Although, the federal government, under president Muhammadu Buhari, have spent about N3.5 trillion on social intervention and poverty alleviation programmes in the last seven years, poverty level seems to be on the rise, LEADERSHIP learnt.
More than 70 per cent of Nigerians are battling poverty, with food inflation on the rise, thereby, limiting the disposable income of Nigerians. While some had lost their sources of income, some businesses closed shops as the operating environment becomes unbearable, thereby, throwing more people into the poverty trap.
A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics(NBS) shows damning revelations that about 133 million Nigerians are poor, despite the government reportedly spending N500bn yearly on ‘social investment programmes.
Relying on the reported N500 billion annual spending on social intervention schemes, it amounts to N3.5 trillion in seven years, precisely between 2015, when the current administration took over at the federal level, and now.
Earlier in the year, the minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, was even reported to have said the sum of $1billion is being spent annually on the implementation of various components of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) since 2016.
The minister, who was represented by the Ministry’s permanent secretary, Nura Alkali at an event in January, 2022, said: “since the inception of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration in 2015, the federal government has paid more attention to promoting the plight of.the poor and vulnerable in the country despite the economic slump the administration inherited.
“This informed the decision to initiate the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) as a strategy for enhancing social inclusion. NSIP is one the largest social protection programmes in Africa with about $1 billion earmarked annually to cause positive change in the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable in the country.”
However, using $1 billion as the base, multiplied by N447 to a dollar at the official exchange rate translates to N447 billion and when multiplied by seven years, translates to N3.12 trillion spendings to alleviate poverty through several social intervention schemes.
This figure excludes some of the interventions the Central Bank of Nigeria(CBN) did on critical sectors of the nation’s economy.
While inflation and harsh business operating environment could have exacerbated the poverty level in the country, some experts believe the level could have risen beyond the current level if not for government interventions, especially, during Covid-19 period where the nation’s economy was on its kneel.
However, experts who spoke to LEADERSHIP in separate interviews, have mixed reactions to this development.
The director-general of Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Dr. Chinyere Almona, said, government social intervention and poverty alleviation programmes have made impacts as the economy has recorded impressive recovery from the recession induced by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
According to Almona, the economy has consistently recorded growth rates breaking many analysts’ predictions of expected lower growth rates.
“However, the economy has continued to struggle with many inhibiting burdens like inflation, weak revenue generation, degenerated infrastructure, forex challenges, unsustainable cost profile seen in debt services and subsidy payments, and the daunting threats of worsening insecurity.
“The Chamber is concerned that if we continue in this trajectory, the economy may bleed away into a stagflation which will impact on production cost, job losses, worsened forex crisis, and dampened growth in the medium term,” he pointed out.
She stated that the federal government needs to sustain its targeted interventions in selected critical sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, export infrastructure, tackling insecurity, and free more money from subsidy payments.
“We urge the government to tackle oil theft to earn more foreign exchange, borrow from cheaper sources to reduce the burden of debt servicing, and take a decisive step towards removing fuel subsidies,” she added.
On his part, the chief executive officer of Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), Dr. Muda Yusuf said: “the social intervention programme have impacted going by the data seen, the beneficiaries from school feeding, N-Power, Central Bank of Nigeria programme towards the farmers among others, but the challenge is that the magnitude of the problem is extremely very high.”
Yusuf explained that, “with a population of abject poverty of 133 million that is huge, putting together all the social intervention funds, I am not sure it has impacted up to three million conventions, there is a huge gap. The point is not that they are not making an effort. The point is that these efforts are not measuring up.”
He added that, apart from the intervention, government need to create an environment where the citizens themselves will solve their poverty problem, saying, “we need to move away from the concept of hand out into proper empowerment.
“For instance, the number of poverty that has been caused by insecurity, the solution to this is not to be given money but to solve the problem of insecurity.”
He called for the creation of environment that are sustainable, the same thing in education, health and other sector of the economy, saying, “these are the ways to create an enduring intervention to slove the problem of poverty in the country. Social intervention scheme is good but we need to deal with the fundamental of the issues causing or increasing poverty level.”
Moreover, the head of financial institutions ratings at Agusto&Co, Ayokunle Olubunmi, noted that, the several government poverty alleviation and social intervention programmes were originally not focused on lifting people out of poverty.
According to him, the framework and implementation of the programmes were designed to give temporary relief to the beneficiaries.
“Although it is called social intervention funds, if you look at the frameworks and how it is implemented, what they are basically doing is giving out handouts. If government is talking about alleviating poverty, how to lift people off from poverty, we need to have a system in which people can actually be self employed and they can gain skills or have gainful employments that will bring them income.
“However, the way the they are actually going about it now is basically giving handouts, with programmes like the Tradermoni, giving out N5,000, N10,000 what will they do with it. They just spend it to eat the next two meals and then the money is gone.
“So it is actually the focus of the programmes. When the programme was conceived, they were not planning that after giving someone N10,000 the person will not be poor again. In terms of giving money to people to feed for the next two days we can say the programmes are successful, but in terms of alleviating people out of poverty even from the outset it is obvious that these programmes are not meant to alleviate poverty,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project(SERAP) has urged president Muhammadu Buhari to “promptly set up a presidential panel of enquiry to thoroughly, impartially, effectively and transparently investigate spending on all social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects executed between 2015 and 2022.”
SERAP also urged him “to ensure the findings of such investigation are widely published, and suspected perpetrators of corruption, and mismanagement of public funds meant to take care of the poor should face prosecution as appropriate, if there is sufficient evidence, and any stolen public funds should be recovered.”
In the letter dated November 19, 2022 and signed by SERAP deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “the report suggests a grave violation of the public trust, and the lack of political will to genuinely address poverty, and uphold your government’s constitutional and international human rights obligations.”
SERAP added that, “the report that 133 million Nigerians are poor suggests corruption and mismanagement in the spending of trillion of naira on social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes, including the reported disbursement of over $700 million from the repatriated Abacha looted funds to these programmes.”
SERAP also said: “your government has legal obligations to effectively and progressively address and combat extreme poverty as a matter of human rights. The failure to address extreme poverty has resulted in high levels of inequality, and serious violations of economic and social rights of Nigerians, particularly the socially and economically vulnerable sector of the population.”
The letter, copied to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier DE SCHUTTER, read in part, “these grim revelations by the NBS show the failure to fulfil your oft-repeated promise to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, and that no one will be left behind.
“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel your government to comply with our request in the public interest.
“The report also shows that the purported social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes are clearly not working. It also shows a failure by your government to uphold the constitutionally and internationally guaranteed human rights of the Nigerian people.
“SERAP also urges you to prioritise investment in quality education and healthcare, and to redirect some of the unnecessary spending in the 2023 budget such as spending by the presidency on feeding and travels, and money allocated to the National Assembly in the budget to address poverty as a human rights issue.
“A supplementary appropriation bill, which reflects the proposed redirected budget should be urgently sent to the National Assembly for its approval.”
“Your government has a sacred duty to ensure transparency and accountability in the spending of the country’s resources, including the spending of public funds on social safety-nets and poverty alleviation programmes and projects.”