The National Bureau of Statistics recently released a report which claimed 133 million Nigerians are poor. It is instructive to note that in its 2022 Multidimensional Poverty Index Survey released in Abuja the NBS said the figure represents 63 percent of the nation’s population.
It added that the poverty index is mostly experienced in rural areas especially in the north with women and children being the most affected.
The survey was conducted by the NBS, the National Social Safety-Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI).
The report has ignited the seemly cold rivalry between the federal and state governments. Since the report was released it has been blamestorming between both parties.
First to throw the punch was the federal government. It blamed the high poverty rate in the country on the failure of the state governments to contribute their quota of development responsibilities.
Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, disclosed this to State House Correspondents on Wednesday after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Agba was responding to a question demanding to know what he and his colleague, the Minister of Financial, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, were doing to ameliorate the biting hardship being faced by a majority of Nigerians at the moment.
According to him, the federal government, through many of its social security programmes, has been dedicating resources to alleviating hardship on the public noting that state governments, which have been consistently receiving their shares of national resources, had been misdirecting the resource to project that has almost no direct effect on the needs of the people.
He said that 72% of the poverty in Nigeria is found in the rural areas, which he said had been abandoned by governors.
The minister added that the state executives prefer to function in the state capitals.
He lamented that state governors are concentrating on building flyovers, airports, and other projects that are visible in the state capitals rather than investing in areas that directly uplift the standard of life of the people in the rural areas.
Agba pointed out that while states are in charge of land for agriculture, they do not invest in them for the desired effect on their rural citizens.
He, therefore, advised the state chief executives that rather than concentrate attention on the building of sky scrappers, flyovers, and bridges, they should focus on initiatives that can pull the majority of the people out of poverty.
Apparently not amused by the comments of the federal government, governors on Friday came out all guns blazing at the federal government.
According to the governors, the minister got it totally wrong adding that his attacks on the governors were unnecessary.
In a statement by the spokesman of the NGF, Abdulrazaque Bello- Barkindo, the governors said rather it was the federal government that has abandoned its promise and primary responsibility to the citizens.
Describing the minister’s assertions as diversionary, governors said it’s the responsibility of the federal government to provide security for the citizens.
The governors said it’s because of the worsening insecurity that people in the rural areas abandoned their farms.
The governors said “the tirade early this week by the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning Clement Agba, on the 36 Governors, where he blamed them for the rising poverty index in the country comes to the Nigeria Governors’ Forum as a surprise. The Minister got his message wrong.
“His attacks are not only unnecessary, but they represent a brazen descent into selective amnesia. It is also diversionary as far as the Governors are concerned.
“The Minister who should be responding to a question demanding to know what he and his colleague, the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, were doing to ameliorate the hardship Nigerians are facing attempted to defray the notion that rising levels of hunger and lack were peculiar to Nigeria.
“True as that may be Mr. Agba went further to explain that their government, through many of its social security programs, has been dedicating resources to alleviating hardship, and then goes further to accuse state governors of misdirecting resources to projects that have no impact on the people.
“While rightly pointing out that 72% of the poverty in Nigeria is found in the rural areas, the Minister said that the rural populace had been abandoned by governors.
“This assertion is not only preposterous and without any empirical basis, but also very far from the truth. It is Mr. Clement Agba’s veiled and deliberate effort, as a minister, to protect his paymasters and politicize very critical issues of national importance.
“Instead of answering the question thrown at him by journalists, Mr. Agba veered his attention to soft targets that happen to be 36 Governors.
“It is the opinion of the Governors that the dereliction that the Minister is talking about lies, strictly speaking, at the doorstep of the Federal Government which he represents, in this scenario.
“First and foremost, the primary duty of any government is to ensure the security of lives and property, without which no sensible human activity takes place.
“But the Federal Government which is responsible for the security of lives and property has been unable to fulfill this covenant with the people thus allowing bandits, insurgents, and kidnappers to turn the country into a killing field, maiming and abducting people, in schools market squares and even on their farmlands.
“This dereliction of duty from the center is the main reason why people have been unable to engage in regular agrarian activity and commerce. Today, rural areas are insecure, markets are unsafe, surety of travel is improbable and life for the common people generally is harsh and brutish.
“The question is, how can a defenseless rural population maintain a sustainable lifestyle of peace and harmony when their lives are cut prematurely, and they wallow permanently in danger?
“How does a minister whose government has been unable to ensure security, law, and order have the temerity to blame governors?
Two states, Edo State and Akwa Ibom State promptly responded to the vituperations of the Minister.
“According to Akwa Ibom State, what determines poverty and unemployment in a country is its economic policy, which is set, normally by the central government nationally.
“Akwa Ibom insists that the Federal Government cannot abdicate its responsibility by blaming states and goes further to ask, albeit rhetorically, how economic policies in a state drive the dollar which determines almost every aspect of our national existence.
In its response to Clement Agba, Edo State, on the other hand, reeled out the projects the state embarked upon which were targeted at alleviating poverty among its people.
“Mr. Agba is perceptibly oblivious of them. Many other states have been implementing pro-poor programs in their domain, and they are there for all to see,”
The governors further said although the Minister committed the folly of tarring all thirty-six governors with the same brush, there cannot be a one-size-fits-all reply to the Minister’s misguided outburst.
For example, they said it is the Federal Government that, in its campaign message in 2019, promised to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
Today, the governors noted that records show that more than 130 million Nigerians are living below the globally accepted poverty line of a dollar a day.
The governors further stated that under the current administration that Mr. Clement Agba is minister, the national cash cow, the NNPC, had failed to remit statutory allocations to states in several months.
According to the governors, the situation had compelled governors to rely on other sources of revenue like the SFTAS program and other interventions anchored by the NGF, to fund states activities while monies budgeted for such federal ministries as Agriculture, Rural Development and Humanitarian Affairs are not being deployed in the direction of the people.
“So, where is the Minister getting his unverified facts and figures from? It is important to mention here that only this week the House of Representatives asked the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouk, to quit office if she was not ready to do her work of alleviating poverty in the land.
“This, in other words, is a resounding vote of no confidence on the ministers among whom Mr. Agba serves.