The latest World Poverty Clock rating of Nigeria’s poverty status has thrown government officials into a frenzy of denials and claims of inaccuracy and ill-motive. According to a study by the New York based Brookings Institute under its World Poverty Clock platform, Nigeria has 87 million persons or half of its population of 170 million living on less than 1.9 dollars per day. This gives us the highest number of citizens living in extreme poverty, ahead even of India which until now held the ignoble record of the largest number of citizens living on less than 1.9 dollars per day, the global benchmark for absolute poverty.
According to the report, Africa accounts for two thirds of the 674 million who are the world’s poorest persons. Nigeria alone is said to have 87million out of that total. The report went on to state the contrast between this country’s lush earnings from export of oil and gas and the pervasive cases of extreme poverty. Not surprisingly, the report raised dust in various quarters within and outside government circles. While some support the report, others reject it as unrealistic. Government officials say the report did not take into account official statistics that point to a process of recovery from economic recession. The government’s position is also backed by what it claims are the gains from the Economic Recovery and Growth Programme, ERGP.
Valid though some of the Nigerian government’s argument may be, the World Poverty Clock report on the country addresses itself to a more fundamental aspect of the Nigerian economy, which is income distribution and the lack of equity therein. A country may be rich while the bulk of its citizens remain in abject poverty as the wealth of such a country is concentrated in a few well connected, powerful, high and mighty hands. That is the picture the report under consideration is painting for the country. Government should not treat it with incredulity but should reflect on it thoroughly with a view to ameliorating defects in national wealth generation and income distribution. With over half its citizens living below the poverty line, all the government’s economic, social intervention and other programs stand to be questioned, to put it politely.
In the context of the report the government needs not look far to see glaring evidence of its failure as the practical evidence stares it in the face. It was the great economist Adam Smith who said that no society can be happy with the bulk of its citizenry trapped in abject poverty. He could have been speaking about Nigeria of today in the light of the damming World Poverty Clock Report on the country. Typical signs include high unemployment, high levels of underemployment, paltry public-sector wages, low industrial capacity utilization and high rates of crime, among other signs of socio-economic dislocation.
Spending quality time disputing the figures of the World Poverty Clock is a normal reaction of government’s image makers who must dispute every report from any quarter that does not praise the administration for its efforts. But while it is easy to dismiss reports by domestic agencies and allege they were arranged by the opposition, it is not easy to do so in this case. Evidence cannot be adduced to prove ill motive against the administration or the country from the report’s compilers.
The responsible thing to do therefore is for the government to return to the drawing board for the purpose of re-inventing its economic agenda. As we are going into an election year, a well thought out, fast unfolding, efficiently executed socio-economic program can begin to convince citizens that gains are being made. If the World Poverty Clock Report succeeds in making our top government and economic officials to do a rethink about the policies and programs that they have been pursuing, it would have done a very good job for the people of Nigeria.