Nigeria has one of the world’s highest economic growth rates, averaging 7.4per cent over the last decade. However, it retains a high level of poverty, with 63 per cent living below $1 daily, implying a decline in equity.
The issue of poverty alleviation programmes in Nigeria and the level of effectiveness have been the subject of several academic and journalistic articles. And justifiably, they have been, because despite the myriad of poverty alleviation schemes which have been on for long, the results do not give much cheer.
Between 1986 and 2004, the Federal Government initiated many programmes to alleviate poverty. These include: Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI), Better Life Programme (BLP), Directorate of Employment (NDE); People’s Bank of Nigeria (PBN); Community Bank (CB); Family Support Programme (FSP); Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP); Poverty Eradication Programme (PEP); National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP). Yet, poverty has continued in an upswing.
World Bank report
According to the World Bank, the business of eradicating poverty in Nigeria is one that can be described as profitable but yielding low output.
In its report on Poverty Reduction and Equity in Nigeria, the World Bank stated that there is very little transparency and poor accountability for the use of funds for social services at all levels of government, adding that the roles of different levels of government in the provision of services, overlapping responsibilities and constant shifts of functions between one level of government and another have further compounded fiscal inefficiencies and make it difficult to assess total expenditures in social sectors.
On several programmes embarked upon to combat poverty in the country, the World Bank Report noted that there were few successful programmes, saying that these programmes were inefficiently managed and did not reach the intended beneficiaries.
“Federally operated safety net programmes have not been successful thus far, as they have failed to include intended beneficiary communities in the design and execution of the safety net programmes. Large amounts of resources have been dissipated in ineffective safety net programmes in the last two decades. Government can target the delivery of some services and resources to reach poor areas and communities building on existing community based organisations where possible,” the report said.
It was noted that all hands were purportedly on deck to eradicate poverty in the country, but huge amounts of funds that have been channelled to the cause have had no visible effect.
Poverty eradication efforts at other levels
The question still begs for an answer, what came out of these numerous empowerment programmes?’ A lawmaker in the Lagos State House of Assembly noted that most of those empowered during these programmes do not do well with what they have been given. He cited examples of many in his constituency who traded off the materials given to them to establish themselves after the training given them. He lamented that some who were given grants could not account for the money after a given period of time. This, he said, is discouraging because it seemed like pouring water in a basket.
Pouring water in a basket?
Back to the Federal level, “pouring water in a basket,” may fittingly describe the revelations that came out of a recent inquisition into the activities of NAPEP.
In October 2013, NAPEP came under the spotlight when the Senate questioned officials of the organisation over the whereabouts of N12 billion poverty reduction funds. While grilling the Coordinator of NAPEP, Alhaji Murktar Tafawa Belawa, over the N12 billion poverty reduction fund, it emerged that N10 billion was trapped in some failed financial institutions. The agency claimed that it lacked the structural framework to possibly recover the missing funds and that it had been unable to recover the money because some of the banks had ceased to exist.
Also discovered during the Senate’s enquiry was that N150 million meant for the supply of spare parts for NAPEP’s tricycle project known as Keke NAPEP was apparently paid to a contractor for work not done.
The Senate’s Committee on Public Account also found that the agency paid additional N171 million as customs duties for spare parts that were never supplied.
Another N605 million was lost to some operators of the tricycle under the aegis of Keke Riders Association of Nigeria (KRAN). The agency was alleged to have spent N1.4billion for projects that have not been verified by the Auditor General of the Federation (AGF).
The AGF, in a query to NAPEP, a copy of which was presented to the panel, requested the agency to explain why some 988 tricycles valued at N292 million were yet to be supplied. The AGF specifically asked the agency to account for the shortfall of N700.666 million of the machines not supplied.
In his response, the NAPEP national coordinator, Mukhtar Tafawa Balewa, disclosed that the beneficiaries of the intervention fund had failed to remit N700 million revenue to the agency as required.
These revelations cast huge doubts over its transparency and revealed a side of NAPEP’s operations that reinforced public perception that it lacks effectiveness as a tool to tackle poverty.
Question of approach
The donation of motorcycles and tricycles as an approach to poverty alleviation originally done by NAPEP and currently emulated by many legislators and state governments has been criticised and referred to as tokenism. This is because such means of transport is given out in places where transportation is not an immediate problem. This is because donating such in these areas yields no real improvement in quality of life.
In the light of this, an economist in the University of Ibadan, who does not want his name in print, has this to say: “It is true that there is some form of prosperity increase in the Nigerian society, because more people could afford to buy new cars and new clothes, but in assessing poverty level, the right indicators should be looked at.
“It is important to find out the dimensions of what we call poverty. What are the causes of this poverty, what are the indicators? It is like a doctor treating a patient by looking only at the symptoms of the ailment. The chances that he will cure the ailment are minimal.
“You need to understand the cause of the problem. If you don’t understand the cause of the problem, the solution may not be realised. For example, if people are hungry and you dole out money; they will use it and buy food. But when it finishes, they will be back in need. Tomorrow, they will still come back to you to ask for dole out money. Unless you can dole out money on a sustainable basis, you will not be able to solve their problem.
“But if you empower these people, train them, let them acquire some skills, then provide an enabling environment, you may well be on the way to solving the challenge.
“Many Nigerians are willing to work, but they need an enabling environment to do that. So, that enabling environment should be provided by the state.’’ he said.
Abdullahi Olayinka, a beneficiary of one of the poverty alleviation programmes organised in Egbeda Local Government Area of Oyo State in conjunction with a non-governmental organisation, said that the programme, in its initial period, was exciting and promising as they were promised to be supported financially after the training given to them.
“Actually, some of us were given financial assistance, however, there are lots of factors that made the money given not very effective in establishing the business we had been trained on.”
He explained that the money was often used for things that could not be left undone. “How could I have money with me and my children would be crying of hunger,” he queried. “No man would ever do that even when he is fully aware that the money is for something important but family’s welfare especially one that concerns food is of paramount importance.”
Olayinka, however, justified himself, saying that the poverty eradication intervention did a lot to make him a responsible man. “Before I got lucky with the intervention programme, I would describe myself as a hopeless human being. I only went through life because there was little or nothing I could do to salvage myself from the abject poverty I was sinking into. I have little or no education, as I am a drop out. I didn’t finish secondary school education because I had no support from anyone being an orphan.”
Although Olayinka was able to scale through the challenges, many were not able to. Omolola Adeshina, a lady in her mid fifties said she was once under an empowerment programme organised in her local government- Ona Ara local Government Area of Oyo State. She explained that she was trained in skill acquisition of various choices which ranged from snacks making, beading, hair dressing, fashion designing, amongst others.
However, the training given was peripheral, as they were only trained for few weeks.
Omolola explained that she had to go for extensive training elsewhere, afterwards. She wondered why the training should be half-baked, insisting that the training should have been full so that there would not be need for further training.
According to her, those that could not afford going for further training were left just the way they were. “That is not fair,” she said.
For Adelani, who felt he was better off without the training, undergoing poverty alleviation programme under skill acquisition took a lot from him.
“The money I wasted going through the training would have been used for better things. I thought then that after the training I would gain my money back, either in cash or kind. But I was disappointed when we were laid off with nothing aside the training that was given. Even the training was not intensive. It was like a child’s play and a way of wasting time as I gained nothing from the programme; not even knowledge,” he lamented.
The challenges of poverty alleviation
Dr Olarenwaju Olaniyan is an expert and specialist in poverty and inequality of the Economics Department, University of Ibadan. He has carried out research on poverty, social protection and intergenerational transfer. He speaks on the issue:
“The main objective of any government is security. And that security includes physical security, income security, food security, job security, everything that concerns security is the work of government. That you have people in the ministry means that they are there to ensure the security of the people. And once security is ensured the welfare of everybody will be ensured.
“It is the failure of ensuring security that leads to loss of welfare. And when there is loss of welfare it gets to a point where people cannot afford basic necessities of life. It is that situation when it occurs that people call poverty. Poverty is a situation where people cannot afford the basic necessities of life.
“In Nigeria it has been increasing, and I think the last estimates for 2012 put it at 69 per cent. 69 per cent of about 170 million translates to more than 120 million people. When you have a large number of people that are poor, then you have a lot of problems on your hands in terms of policies.’’
Dr Olaniyan said that the ineffectiveness of the programmes rested on the fact that square pegs were put in round holes in the sense that the policies were not rightly targeted.
He said, “There are two policies that are always used and it depends on the level of poverty that certain people have. If you have people that are just moderately poor, then there are policies you just give to them to empower them., and then make sure that they have basic insurance, and some basic assistance. Then they can move forward. Supposing someone has some money and he is not really poor you can give him a loan to enhance his business, and then after some time, his state is changed from poor to non-poor.
“But then you also have the core-poor, who can’t afford even food at all. If you give such people loan, the money will not be used for any intervention. It will be used for food. So the type of policies you have to use for this category of people are different.
“When you look at the Nigerian context, and look at the poverty alleviation policies we have in this country, different people have come with different policies. States have their own policies, the Federal Government has its own policies. But you will find out that most of the policies are targeted at those who are moderately poor, not those who cannot afford to feed.
“And as such, if you are using a policy of moderately poor for the core poor, those policies will fail, because they will not achieve the objectives you have set for them.
“I think that’s the problem we have with policies at the national level. Most of the policies that people call poverty alleviation policies are not necessarily poverty alleviation policies. For example, a House of Representatives member will come and say I want to alleviate poverty and he will buy 30 ‘okadas’ and maybe 12 grinding machines – these are not targeted!”
He continues: “If you want to alleviate poverty, you must know what people’s problems are. You must know what they can do and what they cannot do. If you give a grinding machine to someone who is not trained in that area, who does not have ability and capacity, the grinding machine is a waste. You are giving ‘okada’ to someone who does not know how to ride it or the business of transport, the ‘okada’ is useless. The best thing this person might do is to sell the ‘okada’. So that is the problem I think most government policies on poverty alleviation have had.”
How to get it right
Dr Olaniyan, responding to the question on how government could get poverty alleviation programmes right, said: “It is a problematic question.
Problematic because of the nature of the country.” When Nigerian Tribune asked what could be done? He said emphatically: “Provide jobs. When people have jobs, they can feed themselves, access healthcare, education, help others, and everything.
“As at 2012, the unemployment rate for Nigerian youth was 26 per cent. If 26 per cent of the productive population doesn’t have work, people will be poor. So the starting point is finding a way of providing jobs.”
Expatiating further, the economist said: “The issue of employability arises from here. Look for those who are employable and give them jobs, and those who are not employable find a way of training them and making them acquire skills that will make them employable.”
Power supply, key to empowerment
Dr Olaniyan did not leave out the much talked about issue of electricity and other social infrastructure in providing a way out of poverty. He, however, laid much emphasis on power.
“There is no way we can improve jobs placement and employment situation without power supply. If power supply is ensured in this country, unemployment will be reduced by at least half; because many people will suddenly find something doing. There will be so many opportunities that will open up and people will have something to do, and then employment will increase. It may be employment at the lower cadre, but after some time people will become more ingenious about it and they will climb up. There is no way we can improve on jobs without improving on power.”
The underlying problem of corruption
In his final words, Dr Olaniyan said that the underlying problem of all poverty alleviation effort at all levels “is corruption, whether people agree or not. The amount of funds that goes into corruption can solve the problem of poverty by far.
“If you make a policy that says give 10,000 people jobs and pay them N10,000. If 10,000 people are moved out of poverty, that’s good. But due to corruption, you may find out that the number of people that will actually be paid may be 1,000. So, you are not reducing unemployment.
“If we are sincere, if we reduce corruption to the barest minimum things will change. Government should show a sign that they want to fight corruption. Unfortunately, the Federal Government has not shown enough indication that it does not like corruption. There is a difference between what is said and what is done. The actions do not portray that it is fighting corruption. It might be, but what people see does not show that it is.”
And if not, he concludes, poverty continues!