In his Democracy Day speech, President Muhammadu Buhari claimed that his administration in the last two years had lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty. The statement has so much generated heated debate among Nigerians in view of the worsening economic situation in the country, especially when you consider the high inflation and unemployment rates.
If we divide this figure equally among the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory(FCT) Abuja, it will come to 283,784 Nigerians per state or 13, 566 Nigerians per local government in the country. The number of Nigerians the President claimed to have lifted out of poverty is quite significant in the sense that, there are 24 countries in Africa that have a population of less than 10.5 million. That is why we believe the heated debate that followed the president’s claim is not out of place.
Based on Nigeria’s socio-economic data, we have a contrary view to President Buhari’s claim. Nigeria’s inflation rate consistently rose for twenty uninterrupted months from August 2020 when it was 11.02 percent to 18.17 percent in March 2021. That made Nigeria the 12th country in the world with the highest inflationary pressure. Inflation erodes the purchasing power of Nigerian households just as it diminishes disposable income. Expectedly, more people are worse off during significant inflationary pressures as witnessed in Nigeria in the last two years.
Another significant development during President Buhari’s reference period is COVID 19. The non-pharmaceutical measures such as lockdowns implemented by affected countries worsened the unemployment situation in the world, Nigeria not an exemption. In Nigeria, the unemployment rate rose from 27.3 percent to 33.3 percent from September 2018 to December 2020. Correspondingly, 23.19 million willing and able Nigerians were jobless.
Apart from that, Nigeria’s major source of income, crude oil, was significantly affected by COVID 19 pandemic. In April 2020, crude oil prices at the international market fell to as low as $7.15 per barrel. Compared with the budget benchmark of $55/barrel, Nigeria’s revenue was crippled and the shortfall affected most sub-national governments that could not pay salaries of their workers as at when due.
With the economy in lockdown and crude oil prices falling on a downward spree, the Nigerian economy entered a recession for the second time in five years and the recession signs are still extant in Nigeria as of today.
The President’s claim gives the impression of a nation with a perfect socio-economic database of her citizens. However, there is no such database in the country at present. That is why there is hardly a federal or state government’s payroll without ghost workers. The pertinent questions are: how did the President’s team select the 10.5 million Nigerians lifted out of poverty? How are we sure that the majority of those claimed to have been lifted out of poverty were not actually poor?
Again, the World Bank recently reported that inflation in Nigeria pushed seven million Nigerians into poverty in 2020. The report was contained in its Nigeria Development Update (NDU) where the global development finance institution listed food insecurity and stalled reforms as other factors that worked in tandem to exacerbate poverty in the country during the period.
We are also aware that most of the people in the rural areas lack access to electricity and good roads, which are basic infrastructures that define the survival rate of rural artisans, farmers, and other MSMEs. According to the data from the Nigerian Electricity System Operator, the national grid collapsed thirteen times in 2018; ten times in 2019, and four times in 2020.
Based on the foregoing, it is highly doubtful President Buhari was given the true picture of the state of the nation by his team before addressing the nation on Democracy Day.
It is now time for the current administration to take the bull by the horn because there has to be a limit to lip service. Since one of the causes of poverty in the land is the rising food inflation, in other words, demand for foodstuffs surpasses supply; the President’s team should put in region-specific policies that will help increase food supply in the country. Region-specific policies are needed because consumption pattern varies among the states and regions in the federation.
There is no way the Nigerian government can address poverty alleviation without having a comprehensive database of the beneficiaries. Rather than relying on the information provided by politicians, existing databases such as the one for telephone lines and BVN could be synthesized to identify those in need of government supports.
With region-specific food production programs and a comprehensive database of Nigerians, the real 10.5 million poor Nigerians will be lifted out of poverty.