WORLD BANK LIFELINE FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT
The long neglected rural areas of the country will soon get a lifeline through projected financial assistance of about $200 million from the World Bank. The amount is part of the bank's financial stimulus for rural development under its ongoing Rural Access and Mobility Project, a scheme initiated to boost development of the nation's rural backwaters.
The project is currently in its second phase. The first phase gulped $60 million, with Cross River and Kaduna states as the main beneficiaries. Acting Country Director of the World Bank, Mrs Shobha Shetty, said the bank is committed to the development of Nigeria and ensuring a reasonable level of implementation of the project.
The current implementation level of the scheme is an abysmal nine percent. However, the bank explained that the release of the projected financial assistance will depend largely on the commitment of state governments to meeting their counterpart funding obligations. This is so because the project is primarily aimed at supporting state governments in improving rural road network management through the provision and maintenance of all-weather roads in rural areas across the country.
We commend the efforts of the World Bank to address one of the major problems confronting rural areas of the country. If well implemented, the scheme will go a long way in redressing the perennial rural/urban drift. There is no doubt that life in most of our rural areas is appalling. Basic needs of the people like good road network, potable water, electricity supply and mechanized agriculture have degenerated to their lowest levels, thereby prompting rural folks to seek better life in the cities.
It is not hard to see why living in our rural areas is discouraging, and seriously in need of intervention from both local and international development agencies. Nigeria has no realistic blueprint on rural development at the three tiers of government -federal, state and local. There is no serious effort by those entrusted with the public purse to develop rural areas. A report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2008 showed that politicians in Nigeria have diverted resources meant for the development of the rural areas to their own political and social interests, at the detriment of the larger society.
It is also common knowledge that many states in the country have repeatedly failed to fulfill their own part of agreements entered into with international financial and development institutions towards developing rural areas. As long as this situation prevails, the rural economy and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will remain stagnant. So also, the standard of living of the rural populace.
Considering the significance of rural areas to the national economy, all tiers of government should develop policies which will give the areas a pride of place in our national development plan. Efforts by the World Bank in this direction should factor in the people in the communities. Rural dwellers will feel alienated if the plans to open up their areas are solely executed by outsiders when the manpower can be sourced locally. While we commend the World Bank for this assistance, we urge the institution to increase the number of states that will benefit from the initiative. It is necessary that other financial institutions, like the African Development Bank (ADB), buy into such projects to accelerate rural development across the country.
Since the states and local councils are the closest to the grassroots, let them act as beacons of hope for the hapless rural folks in the effort to improve their quality of life.