Nigeria’s federal government, on Wednesday, reviewed the high poverty level in the country, and said the 36 governors of the federation were to blame for not getting their priorities right in their respective states.
But rather than fight poverty headlong by improving the lives of their citizens, the governors, the federal government, claimed, preferred to embark on such projects like airports and flyovers that were unrelated to their welfare.
Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, made the accusation while fielding questions at the end of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, at the State House, Abuja.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently revealed that no fewer than 133 million Nigerians, representing 63 per cent of the population were living in multi-dimensional poverty.
Of the total, 105.98 million poor Nigerians were reportedly located in rural areas, compared to 16.97 million in urban areas.
According to the Nigeria Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) 2022 Survey, there were high deprivations in sanitation, time to healthcare, food insecurity, and housing.
Also, poor people were said to experience over one-quarter of all possible deprivations.
It was against this backdrop that the minister said 72 per cent of the poverty level in Nigeria was found in the rural areas, which according to him, had been abandoned by governors.
He reiterated that the governors preferred to function in the state capitals while the federal government, on its part, has done its best on poverty alleviation.
Expressing regrets that there was no reflection of the amount of investment that had been done in that area, Agba accused governors of concentrating on building flyovers, airports and other projects that were visible in the state capitals, rather than investing in areas that could directly uplift the standard of life of the people in the rural areas.
The minister pointed out that while states were in charge of land for agriculture, they did not invest in them for the desired effect on their rural citizens.
He, therefore, advised the state chief executives that rather than concentrate attention on the building of skyscrapers, flyovers and bridges, they should focus of initiatives that could pull the majority of the people out of poverty.
His words: “The question was, what is the Minister of Finance and I doing with regard to hardship in Nigeria, right? So, suggestion is that both of us are the ones creating the hardship for us to resolve it.
“In the first place. I just returned this morning from Brussels, where 106 countries nowadays are 27 countries from Europe and 79 countries from the Organisation of African Caribbean and Pacific countries. What was the deliberation on? Basically on how the world over tends to do around food and energy and energy crisis.
“I think that it’s always good for us to put things in the right perspective. Like I say to people, when you say government, we should be able to specify which government we are talking about. Is it a federal government? Is it a state government or is it a local government? Because we all have different responsibilities.
“And it is for this reason that we last year started some work on the multi-dimensional poverty index, for which we recently released the report and it was lunched by Mr. President.
“To say in the past, we’ve always looked at monetary poverty. But poverty like we know, has different pieces, different intensity and different causes. And it is for this reason, I went around the 109 senatorial districts in Nigeria, to carry out those survey and to be able to say specifically, where this hardship is.
“The result clearly showed that 72 per cent of poverty is in the rural areas. It also showed clearly, that Sokoto State is leading in poverty with 91 per cent. But the surprising thing is Bayelsa being the second in terms of poverty rating in the country. So, you see the issue is not about availability of money. But it has to do with the application of money.
“In the course of working on the national development plan, we looked at previous plans and say,why they didn’t do as much as was expected. We also looked at the issues of the National Social Investment Programme.
“At the federal level, government is putting out so much money but not seeing so much reflection, in terms of money that has been put in alleviating poverty, which is one of the reasons the government also put in place the national poverty reduction with growth strategy.
“But if the federal government puts the entire income that it earns into all of this without some form of complementarity from the state governments in playing their part, it will seem as if we are throwing money in the pond.”
Maintaining that, the governors were basically functioning only in their state capitals, the minister said, “And democracy that we preach about is delivering the greatest goods to the greatest number of people. And from our demographic, it shows that the greatest number of our people live in rural areas, but the governors are not working in the rural areas.
“Right now, 70 per cent of our people live in rural areas, they produce 90 per cent of what we eat and unfortunately, 60 per cent of what they produce is lost due to post-harvest loss and it does not get to the market.
“When we’re talking about food prices, like I mentioned right now as driving inflation, prices of food at the farm gates are low. But when you now take it to the urban areas, you find out that the prices are high due to supply chain disruptions, lack of infrastructure to take them there.
“I think from the federal government side, we are doing our best. But we need to push that rather than governors continuing to compete to take loans to build airports that are not necessary, when they have other airports so close to them. Governors now are competing to build flyovers all over the place and we applaud them.
“They should concentrate on building rural roads so that the farmer can, at least, get their products to the market. And you find that if they do that and with the new policy in the national development plan that talks about taking power to the rural areas, especially of out-grid power that can easily be put, you begin to attract industries to those areas for value addition.
“UNIDO report shows us in terms of employment, the MSMEs employs 70 percent of our people. So, you can imagine how much progress we will make when you find that there are roads, there is power in these rural areas.
“In terms of agriculture, you find out that the federal government doesn’t have a land that they would plant; government has pushed for the Anchor Borrowers programme and that is going on very well but the states control lands. They are the ones to provide land for agriculture. They are not investing in that. They would rather build skyscrapers in a city, where people will see and clap but the skyscrapers do not put food on the table.
“Like I always say, if you look at the Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he says you have to take care of the basic needs of individuals first before you begin to talk about self-actualisation.
“So, we need to take care of the issues of food, nutrition, housing and clothing for our people. Before we begin to think of how to go to the moon and begin to build flyovers and airports in the state capital, that is the missing link, which we need to push so that we’ll be able to catalyze growth.
“But continuing to say federal government or my sister, Zainab and I, what are we doing? We are doing our parts. And I’m sure (Governor Nyesom) Wike told you guys about monies that have been released, over N500 billion to the oil producing states and I’ve seen some disclaimers from the states saying, it is small, small money they are getting on a monthly basis.
“And some are giving some half-truths of what they have received. We need to hold them accountable so that together, we all can grow our economy,” he added.
Deji Elumoye in Abuja