa has a population of 50 million and Nigeria has 170 million. If there is a market, investors will overcome other problems. Ask MTN how it is doing it. If all government hospitals bought only medicines made in Nigeria, the pharmaceutical industry in the country would rise again as it did during the PTF days – at the time, the pharmaceutical industry operated at nearly 80 per cent capacity for precisely this reason. If the federal government invested heavily in mass housing as the military did in their days, several jobs would be created. The Abacha government showed that was possible with the Gwarinpa Estate which was adjudged as the biggest housing project in Africa. These are the little things that add up to make a huge difference. But, the last time I checked, President Jonathan had abandoned Nigerian rice farmers and had asked Malawian farmers to start exporting their rice to Nigeria.
Our problems are even much bigger. Since 1999 when Obasanjo and the PDP came to power, the price of oil has risen to unprecedented levels. Because of this high price, all oil-producing countries have experienced prosperity. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have built new cities as a result. The people of Russia have experienced corresponding prosperity, Angola has surged, and even the people of the very corrupt Equitorial Guinea saw a difference. Poverty in all oil-producing countries reduced as a result -except in Nigeria where the number of those living on less than $1 a day increased from less than 80 million in 1998 to the current more than 110 million. This spike in poverty level has happened at a time oil prices moved from less than $20 per barrel during the military era to when it got to as high as $147 per barrel. It is only corruption that can explain this paradox.
In eradicating poverty, countries leverage on their strengths. Nigeria has a large population of nearly 170 million with an internet penetration of nearly 50 million users, with 105 million mobile phone users, with large arable land, mineral resources in virtually every state of the federation, with potential for oil in all the six geopolitical zones of the nation. Nigeria has no reason to have 110 million people living below the poverty line.
Are We Planning For The Aftermath Of The Floods?
Nigeria is usually not prone to natural disasters but the recent floods across the country could spell real catastrophe next year. Most farms have been washed away; and, if the government does not start planning from now how to tackle the food crisis already staring us in the face, the overall national security problem that may ensue next year, if you add that to the current extreme poverty in the land, could be too hot to handle. Already, all the silos in the country are empty as they have not been replenished; so there will be no reserves to fall back on.
If the government does not work out a fallback position quickly, there will be real trouble ahead. Rural dwellers who produce most of the food for the country are themselves now seeking refuge in the cities where they have gone begging for food and shelter. A responsible government should be busy on finding a solution to this problem by now.