How to develop the world’s poverty capital

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There are now more poor people living in Nigeria than anywhere else in the world. In a recent report by the World Poverty Clock, the number of extremely poor Nigerians has risen to over 91 million. This is an increase of over four million Nigerians from the figure released in June 2018 when we overtook India’s 73 million poor people to become the poverty capital of the world. To put the poverty statistics in another context, if poor Nigerians were a country it would be more populous than Germany. Almost six people in Nigeria fall into this trap every minute.

Yet a few days ago, President Muhammadu Buhari informed the nation that the federal government’s introduced National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) has in three years, lifted no fewer than five million Nigerians out of extreme poverty.  In addition to revealing the sterling announcement, Mr President stated that he had directed the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to stop providing foreign exchange for importation of food into the country, with the “steady improvement in agricultural production, and attainment of full food security.” This goes to show that despite the hunger and famine experienced in some areas, the federal government believes the country is currently producing enough food and distributing it effectively across the 36 states of the federation.

This appears to be part of the grand scheme to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years as promised in the president’s speech on Democracy day, June 12. To do so, the president would need to elevate the status of a total of 10 million Nigerians every year and about 40 million by the end of his current tenure of four years. However, if about four million Nigerians have become poorer in just a year, I fear the government is simply like a rat running in circles trying to bite its tail. No solution can come out of that. Therefore I have some questions for Mr President. The first is one I mentioned in a previous article entitled – The haves and the haves not. The question is simple; ‘Can the government be so kind as to publish a plan of action to show how they intend to fulfil their promise so that everyone can contribute?’ Experience tells me that in most cases, new administrations do not continue the works of the previous, no matter how good and important they are to our development.

In the past, stories of National Development Plan dominated the headlines, especially in the early seventies. This started with the first Republic Development Plan launched in 1962 with a six-year plan and followed the dispensation of a second in the era of General Yakubu Gown as the then Head of the Government in 1966 – 1975. His administration oversaw a second and a third development plan that saw the completion of many projects like the cement works in Calabar, Ukpilla, Shagamu and more; the pulp and paper projects at Jebba, Calabar and Iwopin; the four commercial vehicle assembly plants; two Iron and Steel plants; and three steel rolling mills. The transport sector also witnessed some improvements as roads were built or rehabilitated, new airports were constructed and new seas ports were developed in Lagos, Warri, Calabar and Port Harcourt. This continued with a fourth development plan during the period of Shehu Shagari in the eighties but ceased after the Military came into power and from then on, we became accustomed to tenure projects that yield no real lasting and long term development. The four periods of the National Development Plan are probably the only real example this country has of any continuity in government over the six decades of its independent existence.

This is evident in the decay and neglect of many of the infrastructures that were built in the seventies and eighties. The paper mills are no more, the assembly plants barely function – if at all- and the whole country’s sea import and export transactions can only be serviced with one state ports presently being operated. What happened to the three other ports we once had?

Undoubtedly, the President and his team have their work cut out for them if they hope to achieve their lofty dreams. They can begin with redeveloping the seaports in Port Harcourt, Warri and Calabar. The country loses a lot of money for refusing to expand in this area. The ports in Apapa and Tincan are highly inadequate and can no longer cope; something that has become plain for everybody to see. The newly redeveloped ports can be concessional because ports development is a very profitable enterprise.

We also had oil pipelines built in the eighties that would reduce the strain of trailers travelling long distances to demand and supply oil. These pipes ran from the south to the north and other key locations. This should be revisited as the pipes still exist. There is no reason for trailers carrying PMS to travel from one end of the nation to the other.  Another area that needs to be addressed without fail and with great urgency is the aspect of peace and security. No true economic development can take place in a nation ridden with violence and unchecked crime. This will only further create a wider divide between those who can afford to buy protection and those who can’t. We need to bear in mind that the hallmark of a successful nation is one that offers protection to all – the Good, the bad, the rich and the poor.

While we wait for the president’s plan, permit me to highlight some other areas where millions of jobs can be generated. One that is very dear to me is creating a Trans Sahara highway. This cannot be done by just one nation but needs the collective involvement of the frontline nations, that is, countries bordering the desert in Africa. The Trans-Saharan highway – a transnational highway project – will pave, improve and ease border formalities on an existing trade route across the Desert. It runs between North Africa bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the north and West Africa bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the south; from Algiers in Algeria to Lagos in Nigeria. Although the project has not taken off as planned, the potential was enormous. By developing a proper road network in the desert, will open up the desert to enable the easy movement of goods, trade and services across the continent. It will create employment, education and industry for millions of Africans that border the Sahara through many countries. It will also green a good part of the Sahara and provide grazing fields for the development of animal husbandry.

The greening will stop the encroachment especially if done right with the necessary land reclamation techniques employed. An obvious benefit is the recovery of lands that have been encroached upon by the untamed desert for agricultural and grazing purposes. This will also help boost countries’ economies as farmers that may have migrated due to loss of the fertile lands will return with hopes of experiencing higher yields. Inevitably, the threat to food security will be minimized and poverty will be reduced.

Another area that needs to be considered is the arts and culture industry of Nigeria. The country’s art used to be one of the best in the world. It attracted millions of tourists each year with its numerous festivities. There was a campaign to showcase the art and culture of Nigeria to the whole world. The art of Nigeria then known as Nigeria art two thousand curated by the national museum of art and monument and went on a world tour for two years in the form of an exhibition of our work. The exhibition was very well received globally.

It showcased Nigeria to the world and Nigerian art as one of the best. It also told the rest of the world that civilization in Nigeria started thousands of years ago. This realization was followed by Festac ’77 that brought the whole of the black world to Nigeria. There were festivals in every part of the country before the national one in Ibadan. For two years leading on to Festac, millions of Nigeria were very happy and united because there were so much for us to celebrate and there were so much that united us. Festac ’77 is a good example of how well the nation can galvanize itself to action for a common good.

The same can be said for sports development. Some sports that Nigeria once played and dominated in have become big businesses all over the world and taken people out of poverty. Today, there is the cricket world cup that attracts millions in revenue to countries that started playing the sport long after Nigeria. Nigeria had a world-class cricket ground that has been turned into an event centre.  Horse racing has also grown in many countries and created jobs for a lot of people. Football is high up on the list of profitable sports and although we participate fully, we still haven’t maximized the immense opportunities in it. In the city of London, smaller in population size and land area, there are over a dozen football stadium with an average of 50,000 capacities full every week and injecting millions of pounds into the economy while employing millions of its residents.

So, Mr President, you will do this country a lot of good if you take some of these issues into consideration. They will complement the infrastructure, agriculture, education and health development making it easier to reach your 100 million out of poverty in ten years project. Your roadmap must be published like it is done in most countries so that the public can contribute because of the size of the project that will change the country for good and have your name written in gold.

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