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Poverty crisis & our governors: Where is the vision & plan?

Quote: With a below per capita annual expenditure of about N137,430 as the baseline for being described as poor, lifting the citizens of Ebonyi or any other state in Nigeria out of poverty is one of the easiest things to do

With the recent report on poverty and inequality in Nigeria released by the National Bureau of Statistics, it is abundantly clear that we are in a crisis as a nation.  How do you explain that we have about sixteen states in Nigeria with poverty rates of over 50 percent and in some states such as Ebonyi, Jigawa, Taraba and Sokoto, it is within 80-90 percent? Are there governors and local governments chairmen in these states, a very senior British friend and an Economist, worriedly asked me. The most disturbing aspect is that the worst performing states are all governed by governors on their second terms in office and lamentably, they are all aspiring for higher or relevant positions in 2023.  It is really confusing and very difficult to understand leadership and governance expectations, and the criteria used in electing leaders in Nigeria, my senior British friend aptly but frustratingly concluded!

The question is what kind of vision and strategy did second term governors like Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Mohammed Badru Abubarkar, Dave Umahi, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Darius Dickson Ishaku, Abubakar Sani Bello, Abdulahi Ganduje and Aminu Bello Massari use in their first terms and was reducing the level of poverty in their respective states ever considered an important governance issue?

When we add the emerging negative socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 to the disturbing poverty levels which many Nigerians view as underreported, any discerning mind will appreciate that we are in a most troubling and perilous situation.  Unfortunately, rather than show serious concern and required leadership and vision, majority of our governors are appallingly most unserious and even contributing to the crisis. In sane societies, the poverty report should attract serious reactions from the Nigerian Governors Forum and the governors particularly from the ones with over 50 percent poverty rates in their states. Not only are they expected to react, it is also expected that they should clearly announce strategic policies and plans that will significantly reduce the embarrassing poverty levels. But of course, this is Nigeria where such reports don’t matter.

The leaders are neither disturbed nor the followers inquisitive and demanding good stewardship. It is the same ineffectiveness on COVID-19.  If they are not announcing and implementing contradictory laws and policies in their respective states, their actions and inactions suggest more of leaders competing to have more COVID-19 cases possibly to attract more money from the Federal government.

In some instances, they are even helping to spread the virus behaving like “The Elected Sons and Agents of Corona Spread”. How do you explain our governors agreeing and implementing forceful eviction and relocation of Almajiris to their so called “states of origin” during this COVID 19 crisis? Who really bewitched Nigeria, a friend painfully asked!

As COVID 19 has further exposed the precarious state of our flawed economy and the revenue and poverty implications for our states, it is becoming more apparent that most of our governors lack the vision and leadership to lead us. Given the abundant resources we are blessed with, there is no state in Nigeria that is not viable. The only thing lacking is good vision and leadership.  Ebonyi state for example has no reason to be fourth state with the highest level of poverty in Nigeria with about 80 percent poverty level. Moreover, the situation and position might even be worse if we add the numerous Ebonyi youths that constitute over 70percent of street traders and hawkers in our major cities such as Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.

With a below per capita annual expenditure of about N137,430 as the baseline for being described as poor, lifting the citizens of Ebonyi or any other state in Nigeria out of poverty is one of the easiest things to do. It does not require too much expenditure nor any elaborate policy. All that will be required in the case of Ebonyi for instance is to ensure, encourage, support and supervise that every indigene of Ebonyi plants a minimum of ten palm trees for instance.  It can also be any of the highly demanded fruits such as coconut, avocado, lemon, mango and orange. As a fruiting tree of each of the above trees gives about N25,000 every year, it means that the annual income of every indigene in Ebonyi will increase by N250,000. All that will be required from the state government is to provide access roads for planting and evacuation.

With every indigene planting a minimum of ten trees, a population of about three million people will translate in Ebonyi state having about 30 million palm or coconut trees. At N25,000 revenue per tree, it means that the annual revenue of Ebonyi indigenes will increase by about N750 billion after three years (required for the trees to start bearing fruits). As the money will go to individuals, if Ebonyi state government decides to place a tax of 5percent, it will receive additional annual internal generated revenue of about N32.5 billion just from one or two types of trees (for instance palm and coconut trees). This is higher than her annual internal generated revenue of about N26.5 billion.

Moreover, with the availability of 30 million palm or coconut trees, Ebonyi state will be known as the palm or coconut tree cluster of Nigeria and expectedly, will attract investors in the whole chain with part of the N32.5 billion used to support the demand and supply expansion of the products.

Just as it can be done in Ebonyi, so it can be done in Enugu and Abia. It is clearly a further confirmation of bad governance on the part of South East governors that only Anambra state made it in the first ten states with the lowest poverty levels. Where is the branded entrepreneurship skills of the Igbos? Is it not most disappointing that even with the heritage of Enugu state as the former capital of Eastern Nigeria, the poverty level is still about 60 percent? As I earlier asked, it is difficult to understand the economic development plans of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Dave Umahi and Okezie Ikeazu.

With the proximity of the South East states, there is no reason why a detailed and robust regional economic development plan should not be developed and effectively executed. Given the already existing comparative advantage in palm trees, imagine the impact if the five South East states will agree and just plant 30 million palm or coconut trees per state. That will give about 150 million trees with an annual additional revenue of about N4 trillion. In 2017, Indonesia made about $18.4 billion from palm oil (about N7.2 trillion). Nigeria’s encumbered 2020 federal budget is only N10.27 trillion! As they say, where there is a will, there is a way!

Franklin Nnaemeka Ngwu

Dr. Ngwu, is an Economist/Associate Professor of Strategy, Risk Management & Corporate Governance, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail- fngwu@lbs.edu.ng

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