By Bayo Fasunwon
The battle against poverty has been on for ages. Unfortunately, the more the battle, the more the people living in abject poverty all over the world. Poverty however suffers from a unified definition as those who try to define it are blind people, looking at different parts of an elephant to define it. The common perception is to see poverty as lacking enough resources to get one’s need met. Resources in this wise make the definition more complex as it includes basic primary needs of water, food, shelter and clothing. It has also been seen as the state of being inferior in quality or insufficient amount. Thus, feelings could connote poverty. But the truth is that it is actually poverty that produces the feelings, and not the other way round. Thus, lack of health care, education, jobs and other social factors may induce poverty.
Poverty therefore means being poor. In Nigeria, being poor implies that one lives on less than N377 per day. Unfortunately, statistics as at 2019 revealed that 40% of Nigeria’s population cannot even afford this meagre sum. But poverty is much more about lack of income. There are other indicators of poverty which include inabilities to access social protection, social services and good health care. In addition, it include prevention in expressing opinions freely; making personal life choices (including voting); inability to get decent work, labour rights violation and forced behavioural patterns. So, the battle against poverty ought to be multidimensional as the problem is hydra headed.
The Nigeria Poverty statistics puts the poverty rate in the North central at 42.6%, South-West at 19.3% and the South-South at 25.2%, and South-East at 27.4%.While these percentages look a way far from 100%, the consideration of the population they represent would reveal the precarious conditions in which Nigerians live, especially in recent times. As it is now, in Nigeria, one is either poor or rich as the middle class has been eroded. Some minds have opined that if Nigeria herself could be poor and living off huge domestic and international debts, what should one expect of the inhabitants of the poor nation? The question however is: ‘Is Nigeria poor? Judging by the extravagant lifestyles of her leaders within and outside the country; the number of private jets; looted funds in foreign accounts, and of course the recent revelations by Pandora, Nigeria is not a poor country, only majority of the people are. So, it is a welcome idea that President Buhari wishes to take a hundred million people out of poverty. But, creating programs without understanding the cause(s) of poverty in Nigeria plunges the people into more poverty.
The major cause of poverty, and which must be tackled headlong is lack of knowledge. Now this lack of knowledge is in three levels. In the first level is the fact that many children of the school age are out of school on the excuse of poverty. Unfortunately, their lack of basic education condemn them to a lifetime of poverty. Chief Obafemi Awolowo understood the importance of basic education, which prompted the free education policy that has helped the South West tremendously, putting the poverty rate at 19.3%. Basic education sharpens the brain, and imbues one with reading skills. If a person can read, he is able to access more information that would enhance his/her socio-economic status. So, any government policy that restricts access to education, is actually opening doors to poverty. The second level of ignorance lies also in our stereotype educational system. The curriculum of study in many of our educational institutions do not address present realities nor prepare students to be innovative and productive. Although efforts are being made to introduce entrepreneurial studies in schools, but the purpose is being defeated as entrepreneurial knowledge rather than skills are being transferred. Our education curriculum does not seem purposive as to eradicate poverty, but to be a cause of poverty. Practical are read, not performed; excursions are banned, and students have become thoughtless knowledge absorbers. They are not allowed to think problems through as to create something ingenious that could eradicate poverty. Education now operates on the principles of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out). Our school curriculum seems to lack focus and purpose. In fact, it seems it has become a means of keeping the youths busy for a while. A good education program however would be designed to address the problems facing the country, and that which would develop the thinking abilities of students to wriggle out of the poverty web and create wealth. Wealth is created by solving problems.
The third level of paucity of knowledge which creates poverty in Nigeria, is the intellectual poverty of our leaders. There is a dearth of knowledge about the country’s problems, and also how to solve it. While the Minister of Finance seems to have abdicated duty for the CBN governor to perform, the Minister in charge of law seems to have tutored the Presidency in the acts of lawlessness. Good education would make you review criticisms and consider other people’s opinion, while illiteracy makes you think that all critics must be silenced. Our leaders seemed at sea on basic economic principles and realities that could revamp the economy and create jobs. The scale of preference of this government is lopsided, and focus seems to be on things of less importance to the prosperity of this nation. When leadership is not educated about the followers, there is the tendency to view the latter are antagonists. Lack of education about agitations therefore provokes government actions which have over the years reinforced disintegration and poverty in the land. The question therefore arises as to whether our leaders do read at all, because their responses to issues sometimes leaves one in doubt. One wonders if government has faith in the various tertiary institutions and research centers being created every year in Nigeria. When was the last time government reached out to these institutions to proffer solutions to some other poverty causing issues in the country?
When it comes to poverty eradication, the question to ask is how? This implies that knowledge is the bedrock of wealth creation. It is therefore the access to the right form of knowledge and education that can ensure a poverty free society. It is therefore essential to have the basic knowledge of the country, its potentials and limitations; the strengths and weaknesses of her people; the comparative advantages of each region, and then leverage on this knowledge to create a unique blueprint that would be ingenious and indigenous. The knowledge so garnered would help in creating wealth attracting environments, determine our constitution and also generate ideas that would lift more that 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.