Has Buhari unleashed a dragon of poverty?
With less than ten calendar months to the commencement of the next electioneering campaigns that would herald the year 2019 general elections, two broad economic challenges confront millions of Nigerians namely, insecurity of lives and property and economic insecurity.
The broad-based economic tortures are also replicated in the 36 states of the federation going by the current situation of substantial absence of good governance and high rate of official corruption amongst governors and failure on the part of state legislatures to offer effective oversight functions to check leakage. The problem of insecurity in most parts of Nigeria caused by armed attacks by both boko haram terrorists in the North East of Nigeria and the widespread killings of farmers in every sections of Nigeria by armed Fulani herdsmen who have been allowed by security forces controlled by Hausa/Fulani officials to run out of control.
Three and half years ago, the different political gladiators who ran for the position of the presidency of Nigeria, made profound promises to implement core economic and political policies and programmes that are strategically meant to address the multifarious and multifaceted problems confronting Nigerians such as mass poverty, unemployment and lack of respect for the human rights of the citizenry.
Some fifteen million voters reportedly chose the then All Progressives Congress’s presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari to head the world’s most important black democracy. Buhari was once a military dictator whose 20 long months military junta witnessed severe economic adversities that confronted Nigerians. It was in Buhari's first coming through the barrels of the gun that Nigerians had to stay in long queues to make purchases of essential commodities that were disappearing from the counters due to closures of the manufacturing firms in different parts of Nigeria.
Three years down the line after Buhari's second coming through the instrumentality of the ballots, what most Nigerians have witnessed in torrents are the direct opposites of those lofty ideas sold to them as campaign promises. Buhari and his political party had promised Nigerians more jobs but few months after he assumed office he failed to inaugurate any economic team and when after eight months je made his cabinet level appointments, he chose persons who can be considered as dead woods and politicians without any workable solutions to the myriads of problems of unemployment, poverty, mass hunger and insecurity that threatens Nigeria's national security.
Apart from the very ugly reality that insecurity of lives and property has expanded and the number of freelance armed hoodlums embarking on wanton destruction of lives and property of Nigerians has multiplied, the most pathetic development is the dimension that mass or absolute poverty has been unwittingly unleashed on a grand scale to millions of Nigerians. These days, our organisations gets text messages and calls from hundreds of Nigerians asking for money to feed and these callers are all university graduates who can't find employment of any colour.
In the last three years, economic recession which resulted from the inability of government officials to grow the domestic economy, dominated the major public discourse. Due to the harsh economic environment that has been unleashed, millions of Nigerians have become sceptical and have lost confidence in the current sets of politicians to right the wrongs that they brought upon our nation and our people. For instance, Senator Shehu Sani revealed that out of the less than 400 Senators, each of them gets N200 million yearly impress, and another juicy package of N15 million Naira monthly package and another N750,000 monthly salaries. The Executive arm of government also spends about 75% of the annual budgets on salaries and allowances of political office holders and votes almost nothing for real capital projects. The high cost of governance breeds absolute poverty amongst over 100 million Nigerians. Simon Cox, who edited the book Economics (Making sense of the modern Economy) seems to have captured the overwhelming imagination of the millions of suffering Nigerians who are subjected to horrendous evil economic policies at all levels.
Hear him: "A fashionable strand of scepticism argues that governments have surrendered their power to capitalism –that the world’s biggest companies are nowadays more powerful than many of the world’s governments. Democracy is a sham. Profits rule, not people. These claims are patent nonsense. On the other hand, there is no question that companies would run the world for profit if they could. What stops them is not governments, powerful as they may be, but markets."
He wrote further: "Governments have the power, all right, but they do not always exercise it wisely. They are unreliable servants of the public interest. Sometimes, out of conviction, politicians decide to help companies reshape the world for private profit. Sometimes, anti-market thinking may lead them to help big business by accident. And now and then, when companies just set out to buy the policies they want, they find in government a willing seller. On all this, presumably, the sceptics would agree."
The writers argued that those who made the aforementioned observation as we currently do, may have missed the next crucial step: limited government is not worth buying. "Markets keep the spoils of corruption small. Government that intervenes left and right, prohibiting this and licensing that, creating surpluses and shortages – now that kind of government is worth a bit. That is why, especially in developing countries with weak legal systems, taming capitalism by regulation or trade protection often proves such a hazardous endeavour."
"If NGOs succeeded in disabling markets, as many of them say they would like to, the political consequences would be as dire as the economic ones. It is because the sceptics are right about some things that they are so wrong about the main thing."
The grave economic recession that afflicted the nation led to closures of many private business enterprises and consequently resulted in job loses.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has said an estimated eight million Nigerians became unemployed between January 2016 and September 30, 2017.
This unemployment survey report was released by the NBS.
According to the NBS report, the number of Nigerians that became unemployed rose under the Buhari regime rose from 8,036 million in 2015 fourth quarter to 15.998 million in third quarter of 2017.
“The unemployment rate increased from 14.2 per cent in Q4 2016 to 16.2 per cent in Q2 2017 and 18.8 per cent in Q3 2017. The number of people within the labor force who are unemployed or underemployed increased from 13.6 million and 17.7 million respectively in Q2 2017, to 15.9 million and 18.0 million in Q3 2017.
“Total unemployment and underemployment combined increased from 37.2 per cent in the previous quarter to 40 per cent in Q3 2017.
“The labor force population increased from 83.9 million in Q2 2017 to 85.1 million in Q3 2017. The total number of people in full-time employment (at least 40 hours a week) declined from 52.7 million in Q2 2017 to 51.1 million in Q3 2017.”
NBS in the report blames the increasing unemployment and underemployment rates on Nigeria’s fragile economy despite the exit from recession. The report explained that domestic labor market is still fragile and economic growths in the past two quarters in 2017 have not been strong enough to provide employment in Nigeria’s domestic labor market.
“An economic recession is consistent with an increase in unemployment as jobs are lost and new jobs creation is stalled.
“A return to economic growth provides an impetus to employment. However, employment growth may lag, and unemployment rates worsen especially at the end of a recession and for many months after,” the report said.
During the third quarter of 2017, according to the report, 21.2 percent of women within the labour force (aged 15-64 and willing, able, and actively seeking work) were unemployed, compared to 16.5 percent of men within the same period.
The report also noted that underemployment was predominant in the rural areas as 26.9 percent of rural residents within the labour force in were underemployed compared to 9 percent of urban residents within the same period.
But facts coming from both the international monetary fund and from the National Bureau of Statistics of Nigeria do also confirmed the assertion I have made that the current administration, due to poor economic policies, has unleashed what looked like a dragon of absolute poverty.
On its part, the National Bureau of Statistics said 60.9% of Nigerians in 2010 were living in "absolute poverty" - this figure had risen from 54.7% in 2004.
The bureau predicted this rising trend was likely to continue.
Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer but the sector has been tainted by accusations of corruption, so argued British Broadcast Corporation.
According to the report, absolute poverty is measured by the number of people who can afford only the bare essentials of shelter, food and clothing.
The NBS, a government agency, said there was a paradox at the heart of Nigeria as the economy was going from strength to strength, mainly because of oil production - yet Nigerians were getting poorer.
"Despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year, although it declined between 1985 and 1992, and between 1996 and 2004," head of the NBS bureau Yemi Kale said.
Oil accounts for some 80% of Nigeria's state revenues but it has hardly any capacity to refine crude oil into fuel, which has to be imported. The extractive industry's transparency regulator of Nigeria had recently accused the management of the Nigerian National Petroleum company (NNPC) of widespread theft of billions of dollars from crude oil revenues.
Still dwelling on crude oil corruption, last month, there was a nationwide strike when the government tried to remove the subsidy on fuel, angering many Nigerians who see it as the only benefit they received from the country's vast oil wealth, according to BBC.
The NBS said that relative poverty was most apparent in the north of the country, with Sokoto state's poverty rate the highest at 86.4%.
In the north-west and north-east of the country poverty rates were recorded at 77.7% and 76.3% respectively, compared to the south-west at 59.1%.
BBC Africa analyst Richard Hamilton says it is perhaps no surprise that extremist groups, such as Boko Haram, continue to have an appeal in northern parts of the country, where poverty and underdevelopment are at their most severe.
The report also revealed that Nigerians consider themselves to be getting poorer.
In 2010, 93.9% of respondents felt themselves to be poor compared to 75.5% six years earlier.
Mr. Kale says releasing such statistics from time to time is crucial for effective government planning.
"This kind of data helps them to know what is really happening so they can track their policies and programmes," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.
"It gives them the opportunity to look at what they are doing... and if there are areas they need to change, it makes it easier to modify strategies," he added.
The dragon of poverty that has been unleashed on Nigerians must be tamed and one way to do that is to wage transparent anti-graft war by arresting the officials of the Federal and state administrations who are currently looting public fund preparatory for elections. EFCC and ICPC must wake up and carry out a very transparent anti-corruption war.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and [email protected] ; www.huriwanigeria.com ; www.huriwa.blogspot.com .