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Why Nigeria must focus on education, health, economic reforms to curb poverty

 

While half of the world’s countries have poverty rates below 3 percent, almost one in two Nigerians live on less than $1.9 a day. But the wide regional disparity of poverty across the country suggests that a successful anti-poverty campaign will largely depend on Nigeria’s plans for the North.

According to the World Bank, 87 percent of all the poor in Nigeria as of 2016 are concentrated in the Northern region compared to 12 percent in the South.

More worrisome is the emerging trend of a growing disparity between the Northern and Southern parts of the country which has seen income levels, poverty rate and critical development measures diverge significantly.

Between 2011 and 2016, poverty rate saw a sharp increase in North West, North Central and North East while all three Southern regions noted decline.

The number of poor in the North East rose from around 23 million in 2011 to nearly 35 million in 2016. In North Central and North East, the number rose by nearly 5 million.

By contrast, the number of poor dropped from around 5 million to 3-4 million in the southern region.

In 2017, UNDP’s Human Development report published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported intensity of poverty to be higher in North West (45), North East (44) and North Central (41) than in South-South (39), South East (38) and South West (38).

Similarly, northern states led by Sokoto and Jigawa dominate on the incidence of poverty, with the worst 13 states (all northern) having a minimum of 76 percent of their population living in poverty.

On the multi-dimensional poverty index, there is a repeat of the North being the worst-performing.

States with the highest HDI ranking in Nigeria are Lagos, Abuja and Bayelsa while not surprisingly the least are Bauchi, Kastina and Sokoto.

A national problem

The World Bank predicts that the number of poor in Nigeria (almost 100 million) will increase over the next 10 years so that one in four of the world’s poorest is a Nigerian by 2030 – under a business-as-usual scenario.

This has dire consequences for Nigeria that the past few years have highlighted.

Even though poverty is not solely responsible for insecurity in Nigeria, the emergence and continuity of insurgency in the North East have been linked to a low level of development in the region.

The Almajiri system which has put many young Northern boys on the streets has made the region a fertile ground for insecurity.

Babagana Monguno, the National Security Adviser, last year said the government would have to proscribe the Almajiri phenomenon because it breeds street urchins that become a problem to society.

Not just the North, insecurity is rubbing off on Nigeria’s international image as seen in President Donald Trump’s recent inclusion of Nigeria on an Immigration Visa restriction list.

The spate of insecurity is also a burden on investment into the country, especially the Northern region, experts have said.

Insecurity issues resulting from the herdsmen attacks and the Boko Haram insurgency have also been threatening food security in the country.

The NBS latest report for conflict and food insecurity in Nigeria for the year ended 2017 revealed that 79 percent of households in the Northeast region of the country had food insecurity.

This rubbed off on the South given that the North and Middle-belt are the major food-producing areas.

Since 2013, the Movement Against Fulani Occupation (MAFO) and the Benue State government have carefully documented over 60 attacks against farmers and residents of the state by Fulani pastoralists with over 1,800 people killed, thousands more injured and over 108,500 displaced from their homes with more than 175,000 registered in eight internally displaced people’s camps in the state.

More recently in Lagos, a state-wide restriction of motorcycles and tricycles (okada and keke) from the highways appeared to have been partly informed by the influx of supposed Northerners into Lagos in search of greener pastures.

What can be done? 

The success of the South in reducing poverty cannot be divorced from its investment in education and health of people in the region.

In Nigeria where education is basic, free and compulsory for children up to 15 years, no less than 10.5 million aged 5-14 years are out of school, according to the latest data from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

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The majority of children who are unable to access safe and quality education are situated in the North where across the region net attendance rate is at 53 percent.

Bauchi, Niger, Katsina, Kano, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Gombe, Adamawa, Taraba and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, are the worst 10 states with about 8 million children not in school and, an average enrolment rate of only 57 percent.

The situation is dire in the north-eastern region as the insurgency has left 2.8 million children needing education-in-emergencies support across Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa.

In the northeastern states, at least 802 schools remain closed and 497 classrooms listed as destroyed, while 1,392 have been damaged. Parents and guardians are petrified of sending their wards to school over the spate of kidnapping and vandalism of school property by terrorists.

The out-of-school situation is worse for female children in North-East and North-West where more than half of the girls are not in school.

According to the UNICEF, 29 percent and 35 percent of Muslim children in North-Eastern and North-Western states, respectively, receive Qur’anic education, which does not include basic skills such as literacy and numeracy.

The lack of quality education in that region limits the ability of its people to engage in high-level economic activities and weakens the productivity of most of its labour force.

This is especially important as every 1 percent growth in GDP only increased employment by 0.1 percent between 2004 and 2014, World Bank reports citing an academic study which suggests growth in sectors that cannot create mass employment perhaps due to skills requirement.

Per capita and education component of states Human Development Index shows that the North underperforms South.

Also, the high birth rate in the North (Jigawa State has the highest fertility rate in Nigeria along with Kano and Kebbi States) where income per household is low perpetuates poverty unlike in the South where higher literacy rate and investment in education means lower birth rate.

While President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to lay the foundation for poverty reduction in Nigeria, unlocking value in dead capital will fast-track the race to reduce the poverty narrative in the country.

Although poverty incidence is very high in areas like Borno State, the people there have vast land resources they cannot borrow against. Therefore, unlocking that capital can increase the net worth of the poor who have land resources.

Nigeria can look to the example of Brazil which through Bolsa Familia, a kind of social security, halved the population of its poor to 50m. Launched in 2003, Bolsa Familia is not a subsidy. It’s a conditional cash transfer, i.e., each family receives a monthly stipend ($30) on condition that they send their children to school and fulfil other requirements such as immunisation.

While several programmes (NCTP, CSDP, GEEP, NHGSFP, Tradermoni, Npower, etc.) have been launched through the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) in recent years, contradicting mandates and objectives of the agencies supervising them have limited the impact on the country’s poor, the World Bank said.

 

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SEGUN ADAMS & BUNMI BAILEY

 

 

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