By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Should I say it was a fortuitous coincidence that I happened to be a member of the board of directors of the Nigerian branch of the Heartland Alliance International- the United States of America founded Non-governmental body.
Coming also from the media and human rights backgrounds, it does not require a soothsayer to emphatically stress that I am cut out to wage battles alongside likeminded activists against all manifestations and strands of poverty afflicting a clear majority of Nigerians.
At the just ended year 2016 annual board of Director’s meeting in Abuja, the International hierarchy of Heartland Alliance International led by a Puerto-Rican born but American citizen called Ms. Evelyn J. Diaz came in full force to attend the parley.
The common denominator of the overall mandates of Heartland Alliance is summed up in the beautiful Phrase of “Ending Poverty”.
This piece is not about disclosing the strategic plan of this international organization but is meant to drive the point that indeed certain groups of people believe that poverty can indeed be eradicated.
At a point, the Nigerian government set up an entire office dedicated to the “eradication of poverty” even though bureaucratic bottlenecks successfully stifled the achievement of this noble goal. President Muhammadu Buhari seems to have dusted up the file from where the moribund National poverty eradication programme left it and has created what he calls SOCIAL PROTECTION PLAN.
Still talking about the fundamentals of ending poverty, it would be vividly recalled that In the case of the Heartland Alliance, this young lady who headed a team of the International leadership of the global charitable platform that turned up for the Abuja meeting aforementioned, stated in black and white what steps are being adopted towards realizing the ambitious objective of ending poverty.
Her words: “Heartland Alliance champions human rights and human dignity. We respond to extreme disparities facing our most vulnerable communities in the areas of safety, health, housing, education, economic opportunity and justice”.
“Our mission is to advance the human rights and responds to the human needs of endangered populations- particularly the poor, the isolated and the displaced-by providing comprehensive and respectful services and promoting permanent solutions leading to a more just global society”.
She continued thus: “Since 1888, we have been a leader, an advocate, a partner, and a service provider. Today, we are a global team working together to ensure that even the most disenfranchised have a fair chance at success”.
“Now, in collaboration with the communities we serve and the partners we stand with, we are bringing the full power to our Alliance to tackle violence and inequity, two barriers impeding our progress in advancing human rights and ending poverty.”
This United States founded group has been in Nigeria for nearly ten years and has actively worked amongst the disadvantaged persons to attempt to empower them economically.
But their effort would amount to nothing if the governments at every level fail to evolve workable programmes targeted at eradicating or ending poverty.
The World Bank and the International Fund are said to be at the forefront of waging war against poverty but critics blame the structural adjustment programmes these global bodies forces down the throats of countries in the developing world for the widening scope of poverty.
Anup Shah wrote in an article titled “Structural Adjustment—a Major Cause of Poverty” published in www.globalissues.org stated thus: “Many developing nations are in debt and poverty partly due to the policies of international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.”
“Their programs have been heavily criticized for many years for resulting in poverty. In addition, for developing or third world countries, there has been an increased dependency on the richer nations. This is despite the IMF and World Bank’s claim that they will reduce poverty.”
“Following an ideology known as neoliberalism, and spearheaded by these and other institutions known as the “Washington Consensus” (for being based in Washington D.C.), Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) have been imposed to ensure debt repayment and economic restructuring”.
This writer argued that the way it has happened has required poor countries to reduce spending on things like health, education and development, while debt repayment and other economic policies have been made the priority.
In effect, the IMF and World Bank have demanded that poor nations lower the standard of living of their people.”
A human rights advisor in the office of the Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Manfield Nowak also claimed that rapid globalization affects the enjoyment of human rights considerably. He observed that in many Countries, deregulation, liberalization, privatization and similar trends towards a reduction of the role of the State and a transfer of traditional governmental functions to market forces have negatively affected the enjoyment of the right to education, healthcare and water and of labor rights- especially in the case of vulnerable groups. This international human rights campaigner stated that the most serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights today are attributable to poverty.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund are not unmindful of the widespread reported negative impacts of some of these policies they have compelled developing countries to adopt especially the Structural Adjustment Programme.
As can be glued from the official website of the World Bank, the poverty index has continued to expand with African nations producing the greater percentage of people who are extremely poor in the World.
“In 2012, just over 77.8 percent of the extremely poor lived in South Asia (309 million) and Sub-Saharan Africa (388.7 million). In addition, 147 million lived in East Asia and Pacific.”
“Fewer than 44 million of the extremely poor lived in Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia combined.”
World Bank said the work to end poverty is far from over, and a number of challenges remain.
According to a study it conducted the World Bank found out that it is becoming even more difficult to reach those remaining in extreme poverty, who often live in fragile contexts and remote areas.
Access to good schools, healthcare, electricity, safe water and other critical services remains elusive for many people, often determined by socioeconomic status, gender, ethnicity, and geography.
Moreover, the World Bank noted that for those who have been able to move out of poverty, progress is often temporary: economic shocks, food insecurity and climate change threaten to rob them of their hard-won gains and force them back into poverty.
“It will be critical to find ways to tackle these issues as we make progress toward 2030.”
The above are the views of the World Bank on whether or not it is possible to end poverty.
Nigeria being the largest population of black people all around the globe is confronting some of the severest cases of systematic and systemic poverty.
More and more Nigerians are becoming extremely poor even as the educational institutions are not really set up with the correct frame of mind to churn out young graduates who are skilled with the technological knowhow and vocational skills that would make them gainfully but employed. Manpower and capacity building of our younger population are not properly anchored to comply with best global practices.
As observed by the World Bank, access to good schools, healthcare, electricity, safe water and other critical services remains very elusive for many people especially in our modern day Nigeria whereby the standards of infrastructures in most parts have nosedived.
Public primary healthcare is next to zero in virtually most local government areas as there is no functional national health insurance scheme transparently administered to benefit all and sundry as is available in a place like the United Kingdom.
Medical and health tourism have constituted a major challenge even as these services that could meet global best practices are not readily available to the millions of disadvantaged Nigerians who are too poor to muster the huge foreign exchange required to obtain such quality healthcare and educational empowerment that are readily available in the most advanced nations. But the few privileged political office holders continue to dip their hands into the commonwealth to sponsor their wards and Children in the best schools abroad.
So the income disparity between these privileged children educated abroad and the millions of Children from deprived homes in Nigeria will keep expanding except fundamental revolutionary measures are implemented.
Few years back when the American economist Professor Joseph Stilglitz raised alarm concerning the danger posed by the widening gap of income inequality little did we know that he was indeed speaking about the same issues that have contributed to the ever expanding frontiers of poverty in Nigeria.
Income disparity between the rest of Nigerians and the less than one percent of political office holders can at best be described as unacceptably high.
For instance, whilst most States are said to be too broke to meet up with the statutory obligation of payments of salaries of their workforce, the state governors who know next to nothing about compliance to the principles of transparency and accountability are globetrotting with half a dozen of them spending two weeks in Germany to learn about vocational trainings.
The illegal security votes running into billions of Naira annually are still being taken away by only 78 executive public office holders (governors/deputy governors/President/Vice President) even in the midst of economic recession.
Still speaking to the critical issue of income disparity, it is a fact that whilst a bag of rice which used to be a common staple in most homes has sky rocketed to N19, 000, the average civil servant in Nigeria earns what is called minimum monthly wage bill of N18, 000 which certainly can’t buy the worker even a bag of rice. An average civil servant usually has five or more dependants.
Coupled with the fact that there are less than fifteen percent of Nigerians working as civil servants in the public sector, it can now be seen that the majority of Nigerians of all ages are too poor to feed themselves qualitatively.
The way out of this quagmire is to bridge the income gap between the rich and the poor and to eradicate totally, the high rate of public sector corruption and economic thievery that have come to define Nigeria’s political environment over the years.
The current administration needs to fashion out much more effective strategies to empower the large army of heavily impoverished populations.
The social welfare scheme that is being coordinated by the Special Adviser to the President Mrs. Maryam Uwais must be transparently administered so all segments of the poor population can benefit and become gainfully engaged to reduce the high unemployment rate especially amongst the young populace.
President Muhammadu Buhari and the relevant committees of the National Assembly must monitor closely the implementation of the strategic plan put in place by the Mrs. Maryam Uwais-led social protection plan office in the presidency.
Mrs. Uwais is a lawyer of many years and a leading child rights activists with whom yours faithfully served together on the board of the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission as federal commissioners.
Mrs. Uwais has for many years worked amongst the poorest of the poor by virtue of the fact that she is the brain behind one of the most successful charitable organizations in Northern Nigeria known as ‘Isa Wali Empowerment Initiative’ which she registered and domiciled in Kano in December 2009.
Let this Presidential Social Protection Plan office be adequately legalized with the statutory legal frameworks to make it much more permanent because fighting poverty requires a much more institutionalized commitment and not just merely an ad-hoc arrangement.
Let the social Protection Directorate of the Presidency be administered in such a way that the criminal disparity of income that exists in Nigeria is fundamentally addressed.
The Nigerian people must also be allowed to take ownership of this project even as it must never be seen as a political party’s empowerment effort which was what killed such efforts in the past such as the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP).