Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper

Certainly, Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo made an appropriate call at the African Union Summit in Rwanda by tasking Nigeria and other African nations to rise up to the urgent need of addressing the scourge of poverty and hunger.

The Vice President, who chairs Nigeria’s economic management team, appears to understand that charity begins at home by noting that 110 million Nigerians, implying that six out of 10 Nigerians live in poverty. This overall poverty figure hides disparity in rural-urban, regional and gender variations, where poverty rates are much higher. It has been widely reported that malnutrition claims 2,300 children and 145 women daily, with malnutrition accounting for over half of under-five mortality. Two-thirds of the rural population do not have access to electricity, and only a third have access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Behind the poverty and hunger data, inequality remains high and rising. The Gini-coefficient, which measures inequality disparity places Nigeria at nearly 50, where 0 implies no disparity, while 100 represents maximum disparity and perfect inequality. Further, it has been estimated that merely 15,000 Nigerians, definitely less than 0.1 per cent of the population control a third of the nation’s wealth. So, we appear to have one country, two economies: one for the few in the elite class, and the other for the people.

In its 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Tracking Report, the National Bureau of Statistics has noted some progress in respect to some of the MDGs indicators, but the broad picture of 21 indicators cutting across the poverty, hunger, education, health and environment goals suggests that Nigeria did not meet most of the MDGs by 2015. In view of the prevailing economic downturn with rising prices of fuel, foreign exchange, and electricity, the country would also struggle to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially the first and second priorities of no poverty and zero hunger.
Behind these appalling poverty and hunger data are human faces. The sociological consequences of social deprivation, insecurity, criminality, kidnapping, street urchins and beggars abound across the country. We are indeed in a state of war requiring a state of emergency to be declared against extreme poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and inequality.

Nigeria is a well-endowed country in terms of its people and population size, rich natural wealth and resources, and arable land. Yet, there is poverty in the midst of plenty. The oil boom of several decades has been wasted. Economic growth rates of 6-7% of the past 10 years have not translated to reduction in poverty, which is in contrast to the classic case of China, where sustained high economic growth rates lifted millions of people out of poverty within three decades.

Nigeria’s growth rates have not been broad-based to inspire shared prosperity. It has been a job-less growth leading to rising unemployment and underemployment rates, especially among the youth. Growth has been concentrated in trading and services sector with low employment elasticities absorbing mostly the working poor, while sustainable growth rates of the productive sectors of agriculture, manufacturing and mining have been lacking, leading to de-industrialisation and the farm to factory movement being by-passed for street trading in urban centres.

As China and other emerging market economies in Asia have demonstrated, poverty reduction still requires sustained and broad-based economic growth. With the backdrop of low oil prices, foreign exchange scarcity, and the IMF projecting a negative growth rate of -1.8% for 2016, the economic management team has its work cut out for it. Reforming the power sector, investing in efficiency-enhancing infrastructure, enhancing agricultural and manufacturing productivity through structural reforms and providing incentives for private sector businesses especially small and medium enterprises remain crucial to having diversified economic growth, job creation, and lifting millions of Nigerians out of poverty.
Poverty has been driven not only by unequal economic growth. Other drivers of rising poverty and hunger are inequality in assets and incomes, unequal access to basic infrastructure and markets. Escaping poverty is, therefore, about investing in people to ensure that the poor connect to networks of capital, assets, land, power, and transportation modes that would enable them participate and share in the fruits and gains of economic growth and prosperity. Re-orientation of Nigeria’s education and health systems as well as the cultural values, would help majority of people especially those rural areas enhance their human capital.

At the root of the scourge of poverty, hunger, and inequality is governance. To promote social inclusion and safety nets, government at all levels would need not only to increase social welfare programmes but also to improve the quality and efficiency of social services delivery. This objective cannot be effectively attained without addressing the quality of participatory democracy, leadership, and institutional governance.

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