Title: Alternative Poverty Reduction Strategy for Nigeria
By: Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)
Publisher: Rehoboth Publishing, Lagos Nigeria
Poverty has been a stigma in the African continent. It is like a thorn in the flesh, whose pain and irritation has started to spread and as the famous saying goes ‘Its only the wearer of the shoe who knows where it pinches’, many Africans are coming out of their ‘comfort zones’ because the pain is no longer bearable! Africans are tired of suggestions from non-Africans who cannot fathom how a human being can feed on herbs and baobab berries or chew sugarcane for breakfast, lunch and supper seven days a week without getting the blood sugar disease.
In the book, Alternative Poverty Reduction Strategy for Nigeria, published by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD). The authors attempt to bring out the causes of poverty and reasonable strategies to eradicate poverty in five simple chapters.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines poverty as the state of being extremely poor. But the Nigeria’s International Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan (IPRSP) says that poverty essentially involves lack of access to basic needs, combined with impaired access to productive resources. As for Dr. Otive Igbuzor, (Deputy Country Director of Action Aid, Nigeria), the various definitions of poverty show what a person lacks when he/she is poor but do not capture poverty in its entirety. He argues out that poverty is multifaceted and encompasses income, politics, ideology and society.
Income poverty is a condition where people lack access to basic needs whereas political poverty occurs when people are denied basic rights in governance and participation in decisions concerning the generation, distribution and utilization of resources. In social poverty, the society is stratified leading to discrimination, stigmatization and dehumanization of individuals. Ideological poverty is a condition where people are bereft or forced to abandon indigenous, genuine, people centered and practical ideas on how to organize society and distribute resources. These various brands of poverty are interconnected and reinforce each other.
According to the National policy on Poverty eradication, poverty comes as a result of macroeconomic distortions characterized by dependence on oil revenue, unstable interest and exchange rates and inappropriate policies, On the other hand, IPRSP argues that, the main causes of poverty in Nigeria include; illiteracy, unemployment, ignorance, high inflation rates, poor economic governance, corruption, insecurity to life and property, huge foreign debt, high incidence of diseases, environmental degradation, large family sizes, inadequate access to employment opportunities and lack of adequate access to land and capital. Dr. Igbuzor points out that poverty is created by communities, societies, governments and the international community through institutions, mechanisms and practices in politics, economy, religion and tradition leading to exclusion of a category of people which leaves them without choice and ultimately creates material deprivation and powerlessness. Poverty is exacerbated through theft of community and national resources by those who have power and access to resources, poor governance, environmental factors, anti-poor policies and inequitable distribution of resources.
In the first chapter, Alternative Poverty Eradication Strategy: Introductory Issues, Professor Okenchukwu Ibeanu from MacArthur Foundation in Abuja, Nigeria, argues that the path to economic development can be achieved through economic policies that support the free market, reduce state participation in the economy and expand the private economy, enhance liberalization of foreign trade and enunciate a domestic price structure. In his view, Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan (PRSP) at best poses as the link between development and poverty circuitously, namely that development cannot occur without solving the problem of poverty and the problem of poverty cannot be solved without development.
Dr. Samuel Egwu (Department of Political Science, University of Jos Nigeria.) says that a comprehensive and well designed educational system provides the best guarantee for attaining a human resource development level capable of sustaining development at the individual, community and national levels. Sustainable and genuine efforts aimed at poverty reduction must thus address human resource development and training in a manner that is linked to improvement in the quality of life.
In the past animals were used to measure the wealth and poverty line of individuals and households. But there has been a shift from animals to what the World Bank currently uses, that is GNP (Gross National Product) to measure the poverty and prosperity of a nation. Interestingly, the UNDP uses different standards for industrialized and the less developed countries. For instance, for the index of vulnerability to death, the age for industrialized countries is 60 while that of the less developed countries is 40.
Strategies for poverty eradication in Nigeria as laid down by Dr.Otive include:
i) A more nuanced understanding of poverty- Having a knowledge of policies that work to increase economic growth, protect people from disease and protect the environment from degradation, train young minds and with a view of equipping them for productive work and knowledge of where we stand now and how far we have to go to achieve the goal of having a poverty free world.
ii) Participation of the poor- A policy document on poverty strategies for the 21st century must be based on the experiences, priorities, reflections and recommendations of poor children, women and men.
iii) Empowerment of the poor- Effective poverty reduction must tap into the motivation, desire, determination, imagination, knowledge, networks and organizations of poor women, men and children.
iv) Good governance, transparency and accountability- There is need to promote good governance with emphasis on protection of human rights especially economic, social and cultural rights.
v) Rights based approach- This gives primacy to the participation and empowerment of the poor, insists on democratic practices and on the fulfillment by the international community, nation states, the commercial sector, local communities and associations of their obligations to respect, fulfill and promote human rights
vi) Combating gender inequality, children vulnerability and other vulnerable groups.
Special emphasis should be placed on combating gender inequity and addressing the mechanisms, institutions and practices that make women and other groups in society vulnerable.
vii) Promoting pro-poor policies- to eradicate poverty, care must be taken to ensure that all policies are pro-poor. Such that those that favor small scale farmers and are labour intensive.
Otive highlights that majority of the poor live in rural areas with geo-political disparities between male and female and the fact that their lack is in the midst of plenty.
Dr.Timi Owolabi an Agriculture Economist and Independent Consultant based in Lagos says that a general re-orientation of people towards Agriculture, its potentials and food security implications should be pursued through virile enlightment campaigns. People,(particularly the youth) should be encouraged to take farming as a profession or a vocation instead of looking for the white collar jobs that are no-longer readily available. on the other hand, he argues that the government should regulate the prices of farm inputs instead of leaving it to the market forces. There should be provision of adequate funding for the training of the extension personnel as well as training facilities and reduction of extension to farmer ratio for greater efficiency. Intensification of research into food security and increased export earnings should be done as technology transfer to the farmers is made more effective, relevant and timely through the development of strong communication between research, extension and the farmers.
Poverty is at its root bred by unequal power relations, the structural and systematic allocation of resources among different groups in society and their differential access to power and political process. This is an observation made by the CDD Director, Dr. J.’Kayode Fayemi. He notes that there has been a distorted distribution of the nation’s wealth which has resulted to the enrichment of a minority at the expense of an impoverished majority. Like many developing countries women and men experience poverty differently. The primary reason for this huge disparity is the power relations between men and women and the limited effort in broader decision making beyond the household.
Dr. Fayemi and his team believe that the focus in terms of policy recommendations must see beyond the electoral democracy and concentrate on factors that can help sustain democratic governance over the long term.
The authors however clash on their remedies to poverty. Whereas Professor Okenchukwu advocates for limited government in the economy, Dr. Owolabi argues that the government should step in and even control prices. The authors leave several issues hanging. They don’t expound on how overpopulation leads to poverty and the pro poor policies they advocate for. Whereas Dr. Igbuzor and Fayemi argue for equitable distribution of resources, they don’t explain how this will work. It is seriously misleading to spread the idea that the solution to poverty consists in finding how to expropriate part of the income of those who have earned “more than they need” in order to “distribute” it to those who have not earned enough. History has shown that equality of resources has never produced equality of outcome.
It is a good book however exposing commonly held poverty reduction strategies and challenging the reader to subject them to economic realities.