AMIDST record levels of privation, President Bola Tinubu’s avowal to eradicate poverty renews hope among Nigerians. Gracing the annual convention of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management in Abuja, the President promised that his five-month-old administration would rescue the millions of Nigerians currently trapped in penury. Accomplishing this requires the adoption and dogged implementation of effective fiscal, monetary, and governance policies.
The task looks onerous but is achievable. After decades of inept leadership, Nigeria overtook India as the ‘world poverty capital’ in 2018 with 86.7 million poor citizens. Although India regained that crown in 2022, the National Bureau of Statistics aggregated the number of multidimensionally poor Nigerians at 133 million, 63 per cent of the population.
Following the President’s removal of petrol subsidy and naira rate unification on taking office, the World Bank said 7.1 million more Nigerians would slide into poverty in 2023. One estimate has raised this forecast to 10 million.
Meanwhile, inflation rose to 27.33 per cent in October – an 18-year high – largely due to higher food, non-alcoholic beverages, housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuel prices. The 2023 Global Hunger Index ranked Nigeria 109th among 125 countries, rating its level as ‘serious.’
Tinubu acknowledges the problem. He said, “Poverty is not a shameful thing – but it is an unacceptable thing. Therefore, my vision for the Nigerian workforce is one where every citizen who wishes to be, is gainfully employed and able to take care of themselves and their family.”
However, given Nigeria’s immense natural and human resources, the country’s poverty level is a national shame. He and the 36 state governors should realise this.
Tinubu’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, also promised, but failed miserably, to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. He left office with record poverty level, and 33.3 per cent unemployment rate.
To succeed, Tinubu should adopt concrete economic policies, anchored on a sound macroeconomic framework; realistic fiscal and monetary measures to tame inflation, boost domestic production, control interest and foreign exchange rates, maintain a positive balance of payment position, and stop amassing unsustainable debts.
He should reach for the “low-hanging fruits;” revitalise the liberalisation and privatisation programme to change the consumptive, informal, and rent-taking structure of the economy, to one geared for production, self-sufficiency, and private sector-leadership.
His hesitancy on the privatisation of the four public refineries, the Ajaokuta Steel Company, and liberalisation of the airports and seaports, is retrogressive. Continued importation of refined petroleum products and government control of commercial enterprises are guaranteed to sustain poverty. The United States government does not own any refinery, but the country’s private sector refines about 8.81 million barrels per day, per the US Energy Information Administration.
Over the years, the Nigerian government’s running of businesses has been disastrous. Tinubu must quickly signal that Nigeria is open to private capital. The refineries, the ASC — which he unwisely insists that he would ‘complete soon’ –should be privatised, and the operations at the ports and airports run as concessions. Money generated should be re-directed to infrastructure, health and education.
The Washington Post reported that “well-funded social programmes, careful economic stewardship, and creating a burgeoning consumer class” helped lift 20 million Brazilians from poverty 2003 to 2011.
Taming insecurity will magnetise investors and farmers back to their enterprises and farms. Tinubu must also rebuild the electricity sector, and concentrate on agriculture, SMEs and housing, that stimulate jobs, and production.
Nigeria’s warped ‘feeding bottle’ federalism, featuring the monthly sharing of revenue by indolent states, is the antithesis of prosperity. Therefore, Tinubu must be the pivotal campaigner for restructuring to reposition the states to drive production and poverty reduction.
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