Poverty Relief: More Programs, More Pains

Obasanjo has earmarked N10 billion to fight poverty, but according to a newsmagazine report ( Newswatch ), Buhari had an average of N52 billion every year to spend on Nigeria. At the end of the PTF reign Nigerian poverty and underdevelopment level remained the same, if not worse, as prior to the establishment of the PTF. The two former Head of States, Buhari and Abacha fooled Nigerians. Dr Haroum Adamu’s interim report says that N135 billion out of the N146 billion was squandered, possibly through over invoicing, over supplies, supplying expired materials, wrong project priorities, settling perceived trouble spots, like the army and the police, and blatant thievery. It was like Buhari was out to punish Nigerians for God – knows – what. As one commentator put it, “In a country where poverty has remained pervasive in spite of the oil wealth, such a huge amount could have provided succour to millions of Nigerians by way of the provision of basic infrastructure. For decades after independence, Nigerians cannot even have potable water despite the huge sums of money sunk into boreholes.

Safe for some few roads lopsidedly selected by the PTF, the roads network in the country especially in the eastern parts, can only draw tears even from the man with the heart of stone. The educational sector has even suffered more degradation despite the intervention of the PTF under Buhari.” The whereabouts of the Babangida’s Gulf – war windfall is still a mystery to Nigerians. “Earnings from the sale of crude oil during the Gulf war was put at $12.4 billion but government eventually declared deficits of N21.7 billion and N35.31 billion in 1990 and 1991 respectively” Pius Okigbo – led panel set up in 1994 to look in to the matter “returned a verdict of a gross abuse of public trust and of payments that were surreptitiously and clandestinely done”. A French paper put the overall worth of IBB at N450 billion. IBB’s ministers, generals, contractors and indeed Abacha’s ministers and generals are all untouchables. John Fashanu found $6 billion debt buy back scam that was perpetrated by IBB, is once again reminding Obasanjo that IBB should not be left untouched.

When you see gloomy political and economic statistics from the World Bank or any other august body on Nigeria, you know why and how Nigerian came to that sorry level. Statistics such as $250 GDP per capital, life expectancy of about 50 with illiteracy rate of 45%, that between 1985 – 1986, 34.1% of Nigerians lived below poverty level. That figure had jumped to 56% in 1996. The same report also revealed that 26 million Nigerians were core poor in 1996 unlike 13 million in 1985, an indication of rising poverty level. The figure also shows that 60% of rural dwellers and close to 48% of urban dwellers are in poverty. The report ranked Nigeria as the 12th poorest country in the world, ranks 146 out of 174 in the Human Development Index, has 112 per 1,000 (live births) infant mortality, 50% of the population has access to clean water. 40% of Nigerians have access to electricity. ( Sunday Vanguard 30-1-00 ). Obasanjo’s regime , perhaps to correct the wrongs of the operation feed the nation, or to prove to the Nigerians that his government can actually alleviate poverty in the country, has vowed to improve the welfare of the poor lot and in so doing stop the rot of the country’s economy. But the signs are that this quest to alleviate poverty may go the same way as the past attempts. It is becoming obvious that this administration maybe paying lip service on the question of the plight of the Nigerian poor. The new administration’s policy and law makers are already enmeshed in corruption, allegations and accusations of corruption. The rate of official profligacy in this administration is fast approaching the level of the Shagari’s administration. Obasanjo and his elected members are running haywire with the taxpayer’s money. Ordinary Nigerians as contained in the Senators Committee on Insurance and Allied Matters Budget proposal for insurance cover on 109 Senators see the lawmakers “senators welfare” allowances as a rip-off by the government.

There are also ridiculous allowances under the 2000 Recurrent Expenditure, which covers such things as over-head costs for self, aides, family, children and other dependants. These, in addition to the N5 million each lawmaker received for furniture allowances. Governing Nigeria has become business as usual; direct and indirect appropriation of public funds. The poor yet again are being left behind, as if they are not part and parcel of Nigeria. The big-men are sharing the spoils while the poor looks on. Just like the old saying – the rich are getting richer while the poor are getting poorer. The proposal would enrich the lawmakers each to the tune of several million naira, serving or retired. (See May 6 2000, Weekend Concord for an exhaustive details about these rip-offs). The master and servant relationships associated with the programmes to alleviate poverty. Government claims to know and understand what poverty is, who the poor are and what they need in order to alleviate their poverty.

The Abuja big men can not possibly claim to understand what it is to be poor. Only the poor understands poverty and it is also the poor that knows how their poverty could be alleviated. A sick man knows where it hurts him. So it stands to reason that the viable alternative to the big man telling the small man what to do, is the ordinary man telling the big man his problems and how he thinks the problems could be solved. The fact is that the poor usually have quite good perceptions of their own needs and goals and of what would be required to satisfy and make progress toward them. According to the theory of Humble Approach to Development, it is appropriate for government “to ensure their citizen’s active participation in formulating and implementing projects of which they are supposed to be the beneficiaries”.

Government should not presume that they know what will benefit the poor better than the poor themselves. “Projects should be embarked upon because the people need them, not because some contractors (who stands to profit from the projects) are pushing for them. If development is about people, it cannot happen without the participation of the people. The citizens should clarify their own needs and priorities. They should speak up and stand up for what they consider their priorities, and speak and act against white elephant projects”. It is also reasonable that before forms and loans are dished out to the public, the government should do well to take stock of the past attempts at alleviating poverty in this country. The point is that when a program has been failing each time it is attempted, the ideal thing to do would be to study the past attempts to see where the mistakes lies. The concept of the above analysis is sometimes referred to as – participatory development, bottom – up, sustainable livelihoods, humble development approach, and so on.

The anti – corruption policy stance of this administration can only be achieved if greed mentality is addressed through proper management of the national wealth and through proper implementation of the on-going poverty alleviation programmes. The fact is that it is poverty and greed that breeds corruption, so it goes without saying that where poverty is alleviated, corrupt practices would be minimal or alleviated as-well (for corruption can never be eradicated, and never has it been eradicated in anywhere in the world). As one commentator put it, “poverty makes people compromise on moral values or abandon moral values completely. Poverty has created frustration, loss of hope, prospects and value for life. There was loss of the meaning of life, purpose of living, something to live for and disillusionment about morality because criminals are living best. In order words, poverty is a cause of corruption while corruption is a consequence of poverty and loss of moral values.”

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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