Unemployment and poverty are two of the major issues currently affecting Nigeria’s economy and its society. According to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the population of the unemployed in Nigeria during the last quarter of 2020 (Q4 2020) stood at 33.3 percent – an increase of 6.2 percent points compared with the 27.1 percent of quarter two 2020 (Q2 2020). This places Nigeria in the number three position among countries with the highest number of unemployed people in the world. Also, according to data from the World Poverty Clock (a web tool produced by World Data Lab), the number of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria rose from 86.9 million in 2018, to 93.7 million in 2019, thus Nigeria stands as the nation with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty across the world.
This trend of unemployment and poverty is projected to worsen, as the World Data Lab noted that the outlook for poverty alleviation in Nigeria is weak, and that an estimated 120 million Nigerians are expected to slip into extreme poverty by 2030.
What could help to improve this situation of rising unemployment and poverty in Nigeria? A revival of the agricultural sector in Nigeria is one suggestion that has been put forth. Another dominant thought amongst local economists is that if the country’s manufacturing sector is properly developed, it can absorb a large number of the labour force, thereby reducing the high population of the unemployed.
Other palliative measures have also been recommended to reduce the suffering of the poor. For example, in an interesting three-part ‘Viewpoint’ column published in the Vanguard newspapers some years ago, a prominent Nigerian, Aare Afe Babalola (the founder of a well-known private university in Nigeria – Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti), highlighted the importance of giving/generosity/philanthropy in alleviating the suffering of the poor in Nigeria.
Among other things, he stated in his writings that, “although many factors can and have been adduced as partly responsible for the state of poverty in Nigeria, what makes poverty so endemic in Nigeria is partly the poor disposition of Nigerians to giving.” He said “government alone cannot reasonably be expected, particularly in the light of the world’s current economic realities, to improve the quality of life of everyone to the level which most people expect. Wealthy individuals can aid government in the provision of amenities of life to the less privileged. The rich in our society should imbibe the culture of giving. Philanthropy is rooted in love and compassion; it is of immense benefit not only to the person who practices it but also to the beneficiary and the society at large.”
Sometime ago, a group of activists sought the institution of a ‘Universal Basic Income’ (UBI) and polled over 200,000 signatures to drive home their demand. The movement renewed the call for the establishment of basic income guarantee as an essential part of modern economies.
UBI, as an economic philosophy, dates back to hundreds of years ago and was central to the concept of utopian society. In recent years, some European governments had to test its popularity through referendums. But it has never been given more attention as a tool for building inclusive economic growth than it is now.
In the recent United States’ election, Andrew Yang, a Democratic Party presidential aspirant, shot to the international podium for his sermon on UBI and how he planned to pay the poor a monthly stipend of $1,000 each, if he emerged the U.S president. But Yang is not the only advocate of UBI. Elon Musk of Tesla, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Pope Francis, Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon), Bill Gates and Jeremy Corbyn (the former Labour Party leader) are among millions of global leaders who are currently calling for the adoption of UBI.
Nigeria’s closest semblance of UBI is the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) launched in 2016. But contrary to the pass mark the government has given to the programme, a professor of economics at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Sheriffdeen Tella, said that the government’s self-assessment was far from the truth. He said only a thorough impact assessment could show whether the programmes have achieved their desired results.
Also, Professor Akpan Ekpo, a former Director-General of the West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management (WAIFEM), said UBI was not out of the question. However, he said that unavailability of data was an albatross of an efficiently administered UBI. Ekpo, who expressed concern about Nigeria’s rising misery index, noted that even a large number of those with jobs are barely surviving. This, he said, justified UBI, rather than the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). He, however, said that the first port of call is to develop full-proof data on employed and unemployed Nigerians, their income levels and dependency ratio.
While human relief efforts have been unsuccessful in bringing the problem of poverty and unemployment under control, we should give attention to the root of the problem – the tendency for selfish people and governments to look after merely their own interests. The holy book teaches that real happiness depends not on one’s economic situation, but on one’s spiritual well-being and relationship with the creator.
Ighakpe wrote in from FESTAC Town, Lagos.
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