BusinessDay

Poverty constitutes biggest security threat to Nigerians

Charles Dekini graduated from one of the premium universities in southwest Nigeria 10 years ago. After searching for a job for two years, he finally got one as an executive marketer in an insurance company in Lagos. He got married immediately, producing three children seven years after.

The three children attended an average school, where the proprietor charged N60,000 each term as fees. Dekini’s salary was N47,000 monthly, but his wife Nana who worked as a teacher in Lagos Mainland earned N35,000 monthly. Last year, one of Dekini’s children fell sick and required N800,000 for treatment.

The combined savings of Dekini and his wife were less than the amount the doctors asked for. While scrambling for the money, the child died. Hopeless and bitter, Dekini left Nigeria for Senegal by road early in 2020.

Before leaving, Dekini had complained that he and his family were not secure in Nigeria, despite obtaining a first-class degree in Business Administration. And he was not talking about being secured by the police or the army, but having access to things that made life worth living such as a good job, quality and affordable healthcare, and good education.

His story mirrors the plight of half of Nigeria’s population who are extremely poor without access to good jobs, healthcare, and quality education.

“Security should not be seen in physical terms, but it is about living well and living long,” a UK-based professor of leadership, peace and conflict, who does not want her name in print, said.

Poverty is astronomically rising in Africa’s most populous nation, constituting the biggest security threat in the country. Oil-rich Nigeria has 87 million extremely poor people, with six people jumping into the poverty train every minute, according to the Brookings Institute’s World Poverty Clock released in 2018.

About 82.9 million Nigerians are extremely poor, constituting 40.1 percent of the total population with real per capita expenditures below N137,430 in 2019, according to the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) Poverty and Inequality report in May 2020. The World Bank predicted that there would be 95.7 million Nigerians living below the poverty line by 2022.

“With real per capita GDP growth forecast to be negative in all sectors in 2020, poverty will deepen for the current poor, while those households that were just above the poverty line prior to the COVID-19 crisis will fall into poverty,” the World Bank said about Nigeria in June 2020.

Poverty and unemployment are close cousins. Unemployment rate in Nigeria hit 27 percent in the second quarter of 2020, from 23 percent in the third quarter of 2018. Nigeria now ranks 7th on World Misery Index. Inflation is nearly 13 percent with monetary policy rate at 12.5 percent, making access to funds for expansion nearly impossible for micro, small and medium businesses.

Steve Hanke, professor of Economics at John Hopkins University, US, posted on his Twitter handle on September 14 that the management of Nigeria’s economy is poor, with multiple increases in things that make life worthwhile.

Nigeria’s GDP slumped by 6 percent in the second quarter of 2020 and there are indications that the economy will be in recession sooner than later. The foreign exchange is hitting hard on the import-dependent economy where oil contributes 8-10 percent to the GDP but constitutes over 70 percent of FX earnings. Liquidity is now a big challenge for the economy, with access to finance difficult due to high interest rate and Covid-19 induced crisis.

“Countries that get their national strategies right first think about creating liquidity. Because once you have liquidity, it creates employment. It does not matter how many government policies you announce, because without liquidity, existing jobs will be destroyed,” Ayo Teriba, CEO of Economic Associates, told BusinessDay on the phone recently.

Economists want Nigeria to strengthen the manufacturing sector and liberalise the market to alleviate poverty.

A Labour Market report by Chapel Hill Denham suggests expanding Nigeria’s economic growth frontier beyond services, to industry and agriculture, through ease of doing business reforms and economic liberalisation policies.

Healthcare is also a challenge in Africa’s biggest economy. Nigeria has one doctor to 6,000 people, according to estimates, as against World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommendation of one to 600 people. Life expectancy is 54 years in Nigeria as against 64 years in South Africa; 72 years in Egypt; 66 years in Ethiopia, and 66 years in Kenya.

With per capita income of $2,250, Nigeria’s out-of-pocket expenditure as a share of health expenditure was 75.2 percent in 2016 and 77.2 percent in 2017, according to official data.

Due to poor infrastructure in Nigeria’s healthcare industry, the rich travel abroad for medical treatment and abandon the poor to decrepit healthcare system. Annual medical tourism is estimated by Nigeria at $1 billion.

A poll citing the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) reported that there are about 72,000 nationally-registered Nigerian doctors, with only 35,000 practising in-country. Estimates say there is a deficit of over 260,000 doctors in Nigeria and a minimum of 10,605 new doctors need to be recruited annually to meet global targets.

Onwufor Uche, director of the Gynae Care Research and Cancer Foundation in Abuja, told Al Jazeera recently that more than half of those seeking visas to India were going for medical care not available here in Nigeria, stressing that poor Nigerians would be at the mercy of the dilapidated decrepit health infrastructure.

“The healthcare ecosystem is not attractive. The barrier to entry is relatively low. Most of the purchases are made out-of-pocket because of the lack of universal coverage. Healthcare from the quality point of view is not protected,” Richard Ajayi, board chairman, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), told BusinessDay recently.

Moreover, poor Nigerians struggle to send their children to school. The number of out-of-school children who are aged 5-14 years in Africa’s most populous nation is 10.5 million, according to UNICEF. Education is not tailored to skills but theories, leading to higher rates of unemployment and town-gown dichotomy.

The Labour Market report by Chapel Hill Denham mentioned earlier canvasses “deepening investment in infrastructure, education and healthcare, in order to create a major boost for economic productivity, and enhance the global competitiveness of Nigeria’s private sector.”

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.