• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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Is national generosity capable of alleviating poverty?


The first pillar of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is about the eradication of poverty by the year 2030.

Globally, it is unfortunate that poverty remains rife. The World Bank at the 2021 Edition of the World Economic Forum in Davos estimates that up to a quarter of the world lives below the societal poverty line today. In fact, COVID – 19 has raised the level of poverty exponentially. Accordingly, the demand to eradicate poverty globally has kept many governments under pressure.

It is scriptural to give to the poor. The Holy Bible talks about the cheerful giver in the Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians “…for God loves a cheerful giver.” One may say that it is also, politically expedient for those in the government to give to those who are indigent in the society. Why you may ask? Those who receive cash gifts may likely vote for the government that gave cash to them. From the economic angle, to give cash has a role it plays in society. But that does not mean that those poor citizens who received cash gifts from the government will be wealthy. It is always best to teach people how to create or generate wealth.

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To give cash to individuals is easier, but wealth creation is hard. Handouts provide short-term cover ups of the worst symptoms which is poverty, thus reducing the pressure to identify and solve underlying problems. Many would argue that it is almost impossible for an individual or individuals to develop through what some public intellectuals refer to as national generosity. When a government shares money to its citizens, it provides a quick good feeling about those in authority. But that does not mean that the government has created wealth for the recipients of the cash gift.

What is national generosity? It is the virtue of being liberal in giving by a government, often in cash to its poor people. In most cases, national generosity assumes that its recipients are weak, and are unable to help themselves. The underlying philosophy behind the handout presupposes that all beneficiaries could only help themselves after certain barriers such as lack of funds are removed.

Our own national generosity is reflected in the announcement made by the Federal Government recently of giving N745 billion to 24.3 million poor Nigerians for a period of six months. This is to be done through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Granted, that Nigeria has the largest number of the poor in the world – about 100 million people living below the poverty line of US$ 1.9/day.

How many Nigerians have been lifted out of poverty from conditional cash transfer scheme? What about Tradermoni? Has Tradermoni elevated the poor who benefited from the scheme?

They are mostly children and women brutalized by bandits, kidnappers, and insurgents in the country. Giving something to a widow and her children generates better propaganda or better photo ops for any magazine or newspaper. Some of these poor people have been driven away from their sources of livelihood as a result of insecurity.

I am not saying that the poor should not be assisted by the government. What I am saying in this column is that if done thoughtfully, national generosity has a role in our society. It should provide skills to those who are poor so that they can use their hands to work, and if possible be employers. This is one of the ways of taking people out of poverty.

Certainly, sharing of cash does not make anyone proud at a time when the FG is borrowing funds to execute both capital and recurrent expenditure of the 2021 Budget. Times are hard and that is why in critical moments like this when the country’s debt is over N30trillion, our national generosity should be data-driven and a product of critical analysis. Most critics are asking: “What would be the return on investment, if N745 billion is shared among 24.3 million people?” Well, I don’t know. But I do know that to remove 24.3 million people out of poverty in the twilight of a government that will expire in 2023 would be a miracle. With the devastating effect of COVID – 19 on our economy, it would be impossible to lift 20 million people out of poverty in 2 years.

I remember seeing our Honorable Minister of State for Labor and Employment, Festus Keyamo with a wheelbarrow and cutlass on national television. Then I asked what he was doing with wheelbarrows and cutlasses? An associate told me that the minister of state was distributing these items to some youths in Delta State. The scheme is also designed to pay N20,000 to each of 774,000 youths who will be employed for 3 months.

The Minister of State is to hand over wheelbarrows and cutlasses to 774,000 youths across the country who will be beneficiaries of a Federal Government scheme. So, what will some youths in our country do with wheelbarrows and cutlasses in a world that is in the Fourth Industrial Revolution? We are talking about chronic insecurity challenges, and cutlasses are being distributed freely. If others in the cottage industry in Nigeria did not get themselves involved in the production of goods, what will our youths use their wheelbarrows to carry? Why not give skill training to the poor so that they can create wealth themselves? Why not inject funds into moribund manufacturing firms to boost production and employment? Skills development will reduce unemployment, raise incomes and improve standards of living. I strongly believe that helping the poor to develop skills make economic sense.

If it was true that the FG wants to reduce poverty, sharing money is the worst strategy. Whatever policy the FG wants to put in place should be that which generates wealth, create employment, add value and facilitate economic recovery in a period when the economy is contracting. Why does the government prefer giving cash gifts instead of supporting the cottage industry in Nigeria that spans through the formal and informal sectors of the economy with an employment. If the government invests in cottage industry in Nigeria, then it will be easy to get taxes from those operating the cottage firms.

When we finish sharing the money now, where are we going to get the next slice to be shared? How many Nigerians have been alleviated from poverty through the monies that have been shared since 2015? There must be proof to show that there is positive impact arising from monies given to the poor in the past. For instance, how many Nigerians have been lifted out of poverty from conditional cash transfer scheme? What about Tradermoni? Has Tradermoni elevated the poor who benefited from the scheme?

What about the school feeding program? We must examine the school feeding program, which state officials claimed provided food for children during COVID – 19 lockdown in the year 2020. During lockdown, all schools – private and public – were shut. So, which children were fed in schools? We keep missing the approach of bringing millions of Nigerians out of poverty. No doubt, Nigeria needs a social security scheme that works. But for how many Nigerians? Where is the data to support any FG social intervention? We do not even have accurate data on our population as a country.

Is Nigeria ready to eliminate poverty and inequality? If yes, it would require critical thinking. Accordingly, the current strategy of cash sharing must be reversed. I think job creation will reduce poverty, not cash gifts. The time has come for those in the government to address the underlying reasons why people are poor.

Low skills of the poor will aggravate poverty and inequality. All policies should be directed towards creating wealth; and creating a world where poor people have greater control over key aspects of their lives. Not a life where they have to depend on charity. Charity is easier, it makes recipients feel better but in the final analysis they will not be lifted out of poverty. Thank you.