THE 10-year plan to lift at least 100 million Nigerians out of poverty announced by President Muhammadu Buhari last Wednesday, in his address to the nation on Democracy Day, is quite commendable, being the first time the country would unveil plans to rescue the poor from their poverty. An upbeat Buhari based his optimism for scaling down poverty on the accomplishments of other countries, and had concluded that if other countries could do it so could Nigeria.
But while the president’s plan is commendable, to really move Nigeria’s poor out of their poverty, he needs to move from planning to working his plan. Over the years, the government had paid perfunctory attention to poverty reduction, hence, while other countries in Africa such as Rwanda and Botswana have been able to reduce the number of the poor in their midst, the number of the poor in Nigeria has increased by almost 1,000 per cent from nine million in 1960 to 87 million in 2018. According to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, six Nigerians slide into extreme poverty every minute.
It is my considered opinion that poverty is gaining ground in Nigeria because, while other countries concentrate on wealth creation, Nigeria seems obsessed with the idea of poverty reduction. China and India reduced the number of their poor by improving the economy and creating opportunities for their people. So, wealth creation is the key to poverty reduction.
Poverty alleviation and wealth creation are similar phenomena which produce different results because they have different targets. While poverty alleviation is aimed at helping people cope with poverty through palliatives, the focus of wealth creation is to rid the poor of their poverty by giving them skills that would enable them generate wealth on their own. These two phenomena deploy different strategies; hence the difference in their results.
Governments at all levels in this country are fixated on poverty alleviation, not wealth creation. Their intention is to help people manage their poverty, not to deliver them from it. That is why as part of their poverty alleviation programme, they give out two bowls of rice, millets or garri, some tablets of soap and a few naira notes to the poor. Pray, how far can those items take anybody? The items are soon consumed and the poor are back where they were. They again turn to government or others, hoping for a handout to make it to another day.
When the governments want to create jobs for the poor, they give sub-human employment. Imagine employing a university graduate and paying him N10,000 or N20,000 monthly, that is less than two dollars a day. This already makes him an inmate in the prison of poverty. The question to ask is how many of those ‘benefactors’ would encourage their own offspring to take up such appointments? Yet when they do this they make so much noise about it that the public is sometimes deceived into believing that the government has done something out of the ordinary to help the poor.
My suspicion is that harping on poverty alleviation is a strategy by the overlords to keep the poor perpetually in that state. It appears as if those in government have no real intention of helping the poor out of their poverty; they want to keep the masses poor so that they would eternally depend on them and they can continue to manipulate them as they find fit. They have no plan to extricate them from poverty; they merely want the poor to have barely enough to stay alive.
So, instead of thinking poverty alleviation and handing out peanuts to the poor, President Buhari’s government should embrace wealth creation to achieve this lofty and desirable dream. Unlike poverty alleviation, wealth creation is not a quick fix. It is a long-term project that requires proper planning and extensive investment.
I am convinced that the solution to poverty is the possession of marketable skills. It is not enough to have a skill, the skill must meet market requirements, otherwise it would be a shackle. It is when a skill is marketable that it is fit and proper for wealth creation. So, the government needs to conduct a survey of the skills that are required now and do a study of the emerging markets and equip the people with the skills that would be required by them. The trainees have to be supported while undergoing the skill acquisition process, and after the programme, so that they can eventually stand on their own and also become employers of labour.
Poverty has gradually crept into the rank of university graduates because quite a number of them do not have skills that are required by the market. This is a consequence of the universities relying on curricula developed in the 1970s and 1980s. To save university products from the chains of lack, the institutions have to update their curricula and make them relevant to the realities of today as well as the likely demands of the future.
The problem of poverty in a country is solved by instilling in the people entrepreneurial skills; the ability to identify needs and move to meet such. That is the strength of many of the world’s thriving economies. A country that has many wealth creators among its citizens cannot be pulled down by the weight of poverty. President Buhari’s intervention should be tailored along this line.
Poverty would not be eradicated in Nigeria if we are focused on alleviating it. The only way to kick poverty out of Nigeria is by raising a generation of entrepreneurs who will embrace wealth creation. Until we see wealth creation as a strategy for combating poverty, many Nigerians will continue to be listed among the most wretched on the planet. That would be a shame, considering our humongous resources.