On the Trail of Poverty

by suleimanharuna


The trail of poverty is a long, tortuous and ugly one to follow. It is bedeviled sometimes with desolation, at others with piles of withered dreams, and yet at other times with plain simple quietude. The recent release of the Mid-term Assessment Report of the MDGs has glaringly indicated that not much has been or is about to be achieved in Nigeria in the area of poverty eradication (Eradication of Extreme Poverty and Hunger), with 70% of Nigerians still living on one dollar a day over 10 years down the road.

It is sad that with only three years to the target date of 2015 for the achievement of the MDGs including poverty eradication, and with so much funds being appropriated for this purpose from the Annual Budget and the Debt Relief Funds, Nigerians on the streets have witnessed very little indeed.

The MDGs were introduced in 2000, with the hope of reducing various social and medical problems by 2015. Poverty is at the centre of all the eight problems listed for attention; its reduction therefore would lead to the reduction of the other seven. It is for this reason that International Development Agencies have come to zero-in on the poverty question. I have outlined this interrelationship in my feature titled Poverty and the MDGs (Vanguard, June 6 & 13, 2006).

Sometimes the sources of poverty are human, while others are natural. If the natural sources can hardly be contained; things like floods, earthquakes, wild fires, hurricanes etc., the human sources could. They include bad policies or bad implementation of good policies, “sheer man’s inhumanity to man” and corruption. It is appalling how people in power decide to apply blinkers to the preponderant human condition around them and indulge themselves and their families as if there is no tomorrow.

People who live in urban areas have different perceptions of poverty to those from rural areas. Towns and cities come with amenities, and once one’s work cannot guarantee him these amenities, he is poor. These include electricity, water supply, transportation and communication. These constitute the ‘glitter’ that attracts people from rural settlements to the urban areas.

Poverty is more an urban thing. In the rural areas there still exist semblances of communality, extended family and a sense of ‘brother’s keeper’. Therefore one can hardly sleep without dinner. The barest concept to poverty in the rural areas is a situation arising from some natural disaster; flood, drought, famine etc. which destroys farms or its products, and affects most of the community. The helplessness exhibited by the local folk in this scenario can sometimes equal those of urban folk who have no job.

People can be poor for different reasons, some as a result of physical disability, and others for social causes, while others for natural occurrence, but the demeaning nature which the poor face in begging is the harshest reality of all. If not for poverty, no widow would walk the streets, begging, no father would allow his children to go abegging, no old person would leave the comfort of his shade to go begging, in fact, no disabled would go begging, in order to avoid facing the world with their poverty, thousands have committed suicide. On a daily basis, civil servants, whose pay can not take them home have to expose themselves to all kinds of humiliation as a result of their poverty; the retirees suffer no less, parents run away and leave their families to fend for themselves, kids have to hawk, girls have to prostitute, get pregnant, abort, sometimes die as a result. Many boys have also had to turn to criminal behavior.

There are many constitutional cogs that precipitate poverty. Civil servants are not allowed to engage in private businesses, there are very poor subsidies for accommodation and transportation, they are paid very poor salaries and there are virtually no shock-absorbers when the unexpected happens. Institutional corruption and inefficiency have resulted in institutional decay, which in-turn has crippled the energy that sustains production, which has in-turn led to millions of job loss. The overall effect to human development can be easily judged.

A citizen should have as much value as the total citizens put together, that explains why even criminals have to have their rights protected. Law abiding citizens must therefore be accorded more. When a system decides to throw more than 50,000 families to the streets, rendering them homeless during the rainy season, as happened during the demolitions in Abuja some years back, certain issues come to mind; did government forget that these are Nigerians who have a right to a decent accommodation? What did NAPEP and NEMA do? Did any Media Outfit do an in-depth study into the effect of such action on the polity, do we have today pictures and video clips of victims of that artificial disaster, such that can be used for documentaries and reports that can guide future policies? Do we have a nominal roll of those affected, in case future governments decide to assist them? Does anybody have an idea what became of these families?

It is important that governments and even corporate organizations take more interest in poverty. They should not sack people at the slightest sign of distress. They should ensure that funds meant for poverty alleviation or eradication are well spent, such that Nigerians would see the results glaringly. Tracking of poverty funds by Civil Society Organizations (CSO) is part of MDG policy; the MDG Office must therefore finance reports by these CSOs for public scrutiny at the end of every year.

It would not be nice if by 2015, 70% of Nigerians are still found to be living below the poverty line despite the billions of Naira appropriated for this purpose. If poverty eradication fails, we must rest (?) assured that the remaining goals would also fail. #