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UN: With 100m Still Living Below Poverty Line, Nigeria Not on Track to Attaining Sustainable Development Goals

Mr. Mathias Schmale on Wednesday said Nigeria currently lags behind in terms of reaching many of the SDGs 2030 targets.

Mathias Schmale

The United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Mathias Schmale on Wednesday said Nigeria currently lags behind in terms of reaching many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 targets.

The UN scribe said the country’s population of over 150 million has majority living on less than N370 per day, quoting data from the World Bank.

He said though lifting the people above the poverty line cannot be done quickly, the government must act within the short and medium term to ensure that vulnerable Nigerians were protected in an effective and innovative way including cash transfer programmes and other social protection schemes.

Speaking at the opening of the maiden Africa Social Impact Summit (ASIS) with the theme: “Rethink, Rebuild, Recover: Accelerating Growth for the SDGs”, which was hosted by the Sterling One Foundation in Abuja, Schmale said even though there are significant challenges to the attainment of the 2030 agenda, which was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, Nigeria was already lagging behind before the dual obstacles.

This was just as the Managing Director/Chief Executive, Sterling Bank Plc, Mr. Abubakar Suleiman, insisted that wealth generation and economic prosperity remained crucial to solving the poverty challenge in the country.

He maintained that government must promote economic growth by supporting the private sector to create jobs, adding, “as that growth happens, we must then take that part of the resources to attend to those left behind.”

Schmale, however, pointed out that about 100 million vulnerable Nigerians currently live below the poverty line, adding that, “We need to do things to protect them while backing the winner; there are successful businesses, there are successful government initiatives and so it is the right mixture of protecting the poor and backing the winners who are doing well for the country and the continent”.

The UN resident coordinator said given that Africa was predicted to have a staggering 830 million young people by 2050, the challenge was to create an enabling environment for them to reach their potential and become a blessing rather than a curse to the continent.

He said, “From our point of view, this should be viewed as a blessing rather than a curse for the continent – one that can power its economies and societies to greater heights.”

However, reaping the benefits of what is often referred to as the youth dividend is not guaranteed; the potential of young people must be cultivated and supported. Like all of us, the young also face the headwinds of challenging megatrends such as climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and growing inequality.”

Schmale said, “It is imperative that support and subsidies aimed at making life more bearable for the poor really do reach them and that significant adjustment are made when they don’t.”

According to him, impactful development also required investment in quality education for all and affordable primary healthcare, pointing out that inclusive social impact could only be achieved through the right mix of sustainable economic growth, social protection, and a conducive environment that includes basic health and educational services for all.

He stressed that the government must identify truly transformative initiatives that would catalyse tangible changes in the lives and livelihoods of Nigerians given that Nigeria and the continent, in general, are currently tracking behind in efforts to attain the SDGs.

He added, “Before the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, Nigeria was already lagging behind in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“So the importance of this event is to take time to rethink, recalibrate, revise on how to get there and I think the way to get there is all about collaborative partnerships between the private sector, government, employers, and trade unions.

“And also to do two things, one is to protect the vulnerable. There will always be people who lose out and currently, almost 100 million people in Nigeria live below the poverty line. So we cannot talk about economic growth and think that those 100 million will quickly be lifted out of poverty.

“I think the spirit is there, the abilities are there – it is a very educative society and they just need to be given the opportunity. And you know the famous saying that ‘don’t give people fish, teach them how to fish’. In Nigeria, people know how to fish, they just need to be given the opportunity.”

Speaking further, Suleiman however, noted that the summit had been able to appreciate the concept of, “using investment to drive social impact to the fore, the same way we have all kinds of summits trying to promote business development; we want to bring people together who are trying to surf for the SDGs and make them work together.”

He said, “I think it is important for us to recognise that for us to solve poverty, we have to also solve for prosperity. It means Nigeria must pay attention to the things that would lead to the growth of wealth as well because it is from the wealth that is created from higher productivity that we will have the resources for those that are being left behind.

“A lot of people would meet here for the first time, some have met before, they will start working together while some are already working together and they will accelerate what they are doing. There is a place to bring government, NGOs, private sector, businesses together to solve the same problem.”

James Emejo in Abuja

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