The World Bank report, titled: ‘A Better Future for All Nigerians: Nigeria Poverty Assessment (2022)’ the factors of sluggish economic growth, low human capital, labour market weaknesses, as well as exposure to shock were specifically highlighted as holding Nigeria’s poverty reduction back. According to the report, which brings together the evidence on the profile and drivers of poverty in Nigeria, as many as 4 in 10 Nigerians live below the national poverty line.
Many Nigerians – especially in the country’s north – also lack education and access to basic infrastructure, such as electricity, safe drinking water, and improved sanitation. That was on March 22, 2022. But over a year later, the situation is not getting much better. Our increasing concern is therefore predicated on some new policies that the President Bola Tinubu-led administration has come up with, which if not handled with utmost caution could lead many more Nigerians into the pitiable pit of poverty.
First amongst these was the removal of fuel subsidy in the absence of cushioning palliatives, with fuel price rising from N189 per litre up to N560 and more per litre! This has led of course, to the attendant spiralling costs of transportation, food items and other consumables. In fact, in January 2023, the headline inflation rate rose to 21.82 per cent compared to 21.34 per cent as at December 2022; and reached an over 18-year high of 26.7% in September 2023, up from August’s 25.8%, 2023 according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Another policy that has caused fears amongst millions of parents across the country is the introduction of tuition fees for Federal Government- owned tertiary institutions (universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education). Though the President has brought up the idea of the Student Loan with Sections 14 and 16 of the Act stating that it is “without any discrimination arising from gender, religion, tribe, position or disability of any kind” it has its conditions.
For one to be eligible, an applicant’s income or family income must be less than N500, 000 per annum. Also, students must provide at least two guarantors, each of whom must either be a civil servant of at least level 12, a lawyer with at least 10 years post-call experience, or a judicial officer, or a justice of peace. How these would be ascertained remains to be seen. While many Nigerians celebrated at the announcement of the Student Loan, the explanation by the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), Professor Emmanuel Osodeke, has illuminated it, to expose the other side of it.
Succinctly stated, poor parents will have it as an uphill task to send their children to higher institutions of learning. To compound the poverty situation for Nigerians are persistent murmurs of a proposed hike in electricity tariff, possibly going up by 40%. This has prompted the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) to describe it as wicked while criticisms have also come from Transparency International (TI), Amnesty International (AI), Civil Society Legislative Council of Nigeria (CISLAC) and the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG).
Yet another issue that has generated uproar was the purported plan to increase salaries of the president, vice president, state governors, judges and other elected officials. But this has been denied by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the body saddled with fixing salaries. Instead millions of Nigerians would want a situation whereby the huge pay packages of politicians is drastically scaled down.
That will be in tandem with the tough economic realities faced by the people. It would be recalled that in 2010 the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank and the IMF warned that the high cost of salaries of politicians in Nigeria was unsustainable. According to the United Nations a country where more than 133 million are living below the poverty line deserves a quality human development index.
The report represents the culmination of the World Bank’s engagement on poverty-and inequality- relevant data and analytics in Nigeria in the past two years. It draws primarily on the 2018/19 Nigerian Living Standards Survey (NLSS), which provided Nigeria’s first official poverty numbers in almost a decade, as well as the Nigeria COVID-19 National Longitudinal Phone Survey (NLPS).
These surveys were implemented by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in collaboration with the World Bank. All said, we urge our policy makers and those who implement them to always get down to the people they claim to lead; understand their positions and seek their views before coming up with laws. In democracy that is the guiding principle of policies coming from the people and not just by the political elite.
The level of poverty in the country is so high that the burden should be lifted from the poor. It is time for the rich to also make the needed sacrifice.