By Sani Adamu
As Nigeria celebrates 15 years of democracy on May 29, analysts insist that one of the major problems bedeviling the country is how to effectively address the increasing level of poverty among the citizenry.
They note that the poverty level still elicits a lot of concern in spite of the appreciable growth of Nigeria’s economy, following the recent rebasing of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
According to the recent data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the size of the Nigerian economy has grown by 89 per cent to N80.3 trillion (about 509.9 billion U.S. dollars).
This ranks Nigeria as the 26th largest economy in the world and the largest economy in Africa.
Perceptive observers, nonetheless, insist that the growth of the nation’s economy is not having any positive impact on the living standards of the majority of the citizens.
Their cynicism is quite understandable, as a recent World Bank’s global poverty rating placed Nigeria among the five poorest countries in the world.
The report revealed that most Nigerians lived on less than one U.S. dollar (about N157.6) per day.
Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank President, while releasing the report at the April 4 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in New York, emphasised that Nigeria had one of the largest concentration of poor people.
He said that Nigeria ranked third among the poorest countries in the world, while India ranked number one with 33 per cent of the world poor.
According to him, China is ranked second with 13 per cent of the world’s poor, followed by Nigeria where seven per cent of the world poor live in.
Corroborating the statistics, the United Nations (UN) also claimed that the poverty rate in Nigeria had gone up from 46 per cent to 76 per cent over the last 13 years.
However, President Goodluck Jonathan swiftly rejected the rating, insisting that Nigeria was not a poor country.
“The challenge of the country is not poverty, but redistribution of wealth,” Jonathan said, while addressing labour leaders at the 2014 May Day rally in Abuja.
For him, the realities on ground did not portray Nigeria as a poor nation but as a country with abundant wealth that needed to be evenly redistributed among its populace.
“Nigeria is not a poor country. Nigerians are the most travelled people in the world; there is no country in the world you go to that you will not see Nigerians there.
“The GDP of Nigeria is over half a trillion dollars and the economy is growing at a rate close to 7 per cent,” he added.
Besides, Jonathan cited the recent classification of Alhaji Aliko Dangote as one of the 25 richest people in the world as another pointer to Nigeria’s affluence.
He also recalled that the number of private jets owned by Nigerians, which landed in Nairobi during his recent state visit to Kenya, was a subject of discussion in the Kenyan media for over a week.
“If you talk about ownership of private jets, Nigeria will be among the first 10 countries in the world. Yet, they are saying that Nigeria is among the five poorest countries.
“The World Bank statistics show that Nigeria is among the five poorest countries but our problem is not poverty; our problem is redistribution of wealth.
“Probably, wealth is concentrated in very a few hands and a number of people do not have access to it.
“That is why my administration is committed to ensuring the creation of wealth, in terms of financial inclusiveness, and we are working very hard to achieve this,’’ he added.
As part of efforts to address the poverty challenge, Jonathan said that the Federal Government introduced the Electronic Wallet System for farmers in rural areas to enable them to have access to funds via affordable bank facilities.
Equally, he said that the government was also transforming agriculture from just a rural development programme into a major wealth-creation and business programme.
The president said that his administration had initiated proactive measures and policies to improve and stabilise power supply in the country in order to enable small and medium-scale enterprises to thrive.
He said that the key component of the government’s commitment was aimed at ensuring that many Nigerians had access to finance so that they would be able to create wealth for themselves.
Jonathan noted that in spite of the Federal Government’s explanations regarding Nigeria’s economic standing, the World Bank did not find the clarification convincing, adding that this resulted in its decision to downgrade the country’s economy to “BB-minus’’.
He said that the justification given for the “BB-minus’’ rating of the Nigerian economy was based on the forthcoming elections, which brought about in-fighting among politicians and its attendant effect on the economy.
All the same, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said that 732,745 jobs were created in the formal and informal sectors of the economy in the last three quarters of 2013.
Dr Yemi Kale, the Statistician-General of the Federation, relayed the information at a recent news conference in Abuja.
He said that the survey indicated that the economy generated 221,054 jobs in the second quarter of last year, while 245,989 jobs and 265,702 jobs were created in the third quarter and fourth quarter respectively. 2013.
He said that a breakdown of jobs created in the second quarter indicated that 80,412 jobs were created in the formal sector, 112,567 jobs were created in the informal sector, while 28,075 jobs were created in the public sector.
“The formal sector contributed 76,385 jobs to the total jobs generated in the third quarter of 2013, while the informal and public sectors generated 140,673 and 28,931 jobs respectively.
“In fourth quarter of 2013, of the total of 265,702 jobs, the formal sector contributed 101,597 jobs, while the informal and public sectors created 143,278 and 20,827 jobs respectively,’’ he said.
Kale emphasised that the informal sector continued to lead in the creation of new employment in the economy.
“In the three quarters covered, the informal sector contributed over 54 per cent of total employment, making it the highest employer of labour in the economy.
“Under the formal sector, it was observed that of the 80,412 new jobs, 45,409 jobs, representing 56.47 per cent, were taken up by males, while 35,003 jobs, representing 43.53 per cent, were taken up by females in the second quarter of 2013,’’ he said.
The statistician-general said that the education sector recorded 37,578 new employees — the highest number of new employees — followed by the manufacturing sector with 9,000 new employees.
He said that the lowest number of 85 new employees was recorded in the administrative and support services sector.
Kale stressed that the education and manufacturing sectors had the highest number of jobs that were created in the formal sector in the third quarter of 2013.
“Education sector generated 29,777 new employment, while manufacturing sector generated 13,946 new jobs
“The manufacturing sector that reported the lowest number of jobs created in the third quarter of 2013 was administrative and support services with 30 jobs.
“A similar trend was also recorded in the fourth quarter of 2013, with education and manufacturing sectors contributing 76,874 and 12,337 new jobs respectively,’’ he said.
Kale said that the primary purpose of the survey was to gauge employment growth, unemployment and under-employment so as to enable the country’s policymakers and other stakeholders to proffer solutions to the perceptible problems.
However, three years down the line, the Jonathan-administration has been able to launch a special youth empowerment programme which was christened “Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria’’.
The programme, code-named YouWin, is part of the Federal Government’s strategies aimed at addressing the grave unemployment situation in the country.
YouWin programme, which is financed by a N50-billion job-creation fund, is an innovative business-plan competition which harnesses the creative potential of young people between the ages of 18 and 35 years.
Under the programme, more than 3,600 youths would be financially empowered to enable them to actualise their entrepreneurial ideas and plans.
It is projected that the empowered youths will, in turn, create between 80,000 and 110,000 sustainable jobs over the next four years.
Nevertheless, observers attribute the failure to tackle the poverty challenge facing the country squarely to massive corruption which has permeated every aspect of national life.
This, perhaps, justifies the call by Mr Ate Kundu, Taraba State’s Commissioner for Information, for the introduction of death sentence for corruption, as proposed by some delegates at the ongoing National Conference.
Kundu said that the introduction capital punishment for corruption would particularly serve as deterrent to corrupt public officials.
“I am strongly in support of the views of some delegates at the national confab who proposed death sentence for corrupt government officials.
“This is because corruption is a cankerworm that has destroyed our institutions. Therefore, anyone found to be involved in corruption should be hanged, even if it is me,’’ he told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Jalingo.
Kundu said that countries like China had succeeded in discouraging people from engaging in corrupt practices due to the capital punishment provision in their laws.
He reiterated that the death sentence was the only viable option for tackling corruption in Nigeria, adding that any delay in adopting the proposal would spell doom for the country’s economy.
Kundu also called for the amendment of the immunity clause in the constitution.
“In the interest of democracy and the rule of law, I think the immunity clause should be removed.
“Although, some people argue that the absence of immunity will cause distraction in the assignment of some senior government officials, including state chief executives, such measure will definitely put everybody in check.
“The truth is that once you have sworn to pilot the affairs of the people, you must be ready to face criticisms and live above board,” he stressed.
All the same, observers insist that although the 2014 Democracy Day is worth celebrating, a lot still needs to be done to make life more meaningful for all Nigerians through the implementation of pragmatic poverty alleviation schemes.
They add that concerted efforts should be made to facilitate the attainment of the poverty reduction targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Nigeria so as to make the celebration of Democracy Day more worthwhile.