The seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, made one of the most profound statements concerning humanity when he said, “Extreme poverty anywhere is a threat to human security everywhere.”
Like Annan, world leaders and public officeholders are increasingly aware of the devastating impact of extreme poverty on society and its potency to strip individuals of their dignity and push them toward hunger and deprivation. This understanding has birthed several global alleviation programmes to combat poverty and mitigate its impact.
In Nigeria, poverty presents a significant obstacle to socioeconomic development and has played a considerable role in the pervasive insecurity affecting the country. Interestingly, successive administrations since the 1970s have implemented several social schemes to address the problem, including Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, Directorate of Foods, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, Family Economic Advancement Programmes, National Poverty Eradication Programme, Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria, Subsidy Reinvestment Programme and the National Social Investment Programme introduced in 2016.
The persistence of poverty despite the implementation of these alleviation schemes is a major cause for concern. For example, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari’s (retd) regime announced in 2021 that it had lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty as a result of its massive investment in Conditional Cash Transfer and other intervention programmes, but this claim was disproved by data from the National Bureau of Statistics and the World Bank, indicating that poverty levels had indeed increased since the government came into office in 2016. While there are strong indications that corruption is the primary impediment to the effectiveness of these intervention schemes, other factors such as inadequate understanding of the problem, poor conception of ideas, lack of continuity, and a lack of shared political commitment and vision at all levels also play a significant role.
The failure of previous initiatives to reduce widespread poverty underscores the need for visionary leadership to guide Nigeria towards genuine economic prosperity. This explains why the incoming administration of President-elect Bola Tinubu cannot take a business-as-usual approach to poverty eradication in a country where 133 million people, representing 63 per cent of the population, live in multidimensional poverty.
In his “Renewed Hope” manifesto, the president-elect promised to combat poverty by strengthening existing social investment programmes and introducing new ones. This is a commendable commitment. However, the effort-outcome mismatch in the fight against poverty over the years necessitates that the next government conduct a comprehensive impact assessment of previous poverty alleviation programmes – particularly the Conditional Cash Transfer programme – to evaluate their effectiveness in achieving set objectives, identify gaps in implementation, barriers to tangible impact despite massive government investment, and devise provable solutions. Similarly, they must take a strategic and data-driven approach to eradicate corruption in the existing programmes, accurately identify and reach vulnerable Nigerians, and establish well-defined objectives and evaluation, including transparency and accountability mechanisms to measure success over the next four years.
But regardless of what changes the new government makes to improve social programmes, it cannot rely solely on these alleviation schemes to tackle Nigeria’s deep-seated poverty problems. A holistic approach is required to address the underlying causes of extreme poverty. The lack of economic opportunities for young and working-class Nigerians has played a huge role in the country’s widespread poverty. They must urgently create an enabling environment for private-sector-led job creation while also addressing structural barriers to entrepreneurship, investment, and development in critical sectors.
• Stanley Achonu is the Country Director (Nigeria) at The ONE Campaign