Poverty has a foothold in Nigeria, and the solutions are not being discussed in this election cycle
By Stanley Achonu
The 2023 elections loom, with politicians making campaign promises that offer hope. Yet, poverty – probably the biggest threat to Nigerians today – has gone unaddressed.
In October, the World Bank released its “Poverty and Shared Prosperity” report outlining progress in the global fight against extreme poverty. According to the report, the world is unlikely to meet the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, with COVID-19 as a major factor in upending progress made in recent years. The total number of people living in extreme poverty has risen to 719 million globally, with 71 million people added in 2020 alone.
The world is unlikely to meet the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030
The COVID-19 crisis and the effects of the war in Ukraine may have pushed over five million more Nigerians into poverty since 2020, according to the World Bank. The poverty map by the National Bureau of Statistics further reveals that while four in ten Nigerians experience monetary deprivation, six in every ten Nigerians (or 133 million Nigerians) are multidimensionally poor due to a lack of access to basic amenities. This staggering number is fueling insecurity and stealing our future.
This election presents fresh opportunities to address the poverty crisis. Nigerians should not be lulled into complacency by campaign promises devoid of practical solutions. Instead, voters must ask all candidates: how do we lift Nigerians out of poverty over the next decade?
This election presents fresh opportunities to address the poverty crisis
The good news is that Nigeria can learn from countries that have successfully reduced widespread poverty.
In the 1980s, Vietnam was one of the poorest countries in the world, with a 75 percent poverty rate, stagnant economic growth, hunger, and mass migration. However, in over 30 years, Vietnam’s economy grew, with GDP per capita rising from $481 in 1986 to $2,655 in 2020, and the poverty rate falling to around 5%.
Turning the Vietnamese economy around was a deliberate action based on a well-thought-out sequence of policies. Vietnam struck the first chord of development by ensuring food security and producing enough for export. Next, it provided a strong basis to develop labour-intensive manufacturing and brought more rural poor and young people into the country’s workforce. This caused the GDP to grow at an average rate of 7 percent per annum for about 30 years. With its burgeoning young population, Nigeria can take a cue by opening up sectors that can provide millions of decent jobs.
What about India, where similarities exist in the complexities of culture and population size? Unlike Nigeria, which largely depends on oil exports, India prioritizes ideas and innovation, exporting more than
5,000 different products through Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises. MSMEs contributed over 44% of India’s total export in 2020, and large-scale industries rely on their ancillary services to ensure continued survival.
Another critical component of India’s success is its approach to healthcare. Government-funded health insurance saves lives and keeps people from falling into poverty due to expensive out-of-pocket health spending. In Nigeria, if poor households are covered by government-funded health insurance, Nigerians can focus on improving productivity rather than worrying about out-of-pocket health spending.
And then, there is China, which has lifted 850 million people out of poverty in the last four decades. China created millions of jobs using its large pool of educated and low-wage workers to attract foreign investment in factories. China improved the growth rate of farmers’ income in poorer areas more than the national average to stimulate food security. It also made essential public services available in rural areas to reduce the rural-urban exodus of young people.
A common thread across these countries is a shared commitment at all levels of government and society to combat extreme poverty. Such effective political will and leadership are required to turn the poverty index around in Nigeria. Several past poverty alleviation programs failed because of this lack of shared political commitment and vision at all levels.
Ultimately, Nigeria will have to chart its path, experimenting and learning along the way. The country has the required workforce to build a prosperous nation but needs more investment and leadership coordination to harness its potential. Our political candidates must outline clear, ambitious, and coordinated plans to end extreme poverty and create decent opportunities for the masses.
Extreme poverty is surmountable if there is intentionality about policies
As candidates campaign ahead of the general election, they must prioritize discussing their plans and ideas to lift Nigerians out of poverty. Extreme poverty is surmountable if there is intentionality about policies and promises during election campaigns and implementation and accountability afterward. This election cycle is a fresh opportunity to start over; we cannot afford to miss it. Therefore, candidates must answer the all-important question: how would you lift Nigerians out of poverty?
Stanley Achonu is the Nigeria Country Director at The ONE Campaign and writes from Abuja.