Issues around poverty, hunger and inequality have been challenges that have continued to defy global solutions. While it has been noted that extreme poverty has steadily reduced since 2015, with an estimated 83 million people lifted out of extreme poverty since 2016, this has not been the case in Africa where extreme poverty numbers continue to be on the increase, with two thirds of the world’s extreme poor living in that region. In 2018, Nigeria overtook India to become the poverty capital of the world. With the Covid 19 pandemic and the Russia Ukraine war, the situation that has disrupted global food supply chains, the number of the poor has been on the increase. As of 2019, it was estimated that 6 people move into extreme poverty every minute in Nigeria but these numbers will likely be more since then.
Nigeria’s poverty numbers continue to increase and the government is struggling to manage the impending crisis. Prices of foodstuff continue to increase with current National Bureau of Statistics August figures showing a 23% year on year increase in food prices. Given that wages have largely remained unchanged, this has increased food insecurity and pushed more people below the poverty line. The government agency in charge of reducing poverty, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management is too focused on the distribution of food and emergency services to the needy and its cash transfer programme and these have seen to have little impact on the overall reduction of poverty numbers. While the government might have been sincere when in 2019 it declared its desire to move 100 million people out of poverty over the next ten years, there is no indication of how successful it has been in achieving this goal.
The question becomes, what are the options for reducing the number of the poor in this country? There must be an adoption of a multifaceted approach to addressing the issues around poverty reduction. This is because, access to health care, education and food security are all components of poverty that must be tackled. The issue of food security becomes more concerning as the price of foodstuff increases with most families now facing huge challenges on how to access nutritious and cheap food. The government’s strategic grains programme seems to be non-existent with little being done to increase supply through the release of grains so as to check the continued increase in food prices. Food imports which was $5.5 billion between January and June 2021, continue to increase and with the rapid depreciation of the Naira against major international currencies (from N500 to N700 to the Dollar between July and September 2022) food prices show no sign of reducing.
My main concern is on the rate of population growth with the country’s population outpacing the rate of growth of the economy. As long as our population growth rate exceeds the rate of growth of the economy, government will continue to play catch up in the provision of social services. At the current growth rate, we are expected to reach a population of 400 million by 2050 which is alarming. But managing our population growth rate is fraught with cultural and religious minefields. General Ibrahim Babangida’s government introduced a 4-child policy to tackle this issue but birth control is still seen as an anathema by most cultures in the country so any conversation around birth control is met with stiff resistance. We must thus change the narrative and this will require a reengineering of the mindset of Nigerians.
As noted, population growth impacts on government’s ability to provide social services such as health and education. In the health sector the situation is becoming dire with the outflow of health professionals. The recommended number of doctors to patients by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is 1:600 but in Nigeria, the number is 1:5000 and this is getting worse with the exodus of doctors from the country due to the poor working conditions and economic situation in the country. This must be seen as a national emergency and the National Security Adviser has said as much and this must be tackled head on.
The effect of the population growth is further manifested in the large number of out of school children which further exacerbates the poverty situation in the country. As of 2019, the number of out of school children has been hovering over the 10 million mark. Attempts by all the levels of government have yielded little or no success and with poor revenue flows, the governments have been unable to increase number of schools that are required to accommodate these children. But that is not the only issue as the families of many these children in the northern part of the country are also not keen to send their children to western based schools. Our education professionals must begin to think of alternative ways of addressing this issue.
Government must begin to think of new radical approaches that encompass improving access to health and education, checking increasing food prices and most importantly managing our population growth rate. This is the only way we can counter the increasing poverty levels. While its National Development Policy (2021-2025) has been launched there is no indication on the implementation timeline and also if there will be adequate funds to effectively implement its lofty goals to remove the country as the poverty capital of the world.