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Turai, the real cancer is poverty - By Salisu Suleiman

Source: huhuonline.com

All records for public donations in Nigeria were shattered recently when over N10 billion was donated to the Turai Yar'adua International Cancer Centre. Unfortunately, the entire process missed the point. The worst killer disease in Nigeria today is not cancer, but poverty. Solve poverty, and most forms of cancers would vanish.

Cancer is a truly frightening disease that kills millions yearly, and every effort should be made to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. Further research into cancer, especially in the light of African experience is encouraged and commended. But the deadliest form of cancer in Nigeria today is the cancer of poverty; cancer may kill the person, poverty will kill the country.

While the ethical base of donating nearly $100 million dollars to the First Lady's pet project remains in question, it is worth remembering that job creation features in President Yar'adua's agenda. But how many jobs has this administration created? What strategies have been put in place to help mitigate the effects of poverty in Nigeria?

The idea of a cancer centre is welcome, even desirable. But what about the cancer of poverty and hopelessness that is present in most homes, and indeed a major cause of the real cancer? Do the poor have hope? Does the government even have a current data base of unemployed Nigerians? Who cares that many employed people are in the cold, crushing clutches of poverty?

Nothing justifies the spate of armed robbery and violence we have seen of late, but they are no doubt linked to poverty and the loss of hope. When university graduates, retired (and even serving) members of the security forces and others are forced into a life of crime due to poverty, what form of cancer can be worse?

If Turai is serious about tackling cancer in Nigeria, she must focus on the level of poverty in the country. She must influence government to introduce a social welfare programme which provides a sustenance allowance to the poor and unemployed. It is NOT too much for Nigeria to issue a monthly stipend of N3,000 to every unemployed Nigerian. This may seem like a laughable amount, but for many, it may be the difference between life and death.

But beyond the development of a social security net is the question of how governments can actually create employment. It is a fact that government cannot employ everyone in the country, even if it had the resources, but when money is channeled to the right sectors of the economy, particularly infrastructure, then millions of jobs can created at the same time that infrastructure is being developed.

Recently, the Federal Government announced award of infrastructure contracts totaling about N1 trillion. But in real terms, how many jobs will these contracts create for the Nigerian economy? Government must introduce other considerations in award of contracts, and identify the bids that create permanent jobs.

Experience shows that growth is the most powerful weapon in the fight against poverty because it creates jobs that use labour, the main asset of the poor. As growth proceeds, private sector employment becomes the major source of economic support for the majority of workers and their families. Just getting food to eat would improve personal immunity and banish many forms of cancers from these families.

The informal sector forms a large part of the Nigerian economy. It comprises 42 percent of value added in Africa, 41 percent in Latin America and 35 percent in the transition economies of Europe and the former Soviet Union. The informal economy provides employment and income for many who lose or cannot find work in the formal economy, and includes a disproportionate number of women, young people and others from disadvantaged groups. It is estimated that informal employment accounts for 84 percent of women's employment in sub-Saharan Africa. Help these women, Turai, and they would not need to visit your cancer centre.

While the informal economy has helped to engage many people in one form economic activity or the other, its prevalence has also limited the growth of the formal private sector. Consequently, for the private sector to deliver pro-poor growth, five interlinked and mutually complimentary factors need to be put in place.

These are:
(1) Providing incentives for entrepreneurship and investment.

(2) Increasing productivity through competition and innovation.

(3) Harnessing international economic linkages through trade and investment.

(4) Improving market access and functioning; and
(5) Reducing risk and vulnerability.
In the wake of the current global economic crisis, there has been renewed appreciation of the private sector's development role as an engine of growth. Experience has shown that, when properly regulated and operating under competitive market conditions, the private sector can generally use resources more efficiently than the public sector. Private sector entities can deliver goods and services to meet growing demands and create job opportunities in the process.

Turai, fight cancer by helping government reduce barriers to formalization and introduce poverty alleviation strategies to make it easier for businesses to migrate from the informal to the formal sector. The norm has been to procure and distribute motorcycles to multitudes of youth in the name of poverty alleviation. The only people whose poverty is being eradicated are the Chinese producers and suppliers of those motorcycles.

While the Nigerian ruling elite often find it much easier to plunder public resources and invest abroad, the fact remains that investing at home would lead to employment generation, poverty alleviation and the emergence of a viable middle class. The security and stability of the country may depend on how well the private sector is developed, and how poverty is tackled.

Unless all stakeholders put in place measures to develop and engage the country's vast human resources endowments in various sectors of the economy on a truly epic scale, poverty in Nigeria would ultimately threaten national cohesion and security. That is the deadliest form of cancer, and that is where Turai's billions should be directed. If there is no kingdom, there can be no queen.

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