Nigeria: The world’s poorest rich nation

The World Poverty Clock, an institution established by Vienna-based World Data Lab, last week reeled out yet another damning report on Nigeria’s embarrassing poverty rate.

The report stated that by February 13, 2019, more than 91 million Nigerians were living in abject poverty. In June 2018, Brookings Institution had warned that Nigeria has replaced India as the world’s headquarters of poverty.

 As at that time, 87.9 million Nigerians were living in extreme poverty against India’s 74 million. Since June, India with a population of 1.2 billion has lifted 24 million people out of poverty. India now has a scant 48.7 million people in extreme poverty. On the contrary, recent data suggest that six Nigerians are pushed down the poverty line every minute.

The figure presented by the World Poverty Clock is the number of Nigerians in abject poverty. It does not include those living below poverty line. The World Bank defines people in abject poverty as those living below $1.9 per day. Those in poverty live on $1.9 per day.
Statistics from the African Development Bank (AfDB) suggests that 80 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty line. With a population estimated at 197 million, the AfDB data suggest that 157.6 million Nigerians live below poverty line.

However, the ones that really bother the statisticians in the World Poverty Clock are those defined as living in abject poverty.  Nigeria’s population is less than that of one province of China. Despite a jumbo population of 1.3 billion, the number of people living below poverty line in China is less than 100 million. Last year alone, China lifted 16 million people out of poverty and has promised to eradicate poverty by 2020.  

At the current poverty growth rate, the rulers of Nigeria might push 165 million people below poverty line by 2020.
Nigeria’s alarming poverty growth rate is more of a factor of a skewed income distribution system than low productivity. Between 2006 and 2012, the economy was growing at an average annual rate of seven per cent when population was growing at three per cent. Even as the economy was growing at twice the rate of the population, poverty was ironically growing at 15 per cent per annum. 

As at 2011 when the economy was at the peak of its growth rate, a skewed income distribution system had pushed 112 million people below poverty line. That was the figure pushed out by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in the first quarter of 2012. Nigeria’s economy is something of an enigma. The faster it grows, the more people it pushes below poverty line.
Today the situation is worsened by the recession that was forced on the economy by an odd combination of low oil price and abysmally low production engendered by the militancy in the Niger Delta in 2016.

Even as the economy lumbered out of recession in the second quarter of 2017, the population was growing at twice the economic growth rate. That automatically is recipe for abject poverty.

The managers of Nigeria’s economy are not helping matters either. The federal government spends 70 per cent of its annual budget on recurrent expenditures which includes the pay of a bloated civil service made up of thousands of ghost workers and idle hands who report for duties only on pay day.

Government’s scandalous recruitment exercise only worsens the rate of poverty in the land. Appointment in the federal civil service is now reserved for children and relatives of governors, ministers, commissioners and members of the National Assembly.

In September 2018, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) invited applications from graduates who wish to join its service. The requirements were very stringent. Jobless graduates from poor homes spent N5, 000 each on laboratory tests to obtain medical fitness certificates.
In Lagos, FRSC subjected the applicants to two days of rigorous military drills at Ikeja Cantonment. The applicant had to run a distance of two kilometers over a period of 20 minutes. Some fainted during the race.
Those who made it were asked to wait for an oral interview in an undisclosed date.  The oral interview never held and the successful candidates in the physical fitness test were never contacted. 

The recruitment took place all the same.  Children of the poor lost to children of the privileged few who in most cases already had regular income.

The FRSC’s scandalous recruitment exercise has not lifted anyone out of poverty because most of those who got the jobs were already earning income.The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) is just managing to pay its bills as only five of the nation’s 22 airports are viable.  

If FAAN was managed by a private investor it would be doing its job with one third of its current staff strength. Ironically, FAAN was compelled last year to create more jobs for children of the rich. It recruited 2, 000. 

The job opportunities were carefully shared among the top officials of FAAN and the supervising ministry. One top politician was allocated 1, 000 slots while the next in command was allocated 500. Their subordinates shared the remaining 500 slots.

After the recruitment, FAAN has become something of a cesspool of idle hands. Four persons struggle to do one person’s job. Ironically, the few jobs created by government are for the rich. That makes Nigeria the world’s poorest rich nation.

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