Poverty Alleviation in Theory

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Peter Obi, recently introduced payment of social security allowance to old people in his state
Peter Obi, recently introduced payment of social security allowance to old people in his state

Poverty rate in Nigeria continues to jump despite the poverty alleviation programmes of state and federal governments

|  By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Feb. 18, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

DORCAS Segun, a trader and mother of five in Ajuwon, who lives in a suburb of Lagos State, is not a happy woman. For two years now, her husband absconded, leaving her to raise their children all by herself from the meager income she makes selling logs of woods in Ajuwon market. Also living on her scanty income are her four grandchildren, whom her eldest daughter had out of wedlock. This has made life unbearable for the family of 10 which lives in a small two-room apartment. The members all look ill-fed and ill clothed. Worse still they lacked any form of education with poverty staring on their faces in their neighbourhood.

For the Seguns,  the impact of the Lagos State ministry of women affairs and poverty alleviation otherwise known as WAPA, created since 1999 for the purpose of alleviating poverty and  raising the living standard of the less fortunate in Lagos State, is a mirage. Segun said she is unaware of any poverty alleviation effort of the Lagos state government “I have never heard of WAPA or what it means. I don’t even know that government helps poor people”, she said.

It could be argued that Segun’s poverty was self-inflicted as her plight would not have been so bad had she maintained a small family. But she could have been better off if she had gotten assistance from such government alleviation agencies as WAPA.

On its website, WAPA states that its mission is to empower women economically through skill acquisition that would ultimately lead to self-employment and economic self-reliance.” For instance, WAPA, whose office is being coordinated by Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, deputy governor of Lagos State, regularly runs skills acquisition training programmes for women such as balloons decorations, cake baking, pomade/soap making, beads stringing, weaving and hair dressing, stove, tread and insecticide production, tie and dye and many other skills.

 But only a small number of the population in Lagos is aware of such government efforts towards poverty eradication and so far, only 3000 have benefitted from the programme.  This figure is like a drop in the ocean of poverty in Lagos State, where, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, poverty rate is 48.6 percent of its population estimate of 17 million. Similarly, Kano State, with a population of 9.3 million, has more than 50 percent of its inhabitants living in poverty. The poverty rates in Lagos and Kano are unique because they are the most populous metropolitan cities in the country. And the situation there reflects what obtains in other parts of the country where the governors and their wives have poverty alleviation programmes.

However, like Segun and her family, there are many Nigerian families living in abject poverty in all the states of the federation even though they (the states) all boast of some form of poverty eradication agencies or ministries in addition to the pet projects of the states’ first ladies. For instance, in  2011 Amina Yakowa, wife of the late Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa, former governor of the state, floated her own poverty eradication programme called Kaduna Intervention Initiative, KII, shortly after her husband’s victory at the polls. The programme was to complement the efforts of the state government which had its own ministries of women affairs, and youth development, all geared towards improving the wellbeing of the people of the state.

Like other previous poverty eradication efforts before the Yakowa administration, the KII, also died with the administration following the demise of Patrick Yakowa. But even before then, not many knew much about the KII and what it has been doing.

For the Imo State government, its own method of reducing poverty was to set aside the sum of N50 million as revolving loan for traders in the state and to also exempt the traders from paying levies and taxes for some time.

In Anambra, the government recently adopted a more direct approach to tackling poverty in the state. On February 4, this year, the state government said it would start giving monthly stipends to indigenes of the state that are above 70 years old. According to Mike Udah, chief press secretary to Peter Obi, governor of Anambra state, the programme was going to be successful. “The programme is possible. It is not how much revenue we get but how wise it is used. The Anambra State government is poised to implement it to the letter”, Udah said.

Various state governments have adopted various poverty eradication formulas but despite these efforts, the poverty situation in the country is still worsening.  Just last year, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, said the percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty, that is, those who can only afford the basic essentials of food, shelter and clothing — rose to 60.9 per cent in 2010, from  54.7 per cent in 2004.

 “It remains a paradox … that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year,” Yemi Kale, statistician general of the federation said, adding: “the NBS estimates that this trend may have increased further in 2011,” Kale said.

The statistics released by the NBS showed that the North-East and North-West, where the Boko Haram activities have been high are the poorest zones in Nigeria while the South-West had the lowest levels of poverty.

But for Emmanuel Mshelia, a community mobiliser in Kaduna State, the only way poverty can be reduced is when government takes the issue of power supply seriously. “When you have steady power supply and conducive business environment, many industries would thrive and many would be employed”, he said.

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