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Published On: Wed, Feb 7th, 2018

The hydra called poverty

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The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that 80 percent of Nigerians are “unacceptably” poor. According to the bank, 152 million out of Nigeria’s approximately 190 million population live on less than $2 (600 naira) a day. This level of poverty it says, is “unacceptably high”.

The AfDB verdict is based on its Nigerian Economic Outlook 2018, part of a larger report, African Economic Outlook 2018. It is an annual report. On Nigeria, it says the country “still faces significant challenges, including foreign exchange shortages, disruptions in fuel supply, power shortages and insecurity in some parts of the country. Revenue mobilisation efforts are insufficient; at five per cent, Value Added Tax rates are among the lowest in the world, and revenue administration is inefficient.”

The bank notes that though government spending has remained high, 10-13 percent between 2014 and 2017, not many citizens have been lifted above the poverty level. It says, “At 14 per cent, unemployment remained high in 2017, the same as in 2016, and is expected to decline only slightly in 2018, to 13.5 per cent, as recovery eases production constraints in manufacturing and agriculture.”

Dare we say that the president of AfDB, Dr. Adesina Adewunmi, is a Nigerian. Before heading to the bank in 2015, he was Nigeria’s agriculture minister. This makes him eminently qualified to comment on the state of the Nigerian economy. That said, however, we are disappointed that the bank held back from making a statement on the socio-political implications of this poverty hydra, one that is self inflicted

First, let us look at the social consequences of this mass poverty. It has created a widening pool of jobless youth. It is ready army for criminal or terror groups like Boko Haram, Niger Delta Avengers and the proscribed IPOB in the southeast. The Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, now in its 10th year, has lasted this long in spite of losing hundreds of fighters, because there is a reserve force spawned by mass poverty to draw on.

Some of these young men and women not attracted to the terror trenches are wooed by sex trade merchants with job prospects in Europe. However, many die crossing the Sahara desert and the Medittrranean sea, without reaching their destinations. Still, there are those that have taken to kidnapping, armed banditry and other crimes, to earn a living. We cannot deny the jobless do not have a hand in the herdsmen/farmers violence all over the country.

The political consequence of mass poverty is not immediately obvious. But it won’t be long before it rears its own head. National elections are just a year ahead. Given that thuggery is second nature to elections in this country, an army of unemployed able-bodied youth is a real danger to national security.

This tragedy that stares us in the face is, lamentably, self inflicted. It is a result of several years of wanton plunder of the common wealth by persons in political high places.Even the so called recession that the country entered in 2016/2017 was the fallout of official corruption. We are glad the AfDB has confirmed what our leaders have been telling us: we are technically out of recession.

However, exiting recession will not automatically translate to a better life for the poor majority. This will require a mindset change on the part of leaders – to begin to see public office as an opportunity to offer service, not steal from the public till. Plunder reduces the size of the proverbial national cake, thereby denying millions access to it. If it doesn’t stop, not even the best job creation programmes can grow the cake.

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