The Imperative Of The War Against Poverty | Independent Newspapers Limited
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The Imperative Of The War Against Poverty

economic; poverty, 'Change Begins With Me
Posted: Sep 4, 2016 at 8:14 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

The dark days are here for real. The screaming newspaper headlines attest to this: 79.9 million Nigerians are jobless. 272 manufacturing companies close shop. Industrial production dips by 9.53%. Banks and insurance companies cut workers’ salaries. Inflation hits an all-­time high of 17.1%; the worst in three decades! 1,200 workers lose jobs as Aero Contractors halt operations. 600 pilots roam our streets. Many Nigerians are relocating to their villages… One is not a doomsday prophet, or scare­monger. But the dire economic situation could get even worse.

That is, if the slide goes down by 2% over another Quarter and urgent, drastic steps are not taken by the current APC­-led administration to bail the ship of state from the eye of the economic storm, instead of indulging in self-
decimating blame ­game. Currently, 22 states are yet to pay pensioners their entitlements and 27 states cannot pay staff salaries, as at when due. That is curious, even as some of the state governors concerned fly over the long-
suffering masses in private jets, while others riddle our days with convoys of siren-­blaring, exotic wonders on wheels.

Still, nobody is asking questions on how the so called bail­out funds have been expended. But that is not all.

Without sounding immodest, yours sincerely was one of the first writers to predict it; precisely on October 15,2015. I had warned back then, with my opinion essay titled: “Nigerians, are you prepared for the looming economic recession?” that we should brace up for the hard times. It was first posted on my Facebook page before The Punch published the edited version on November 9 and 10, 2015. Unfortunately, few, if any of the policy makers took my opinion seriously then. Now, it is a clear and present danger within our shores.

As also presaged, is the increase of terminal diseases such as High Blood Pressure (HBP), stroke, malnutrition and diabetes.. So are untimely deaths and the rate of suicide. A month ago, another of my essays asked the querulous question: “Do they know we are suffering?”

Good enough, Mr. President responded by admitting that he knows Nigerians are groaning in the mire of mindless misery. But what rankles, is the repeated, yet tepid excuse that former Jonathan caused all our woes!

Really?! You may tell that to the marines. If memory serves, the controversial issue of corruption, and worse still, the crass culture of impunity did not start with the past administration. It was one of the issues reflected in the speech made by Major Nzeogwu Kaduna (late) on January, 15 1966 during the infamous Nigeria’s first coup de tat when he referred to the corrupt “ten percenters” that gave the loophole for the coup plotters to strike.

Yet, subsequent years of the restless run of ravenous locusts, via unbroken one ­and ­half decade of military dictatorship as well as the weaverbirds; the class of self­-seeking politicians who pillaged and plundered our national till, literally brought us to our begging knees.

What matters most now, however, is how to find lasting solutions to the current economic woes. Poverty is no picnic. Solutions should be a holistic; involving governments at all levels, the private sector and rich individuals.

Government needs to increase on spending. It should fast track budgetary process and more so, its implementation. Stable electric power generation and distribution, in addition to bank loans at single ­digit interest rates, made available to small and medium scale enterprises would increase the commercial sub-­sector and eventually boost the real sector.

Indeed, one of the root causes of it all, is the dysfunctional political system we run that concentrates the lion share of state resources in the hands of a few, to the detriment of millions of citizens. The bloated pay package of politicians is far at variance with the harsh realities on ground. We seem to be running the anthill structure whereby the worker and soldier ants are constantly at the whims and caprices of the king and queen termites. This should not be.

Political restructuring that would devolve enormous political and economic powers from the bloated centre to the federating states or geo­political zones has become an imperative. The current unitary system that bestows emperor­like status on the federal centre will never get us out of the economic wood.

Ordinarily, the federal government should have no business with power generation, agriculture, education, healthcare delivery and much of the infrastructural development in the states. It should rather, concern itself with security institutions such as the armed forces, perhaps the police, as well as international relations and supervisory role of some national institutions.

If the Western Region (now defunct) could fund the free education policy, build the cocoa house, provide good access roads and the first television station in Sub­Saharan Africa during the tenure of Chief Obafemi Awolowo (of blessed memory), with revenue from unprocessed cocoa beans, why can’t our present states be allowed to develop at their own pace and with their God­-given natural resources? They could be asked to pay a certain percentage of between 25 to 30 per cent to the centre? Also, laws should be enacted and enforced to give the needed autonomy to the local government administration. It would bring governance closer to the people.

With that in place, poverty ­alleviation programmes would impact more positively on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the people at the grassroots. For instance, fanciful sounding initiatives such as DFRRI, the Family Support Programme(FSP) during the military era and others such as NAPEP, the Youth Empowerment Scheme(YES),the Rural Infrastructural Development Scheme(RIDS) and NEEDS under our democratic dispensation all failed. But why? They collapsed because they were far removed from the intended beneficiaries.

And some were used as mere conduit pipe for self-­enrichment. Another means of alleviating poverty is for the richest Nigerians to borrow a fresh leaf from the laudable Giving Pledge initiative of 38 American billionaires. Inspired by Warren Buffet, back in August 2010 they decided, on their volition to channel at least 50 per cent of their enormous wealth to charitable causes in less developed countries. Our billionaires, prosperity-preaching pastors and prophets should also join the fray.

Above all, our political helmsmen should realize that true leadership entails finding solutions to existing problems, against all odds; not giving flimsy excuses for successive failures of programmes and policies. The time to actis now!

Ayo Oyoze Baje, a public affairs analyst writes from Lagos