FG’s $1bn recovery claim amidst rising poverty

LAST week, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, was apparently in a joyous mood making one of the Federal Government’s usually confident declarations. Malami revealed that the Muhammadu Buhari administration had so far recovered about $1 billion looted funds from 2015 to 2022. Speaking at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, while briefing State House Correspondents after the Federal Executive Council meeting last Wednesday, the Justice Minister said that the recovered assets had been deployed to various sectors of the economy, including poverty alleviation. He however expressed the government’s consternation with the “worrisome” cases of budget padding, adding that necessary measures would be explored to address them.

But the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) painted a radically different picture. It indicated that over 133 million Nigerians were multidimensionally poor. This was part of the highlights of the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) survey launched in Abuja by the Federal Government, according to which 86 million Nigerians, which is  65 percent of all poor Nigerians, live in the North, while nearly 47 million, which represents about 35 percent of the figures, are in the South. The report further stated that over a half of the Nigerian population of Nigeria is multidimensionally poor, cooking with dung, wood or charcoal, rather than cleaner energy. For good measure, it added that deprivations were also apparent nationally in sanitation, healthcare, food insecurity, and housing, and that poverty levels across states varied significantly, with the incidence of multidimensional poverty ranging from 27 percent in Ondo State to 91 percent in Sokoto State.

It added: “In general, the incidence of monetary poverty is lower than the incidence of multidimensional poverty across most states. In Nigeria, 40.1 percent of people are poor according to the 2018/19 national monetary poverty line, and 63 percent are multidimensionally poor according to the National MPI 2022. Multidimensional poverty is higher in rural areas, where 72 percent of people are poor, compared to 42 percent of people in urban areas. The National MPI is reported with a linked Child MPI, which provides additional information on Multidimensional Child Poverty in Nigeria.”

Speaking at the launch of the 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report, the Federal Government  reiterated its unwavering commitment to eradicating poverty in Nigeria. It said that the National Social Safety Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO) in 2016, which is the custodian of the National Social Register, the largest repository of the poor and vulnerable in Nigeria, was established for precisely this reason. Said President Buhari: “We consolidated the impact made in the lives of over 5 million persons with the implementation of the National Social Investments Programme (NSIP), by institutionalising it under the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (FMHADMSD) in 2019. Hence, we have been intentional with our plan to lift 100 million people out of poverty within 10 years, in line with the objectives of the SDGs and the Africa Agenda 2063. We are happy that the MPI will serve as both a measurement and policy tool to monitor our progress at achieving these goals.”

To be sure, the Buhari government has given an outline of its expenditure on infrastructure, poverty alleviation programme, among others. The fact remains, however, that the administration has not made real impact on the lives of the majority of Nigerians. It is hard to posit that the government is fighting poverty while the number of poor Nigerians has risen from 100 million to N133 million. The Federal Government must have been embarrassed by the finding of its own agency, the NBS, that more than 133 million Nigerians are currently experiencing multidimensional poverty. If more than half of the estimated Nigerian population of 216 million are in poverty, then the verdict that must be given is that the government is yet to address poverty. Of course, the usual response from the government when such figures are given by international bodies with competence and credibility, such as United Nations agencies, has always been to dismiss them as an exaggeration and a deliberate ploy to undermine the good work that the Buhari government has been doing, or to claim that the international agencies were unable to grasp the full dynamics of the Nigerian situation and therefore unable to properly assess and report on it. This was the response of the government when the UN announced that Nigeria had become the new poverty capital of the world.

Evidently, the government could not controvert the new findings of its own NBS and is now responding by saying that it has expended the over $1 billion dollars it claims to have recovered through its anti-corruption activities on poverty alleviation programmes and the building of strategic infrastructure to uplift the Nigerian economy and its people.  Yet, is it not self-indicting that a government ostensibly working on poverty alleviation has seen an increase in poverty among the citizenry from around 100 million when it was earlier denying the efficacy of the statistics to a new level of 133 million? Given the level of poverty and the number of Nigerians in poverty, the government’s poverty alleviation programme has effectively become a poverty elevation programme. And this is no surprise.

As we have always argued, government officials pretending to be allocating funds to some indigent Nigerians in such an unaccountable way, without verifiable records or evidence beyond pictures of cash allocation to some hapless people, cannot be trusted to seriously help lift anybody out of poverty. It can only help to lift the officials in charge of such jamborees to new levels of riches on account of the huge public funds at their disposal. Productive engagement is the viable way of getting people out of poverty and it is striking that the government is not able to report on any productive way it has engaged poor Nigerians since coming into office.  The bottom line, then, is that it is difficult to contest the reality of what is known about the Nigerian situation under President Buhari’s government: it has been tales of growing poverty for Nigerians. Its good intentions and whatever it is doing to address poverty have had no impact on the living conditions of the people.

The government has a duty to face the reality of its lacklustre performance, which is evident in the rising poverty in the land. It must have a rethink about its policies and actions and ensure that in spite of the limited number of days left in its tenure, it makes positive impact. That is how to forestall the ugly prospect of going down in history as the government that presided over the worst form of living condition – abundance of poverty – for Nigerians.

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