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How poverty keeps Nigeria stuck in a conflict trap

Seventeen years after, a World Bank report on ‘Breaking the Conflict Trap’ still holds strong in Nigeria despite the reform efforts at different levels of government.

There has been rise in violence and armed conflict in many parts of Nigeria, which has worsened poverty levels. Conversely, poverty has also exacerbated the incidence of conflicts in Nigeria, keeping the Nigerian economy stuck in a conflict trap for many decades.

According to economists, breaking the conflict trap hangs on the nation’s ability to improve the quality of life of the citizens by reducing poverty rate significantly.

A conflict trap occurs when internal armed struggle breeds conflict by exacerbating conditions that increase the chances of war breaking out again. This means conflict begets conflict.

A World Bank report titled ‘Breaking the Conflict Trap’ shows poverty has proven to be both a cause and a consequence of conflict.

“War causes poverty, but the more important reason for the concentration is that poverty increases the likelihood of war,” the report states.

Poverty makes countries more prone to civil war, and armed conflict weakening governance and economic performance, thus increasing the risk of conflict relapse.

Poverty and war

Civil war, which is war between citizens of the same country, has been identified by the World Bank to increase poverty.

In the report, the bank notes that civil war usually has devastating consequences: it is a development in reverse. “As civil wars have accumulated and persisted, they have generated or intensified a significant part of the global poverty.”

The World Bank estimates that the September 11 attacks alone may have increased global poverty by 10 million people.

The Boko Haram insurgency, which began in 2009 in Nigeria’s northern state of Borno, combined with counter-insurgency operations and communal clashes over scarce resources has led to the loss of many lives and dragged many into poverty.

“Civil wars have highly adverse ripple effects that those who determine whether they start or end obviously do not take into account. The first ripple is within the country: most of the victims are children and other non-combatants,” the bank notes.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Nigeria has about 3.4 million displaced population including over 2.9 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in north-eastern Nigeria.

The crisis has been exacerbated by conflict-induced food insecurity and severe malnutrition, which have risen to critical levels.

According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), 3.4 million people are facing acute hunger and 300,000 children are suffering from acute malnutrition in some north-eastern states.

Natural resources and conflict

Asides the Boko Haram insurgency, the competition for the nation’s resources has been another factor inciting war.

Natural resource endowments have the potential for poverty reduction, but historically have often been associated with conflict, poor governance, and economic decline.

Nigeria is the biggest producer of oil in Africa and the sixth oil producer in the world but despite its vast resources, it ranks among the poorest countries in the world.

For instance, Niger Delta region, which is the source of Nigeria’s wealth, suffers from a paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty.

According to a World Bank report captured in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) report (2008), “about 70 percent of people in the region live below the poverty line, which is above African Standard.” The region was also said to be one of the poorest parts of the world.

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Poverty in the region is a cause and effect of conflicts between Niger Delta’s minority ethnic groups and Multinational Oil Companies (MNOCs) with the former feeling being exploited and demanded for a share of the ‘petrol dollar’ as compensation for environmental degradation, among others.

The militants from the conflicts destroyed pipelines, attacked oil installations, and kidnapped workers. The violence led to the destruction of means of livelihood and also impeded business investments in the areas, economic growth and productivity, encouraged inflation and unemployment and negatively affected the living standards of the people.

Poverty and insecurity

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), over 40 percent of Nigeria’s total population, or almost 83 million people, live below the country’s poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year.

The World Bank has estimated that 87 percent of all the poor people in Nigeria are in the north, especially in the North-West and North-East geopolitical zones.

This is not surprising, considering the zones are riddled with conflicts ranging from farmer/herder clashes, cattle rustling, banditry, kidnapping and the Boko Haram insurgency.

This has pushed development far from the zone with absence of basic services, unemployment, and bad governance and corruption being the order of the day.

The crushing poverty is coinciding with the rise in the kidnap-for-ransom business in the region.

According to data from the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST), there had been 2,943 abduction cases and 5,800 death cases due to insecurity between January and June 2021.

From the data, the six geo-political zones in Nigeria all recorded kidnap or abduction cases within the first six months of the year. The North West had the highest cases with 1,405 persons, 942 in the North Central, 210 in the North East, 169 in the South West, 140 in the South-South, while the South East recorded the lowest number of people kidnapped, 77.

Poverty as a weapon

In 1950, a man named Mohammed Marwa founded a sect known as Maitatsine to challenge the basic tenets of the Islamic religion. He posed as a teacher in Nigeria’s almajiri system, which provided for the apprenticeship of boys, aged 10–14 to a Koranic scholar who would serve as a spiritual guide and father figure but took advantage to form a rebel group.

Marwa had recruits for his rebel force that mainly were homeless, unemployed urban migrants and refugees. The reason they joined the Maitatsine sect was not to protest their poverty as they said material possessions were distractions. A more likely answer is that the sect both provided for basic needs such as shelter and also gave transcendent meaning to their poverty.

70 years later, in 2020 the youths of Nigeria stood up in unity to protest against police brutality and the peaceful protest was hijacked by hoodlums, some of whom when caught admitted to receiving N1,500 to disrupt the peaceful protest.

During elections, poverty has also been weaponised as young uneducated youths who are poor and do not understand the need for better governance are given small tokens to seize ballot boxes and cause conflicts.

According to the World Bank, the case of the Maitatsine War reveals that low opportunity cost for rebel labour is the mechanism that explains the correlation between poverty and civil war onset.

Development, the way forward

The bank has recommended development as a way to break the conflict trap in any economy.

Development is a rise in the level and quality of life of the population, creation and expansion of local regional income and employment opportunities without damaging the resources of the environment.

Nigeria’s unemployment rate is projected to increase to 40 percent by the end of 2021 from 33.3 percent in 2020, according to Doyin Salami, chairman, Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC).

This will only produce more devastating consequences such as deepening poverty, rising crime rate and worse conflicts.

“Where development succeeds, countries become progressively safer from violent conflict, making subsequent development easier. Where development fails, countries are at high risk of becoming caught in a conflict trap in which war wrecks the economy and increases the risk of further war,” the World Bank notes.

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