Poverty eradication, not alleviation, an agenda for next President

Eric Teniola

Using the Steve Oronsaye report, Ahmed Joda Panel submission and others, Eric Teniola, journalist, public affairs analyst and a former director in the Presidency, sets agenda for the next leader of Nigeria on how to end poverty.
Rural development, according to him, is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of the people in the rural areas. “Over 70 per cent of the 67 per cent of poor Nigerians are found in rural areas. The rural poor are a heterogeneous group, including small-scale farmers, the landless, the nomads, pastoralists and fishermen and women. But they share common disabilities, limited assets, environmental vulnerability and the lack of access to public services and amenities especially education and health facilities.”

In his words: “The main concern in rural development therefore is the modernisation of rural society through a transition from traditional isolation to integration with the national economy for equitable and balanced development of the nation.

In making its recommendations, the panel has emphasised the need for a focus on eradication of absolute poverty rather than poverty alleviation because of the belief that deliberate steps must be taken urgently to destroy the psychology of poverty and the sense of helplessness amongst Nigerians. ‘We have recommended strategies that will encourage personal initiative and community co-operation and lead to enhanced productivity and prosperity. Nigeria cannot truly be considered great and democratic if it is unable to provide minimum material comfort – the basic necessities of modern civilisation, that is, food, light, water, shelter, clinics, schools and jobs – for the vast majority of its citizens.’

These recommendations are for the next President to implement.

I wish the next President goodluck.”

Below is his essay, entitled:

Outgoing President Withdraws to the Sidelines

By Eric Teniola

A lot has been said about the Steve Oronsaye’s report. I doubt whether President Muhammadu Buhari will implement any part of that report before handing over on May 29, 2023.

A lot too, has been said about the report on 2014 National Conference but not much has been said on the 1999 Ahmed Joda’s Report on Streamlining and Rationalisation of Poverty Alleviation Institutions and Agencies. The Ahmed Joda’s Report is equally as important as the Steve Oronsaye’s Report.

The Ahmed Joda’s Panel was set up in June 1999 by President Olusegun Obasanjo. The panel was charged with the responsibility of reviewing the factors responsible for ineffective and inefficient performance of the existing establishments and making recommendations that will ensure the Government’s success in executing programmes to eradicate poverty and raise the standard of living of Nigerians.

The Chairman of the Panel was Alhaji Ahmed Joda (February 13, 1930-August 13, 2021). He was a long time friend of President Obasanjo. He had his education at the Yola Elementary School, Yola Middle School, Kaduna College, 1945-1948, Pitman’s College, London, 1954-1956; joined Nigerian Broadcasting Service, 1956-1960, senior assistant secretary, later Permanent Secretary, Northern Nigerian Public Service, 1962-1967 and Permanent Secretary , Federal Government, 1967-1978.

The panel was inaugurated on July 22, 1999 by the then Secretary to the Government of Federation, Chief Ufot Ekaette (1939-2019). Other members of the panel were Mrs. Funlayo Adebo-Kiencke, Dr Attahiru Jega, Chike Madueke, Dr. Peter Ogbang, Mallam Oumar Shittien, Alhaji Adamu Yakubu while Dr. Abdullahi Aliyu was the Secretary to the panel.

The resource persons that helped the panel were Dr Magaji B. Mahmoud, Dr. (Mrs.) Evelyn Onyeozili, Dr. M.S. Kallah, Dr. Abubakar Lamorde, Dr. Ephraim Madu, Engr. A. Liman, Engr. Willy Achukwu, Hajiya Talatu Bashir, Chief (Mrs.) Bisi Ogunleye, Mr. Olubunmi Adetunmbi, Prince Lekan Fadina and Mr. S. O. Eloho of the National Planning Commission.

The next President must take a look on the Panel’s Report on Streamlining and Rationalisation of Poverty Alleviation Institutions and Agencies.

The Panel has identified Ministries and 18 Institutions/Agencies that have Mandate directly on poverty alleviation. It has also identified some other institutions that complement the activities of the core poverty alleviation agencies.

In discharging the responsibility entrusted to it, the Panel used various strategies of data gathering, which include literature review, courtesy calls on State Governors, discussions with officials of State Governments; and project verification visits to States. They also include dialogue with non- Governmental Organisations(NGOs) and International Donor Agencies (IDAs), and a parley with Chief Executives of Federal Government’s poverty alleviation institutions.

The panel recommended that the ultimate goal of government in dealing with the problem of poverty in Nigeria should be the eradication of absolute poverty in Nigeria, which is achievable, and has been promoted by the United Nations Orgnisation since the World Social Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1995. In this regard, the Panel recommended the establishment of an appropriate machinery for coordinating the activities of all agencies, as well as promoting complementation between the activities of the Federal and State Governments. All with a view to achieving the goal of eradicating absolute poverty..

I also doubt whether the President will implement any part of that report before May 29, 2023. The 2014 National Conference was inaugurated by President Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on March 17 2014 in Abuja, Nigeria.

The Conference was headed by retired Chief Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi from Lavun Local Government Area of Niger State in the Middle-Belt Region of Nigeria.

Other Principal Officers were the Vice Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi who is from Ilesa, Osun State in the South-West Region of Nigeria, while the Secretary was Dr Valerie Azinge from Ukehi near Nsukka in Enugu State in the South-East Region of Nigeria.
Following a plenary session that lasted for weeks, the Conference was broken into 20 committees that included Public Finance and Revenue among others.

All 20 committees indeed submitted their reports and they deliberated upon at the conference. The main Committees were: Devolution of Power Committee, Political Restructuring and Forms of Government National Security; Environment; Politics and Governance; Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Reform. Social Welfare; Transportation; Agriculture; Society, Labour and Sports; Public Service; Electoral Matters, Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters, Land Tenure Matters and National Boundary. Trade and Investment Committee, Energy; Religion; Public Finance and Revenue Generation, Science, Technology and Development Immigration.

Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi (December 13, 1939-October 21, 2018) had his education at the Elementary School, Kutigi, 1946-1951, Middle School Bida, 1952-1953, Provincial Secondary School, Bida, 1954-1959, Government College, Zaria, 1960-1961, Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, 1962-1963, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, England, 1963-1964, Inns of Court School of Law, London, 1963-1965, Gibson and Weldon College of Law, London, 1964-1965, called to the Bar, Nigeria, July 1966; pupil state counsel, Northern Nigeria, 1966-1968, state counsel North Western State, 1968-1971, senior state counsel, 1971-1973, Principal, state counsel, North Western State, 1973-1974, deputy solicitor general, North Western State, 1974-1975, deputy director, Public Prosecution, April-October, 1975, Chief Registrar, High Court, North Western State, 1975-1976, solicitor general and Permanent Secretary, Nigeria state, April-October 1976, Judge, High Court, 1976, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Niger state, 1976, later appointed Judge, Federal Court of Appeal, 1980. He was appointed Justice of the Supreme Court in 1992 and appointed Chief Justice of the Federation in 2002 by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Other members of the National Conference included Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Aremo Olusegun Osoba, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Senator Musa Adede, Mr. James Akpandem, Chief Sola Ebisieni, Barrister Musa Salihu, Khalifa Hassan Yusuf, Chief Olu Falae, Justice Adamu Aliyu, former Inspector General of Police, Muhammadu Jambo Gimeta, Justice Peter Akere, Mr Femi FalanaMr. Bisi Adegbuyi, Abubakar Adamu Chika, Mr. Supo Sasore SAN, Chief Ajibola Ogunsola, former Chairman of The Punch Newspaper, Mr. Niyi Akintola, Hajia Ladi Ibrahim, Chief Olusola Akamode, Justice Mamman Nasir, Chief Ken Nnamani, Chief Olabode Ibiyinka George, Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Tokunbo Dosunmu Awolowo.

There were also Professor Akin Oyebode, Professor Bisi Aina, Bishop Felix Ajakaye, General Anthony Ukpo(rtd), Senator Jack Tilley Gyado, Chief D.S.P. Alamieyesigha, Professor Dora Akunyili, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Professor A.B.C. Nwosu, Senator Adolphus Wabara, General Alani Akinrinnade, Obong Victor Attah, Justice G.A. Oguntade, Dr. Segun Aina, Mr. John Dara, Dr. Amos Akingba, Senator Femi Okunronmu, Sir Olanihun Ajayi, Mr. Ray Ekpo, Mr. Lanre Ogundipe, Alhaji Mohammed Sanni Zoro, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, Dr. Olisa Agbakogba, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, Senator Rasheed Adewolu Ladoja, Hajia Bola Shagaya, Mr. Akin Arikawe, His Royal Highness, Dr Muhammadu Barkindo Mustapaha, Lamido of Adamawa, Daisy Danjuma, Chief Afe Babalola, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Chief Richard Akinjide and others too numerous to mention.

If Steve Oronsaye’s report, the Ahmed Joda’s Report and the Report on the 2014 National Conference have been implemented by President Muhammadu Buhari, the country would have been in a better position today.

The Steve Oronsaye’s Panel was set up in 2011 by President Goodluck Jonathan GCFR. The committee submitted an 800-page report on April 16, 2012, which recommended the abolition and merger of 102 government agencies and parastatals, while some were listed to be self-funding.

On August 21 this year, the Federal Government received a report from the Ebele Okeke Committee that was constituted to draft a White paper on the Amal Pepple Committee report on new Parastals, Agencies and Commissions created between 2012 and 2021.

Members of the Panel included: Japh CT Nwosu; Rabiu D. Abubakar; Salman Mann; Hamza A. Tahir; Adetunji Adesunkanmi and Umar Mohammed (member/secretary).

The White paper Drafting Committee had Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), the then Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (Chairman) and many top government functionaries such as: Ms. Ama Pepple, Minister of Land, Housing/Urban Development; Alhaji Isa Bello Sali, Head of the Civil Service of the Federation; Chief Emeka Wogu, then Minister of Labour and Productivity; Mrs Omobola Johnson, Minister of Communication Technology; and Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman, Minister/Deputy Chairman, National Planning Commission.

Others were: Dr A. J. Awosika, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Power; Engr. Emeka Eze, Director-General, Bureau of Public Procurement; Dr. Ochi C. Achinuvu, Senior Special Assistant, Economic Matters, Office of the COS to the President and Mr. Femi Olayisade, Permanent Secretary, General Services Office (OSGF) who served as member/secretary.

Mr. Stephen Osagiede Oronsaye (72) is a childhood friend and classmate of John Abebe at the Saint Gregory’s College, Obalende Lagos.

His parents were from Uhunmwonde and Oredo Local Council Areas in Edo State. Oronsaye trained with the firm of Peat Marwick Cassleton Elliot (1973–1978) and qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1978. He became a Partner of the firm in 1989. He joined the Federal Ministry of Finance in December 1995, as Director, Special Duties. Mr. Oronsaye was responsible for the merger of the Administrative and Accounting functions of the offices of the State House, computerisation of processes and procedures of the State House, Personnel records, Accounts and Access controls for the offices.

In 1999, Oronsaye was appointed Principal Secretary to President Olusegun Obasanjo, a position equivalent to Federal Permanent Secretary. He was later confirmed as Permanent Secretary, State House. In 2006, Oronsaye headed the committee on the review of the Civil Service Rules and Financial Regulations.

He was appointed Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance on August 20, 2008.

Oronsaye was appointed Head of the Nigerian Civil Service in June 2009.

In government there is no vacuum. And as Chief Obafemi Awolowo GCFR (March 6, 1909- May 9, 1987) once said government is a continuity. If President Buhari fails to act on these reports, a future President may act.

Regrettably, it looks as if Buhari’s Central Government has closed shop and proceeded on a long vacation long before elections are held and long before the new President is sworn-in on May 29, 2023. In short, the Central Government has gone to sleep and abandoned us to our fate. We are not likely to have an effective government before May 29, 2023. And that is if the elections are held in February and the results of the elections are accepted by both the winners and the losers. What we are witnessing is nothing but photo opportunities by the President. I think the real work is missing.

Right now political campaigns have taken over and we are seeing less of governance. It should not be so, for the mandate of Buhari ends on May 29, 2023 and not before.

The signals we are getting shows that we are being treated like orphans. No one is attempting to rescue us. This is very sad. Our leadership does not care about what we do or what we are going through. There seems to be no compassion. He has disconnected from us. Although his poor aides tell us that it is not true but we are convinced that it is true. No tenderness. Just mere aloofness and indifference. We are just being slighted and disregarded.

Almost eight years ago we queued under rain and sun to elect a President who will ameliorate our problems. Almost four years ago we did the same. What we are getting in return now is beyond imagination. We are being ignored and our problems keep increasing and no one is coming to our aid. A beautiful country of over 200 million people has been abandoned. The level of insecurity is mounting, poverty is on the rise, institutions have broken down, all that we get in return is for the Central Government to slam its doors on us. Our numbers of displaced persons are increasing day by day.

When the floods took over Bayelsa, Anambra, Kogi, Rivers, Benue, Delta, Jigawa, Zamfara and even Edo states, a simple Presidential visit to those areas was missing.
In spite of our present tribulations, we expect a bright tomorrow, All will be well. From my experience, no matter how short a tenure is, a determined leader can still do something.

General Murtala Mohammed GCFR (November 8, 1938 –February 13, 1976) was in power between July 30, 1975 and February 13, 1976, left a lasting legacy within such a short tenure. He refused to fold his arms and faced the challenges, although he made some mistakes, but he accomplished a lot. We benefitted from his tenure. As of today, he is a reference point in terms of leadership.

In the Presidential System of Government we are operating today, the Nigerian Presidency is the centre of all actions. He or she is the only one who can call the shots. If he or she fails to lead, no one else will. Everything rests on Nigerian Presidency in Nigeria. If he or she fails, the country fails.

To me, the leader must lead and the leader alone must show the way. The greatest leader must mobilise others by coalescing people around a shared vision. The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction, and the will to carry on (Walter Lippman). One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognise a problem before it becomes an emergency (Arnold Glasow). Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power (Seth Berkley). Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing. The leader has to be practical and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist (Eric Hoffer). Leaders think and talk about the solutions. Followers think and talk about the problems (Brian Tracy).

Leadership is not about getting elected alone. In Nigeria of today, I doubt if these rules apply. It’s as if our leadership is on the sideline in the midst of numerous programmes we are encountering. The worst of these problems is poverty. If not checked, poverty poses a great danger to our political stability. And I hope it will not mar the elections.

Poverty is one of the most serious problems, which confronts Nigerians today. Over 85% of Nigerians have been classified as poor in a recent report by the Federal Office of Statistics. This situation is made more serious by the fact that about 83% of Nigerians who live in the rural areas are poor. Indeed, the recent edition of Nigeria’s Human Development Report (HDR), issued by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ranks Nigeria among the poorest countries in the world. According to the HDR, Nigeria’s Human Poverty Index (HPI) of 0.416, places the country among the poorest members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This is in spite of the fact that Nigeria is one of the leading oil producers and exporters in the world.

The extent and magnitude of the incidence of poverty in Nigeria contradicts the country’s immense wealth, which exists in the form of extremely rich human and material resources. It also contradicts the enormous efforts and resources expended by successive regime in the creation of Federal institutions, agencies, programmes and projects for poverty alleviation. This is made more glaring by the existence of public institutions and agencies established over the years to grapple with the issue of poverty.

The evident failure of poverty alleviation programmes to substantively deal with the problem of poverty in Nigeria has been attributed to many factors. The most important among these factors are poor policy formulation, without setting achievable targets; policy discontinuity and lack of sustainability; inadequate consideration of the actual needs and aspirations of the poor, due to adoption of top-down approach; lack of an appropriate institutional framework and delivery machinery; over policitisation and bureaucratisation of service delivery and the absence of a policy framework, which provides overall direction and guidance for poverty eradication efforts of various actors.

Indeed, one of the greatest obstacles to the success of poverty alleviation policies and programmes in Nigeria has been lack of co-ordination. Also, there has been no complementation in the activities of the various institutions, agencies and tiers of government working in this area. This has resulted in duplication of efforts, wastage of resources, unhealthy rivalries and working at cross purposes.

Poverty has generally been conceptualised and defined either in absolute or relative terms. In any case, it is associated with the conditions under which people live. Absolute poverty denotes a condition in which a person or group of persons are unable to satisfy their most basic and elementary requirements of human survival in terms of food and other fundamental needs. Relative poverty, on the other hand, is defined in the context of well-established living standards in a particular society. In this context, any person or group of persons who fall below that established standard of living is considered poor.

A poverty line is usually the starting point of measuring the incidence of poverty and analysing it. It can be absolute or relative, and it can be national or international. In developing countries such as Nigeria, relative and international poverty lines are useful in classifying the poor and non-poor, only and especially when actual data has not been compiled to allow for the determination of national poverty line.

With or without oil, Nigeria has no reason whatsoever to be poor. And Nigerians have no reasons to be in this present position.

A number of intervention policies, programmes and projects have been introduced by the Federal Government to fight poverty and facilitate the development process over the years. In the period 1970 to 1980, the intervention programmes introduced include the following: Operation Feed the Nation/Green Revolution, Universal Primary Education, Low Cost Housing Scheme, Adult Education Scheme, Rural Electrification Scheme, Rural Banking Schemes, Agricultural Development Programme, River Basin Development Authorities, Rural and Urban Water Supply Schemes, Small Holder Credit Schemes, Mass Transport Schemes, Healthcare Schemes for sanitation, Immunisation and other Services.

I must also mention the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFFRI). It was a directorate established by General Ibrahim Babangida GCFR on April 1, 1987 under decree No 4. The pioneer and only Chairman of the directorate then was Air Vice Marshal Lawrence Koiyan from Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State. He was born on May 31, 1942 in Trofani in the present day Bayelsa State. He attended Stella Maris College, Port Harcourt, 1957-1962, Nigerian Military Training College, April-June 1966, Squadron Officers’ School, U.S. Air force, 1974, Command and Staff College, Jaji, 1979, National Defence College, New Delhi, 1983; joined Nigerian Air Force (NAF), 1963, attached to 4 Area Command, Nigerian Army, Benin, 1966-1968, adjutant, NAF Military Airlift Wing, Ikeja, 1968, later officer commanding, C Squadron NAF Port Harcourt, 1972-1975, director of Supply, NAF Headquarters, 1979-1982, deputy Commandment, Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, 1982, promoted air commodore, 1983, member, Supreme Military Council, 1984-1985, appointed air officer in charge of logistics, 1984, also appointed member, Armed Forces Ruling Council, 1985-1989.

When Babangida (81) created DFFRI, it was with good intentions. The next President must revive the spirit of DFFRI, so as to help those especially in the rural areas.

The spirit of DFRRI at that time was to (a) identify, involve and support viable local community organisations in the effective mobilisation of the rural population for sustained rural development activities, bearing in mind the need for promoting greater community participation and economic self reliance of the rural community (b) to identify areas of high production potential for the country’s priority food and fibre requirement and to support production of such commodities along agro-ecological zones within the content of one national market with unimpeded inter-state trade in farm produce (c) to formulate and support a national rural feeder and network programme involving construction, rehabilitation, improvement and maintenance especially in relation to the nation’s food self-sufficiency programme as well as general rural development (d) to formulate and support a national rural water supply programme together with a national on-farm storage programme with emphasis on full initial involvement to local communities and local government personnel to ensure sustained maintenance of built infrastructures (e) to identify and promote other programmes that would enhance greater productive economic activities in the rural areas as well as help to improve the quality of life and standard of living of the rural people (f) to encourage contribution of labour, time and materials by local communities to be complemented by a system of matching grants from the Directorate, Local and State Governments (g) to support the development of an information gathering, maintenance and evaluation of culture in rural development programming, with emphasis on utilisation of existing agencies with demonstrated competence in the area of management information system in agriculture and rural infrastructure, agronomy, agricultural extension, including the continuous generation of basic data on rural infrastructure in each of the local government areas in Nigeria.

(H) to commission and support studies and research projects that will facilitate the execution of the functions of the Directorate (i) to determine within each local government each local government area of the community basis of rural productive organisation as a means of mobilising food and other products for more effective service delivery, infrastructural development and enhanced productivity (j) to identify and involve local community leaders and organisations in the effective mobilisation of the rural population for sustained development activities, bearing in mind the need for promoting greater social participation and economics self reliance in the community (k) to liaise with Federal Government Ministries and Agencies in the design and implementation of programmes and projects in the field and implementation of programmes and projects in the field of food production and processing, rural water supply, road construction and maintenance and the provision of rural infrastructures and any other rural development activities (l) to define, encourage and support any activities calculated to enhanced food production, road development, rural water supply, the provision of infrastructure to rural areas and any other rural development activities (m) to encourage the implementation of physical development plans at the community level in order to increase rural, productivity and improve rural accessibility (n) to prescribe the criteria and determine the level of corresponding financial grant which will adequately stimulate the expansion of food production and processing rural water supply, road construction and maintenance of rural roads and the provision of other rural infrastructure (o) to establish an efficient, expeditious and accurate system of financial disbursement to rural communities (p) to supervise and monitor on a continuous or regular basis the entire rural development activities carried out or supported by the Directorate pursuant to this Decree (q) to develop a system of statistical and non-statistical reporting relative to local communities in order to measure the achievements of the Directorate in the area of food production, rural water supply, road construction and repair, rural infrastructural development and other rural development activities and (r) to do all such other things as will enable the Directorate more effectively to perform its function under this Decree.

Other Intervention programmes and agencies include People’s Bank of Nigeria headed by Dr. Tai Solarin (August 20, 1922- 27 July 1994) and Mrs. Maria O. Sokenu (May 1, 1946- October 22, 2005) (Chairman and Managing Director respectively), Family Support Programme, Family Support Trust Fund, Family Economic Advancement Programme, Primary Healthcare, Diseases Eradication Schemes, National Land Development Agency and Strategic Grains Reserve, etc.

These programmes cover vital areas of agriculture, education, employment generation, environmental protection, micro-credit delivery, healthcare, housing and resource/technology development. Accordingly, they can be classified into sectors as follows: National Agricultural Land Development, Strategic Grains Reserve, Small-scale Fishery, Small Ruminant Production, Pasture and Grazing Reserves, Accelerated Crop Production, Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme, Primary Healthcare Programmes, Diseases Eradication Schemes, Expanded Programmes on Immunisation, Site and Services Scheme, Prototype Low-Cost Housing Scheme, State-Government’s Housing Programmes, Nomadic Education Programme, Migrant Fishermen Scheme, Adult and Non-Formal Education Programme.

Others are Family Support Basic Education Programme, Family Economic Advancement Programme, Industrial Development Centres, National Directorate of Employment, Federal Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Soil Erosion Control, Ecological and Disaster Relief Programme, Nigerian Agricultural Co-operative Bank, Nigerian Bank for Commerce and Industry, Nigerian Industrial Development Bank, People’s Bank of Nigeria, National Economic Reconstruction Fund and Community Banks.

On the Ahmed Joda’s Panel Report, the full recommendations must be implemented by the next President. The recommendations summarised are for both the core and indirect poverty alleviation Institutions, Agencies and Programmes.

The Panel recommended that the NDE should: Be restricted to training for skills acquisition, vocational training and general programmes associated with employment generation, ensure that the skills acquisition programme is diversified to cover electronics, computers, high technological skills, disengage totally from micro-credit delivery and generating/maintaining a data bank on employment and vacancies availability in the country, liaise with the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity for detailed information on State by State training needs, and also liaise with relevant institutions delivering credit to poverty alleviation institutions for the resettlement of those that have gone through its training,

They are also to ensure that the loans already given out are aggressively recovered, ensure that in addition to focusing its attention on school leavers and graduates, retired workers, unemployed and retraining programmes are given adequate attention, embark on restructuring, rationalisation and downsizing in accordance with its recommended new mandate, be considered as a core poverty alleviation institution and the supervisory role of the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity transferred to the proposed NAPEC and have its statutes reviewed to reflect its new mandate and focus.

Among other recommendations made by the panel were that all the rural activities of all these ministries should be transferred to NAPEC, which will co-ordinate them. They are to be executed by the states and local governments directly and the Ministry of Agriculture should be re-structured and should relinquish its following activities to states and local governments: Tractor hiring, land clearing and development, horticulture, fertiliser distribution, seeds and seedlings propagation and distribution, agro-forestry, extension services, inland fishing and co-operatives development.

The Ministry of Agriculture should also transfer the co-ordination of the Agricultural Universities to the National Universities Commission, which has better facilities and capacity to supervise the universities.

The Panel recommended in addition the need to setup targets in the struggle to eradicate poverty in Nigeria. In view of the foregoing commendations, three Federal Ministries / institutions should be entrusted with the mandate for the primary effort to eradicate poverty in Nigeria. These are: Federal Ministry of Education in charge of UBE, Federal Ministry of Health in charge of Primary Healthcare matters and National Poverty Eradication Commission (NAPEC) in charge of employment generation, development of rural infrastructure and economic empowerment.

Also, the panel recommended four-year targets for the Federal Ministry of Education that the adult literacy rate in the country to increase from its current level of 51 per cent to 71 per cent.

In addition the panel recommended that the Federal Government should pay attention to the development and nurturing of a culture of good governance as a precondition for national development. We are not unaware of the, fact that a lot has been said and or written in this country on this issue. What has, however, been lacking until the advent of this administration is putting these into practice.

Nevertheless, it cannot be over-emphasised that good governance embodies the fear of God, accountability, transparency, responsible and responsive government, leadership by example, equality and justice. These are cardinal points to be imbibed and respected by both leaders and the followers. Thus, government and the people must contribute equally to good governance and nation building. The global trends inevitably pose newer challenges that will necessitate the refocusing of government’s role in governance as well as the citizenry’s taking up the vast opportunities provided by the New World Order. Our prosperity or lack of it is tied to how we as a people are able to cope with what is happening in the wider world.

In conclusion, the panel declared “we wish to state that only by a combination of good leaders, good governance and good followers would we be able to bring about economic prosperity and qualitative democracy, which would enhance our standing before the International Community.

The panel recognised the very important role that all stakeholders need to play in the effort to alleviate poverty and more specifically, eradicate absolute poverty. Government must pursue its programmes and projects in partnership with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the Organised Private Sector (OPS) and the International Donor Agencies.

Uncontrolled population growth is a major contributor to poverty. Any strategies for poverty alleviation must take into account the need to address the problem of population growth. The rate of population growth in Nigeria has been 2.83 per cent, while that of food production is about 2.5 per cent. More people are being born than there is food to feed them. Therefore, the government must urgently address this issue.

One of the reasons for the rising rate of population growth has to do with unplanned rates of birth.

This problem can be addressed by encouraging child-spacing, which is recommended in the interests of the child and its mother and which is not discouraged by most cultures and religions. However, given the deep-rooted suspicions about family planning in many religious circles, creative ways of public enlightenment and education have to be devised by the government in order to promote a the positive health attitude to child-spacing.

Another problem giving rise to the rapid increase in population growth is associated with traditional beliefs that giving birth to more children is an investment for subsistence security in the future, especially at old-age. Given the high mortality rate, many people believe that the more children they have, the better their chances of having surviving off-spring to look after them in subsistence production and in old-age. This problem should also be solved through imaginative public enlightenment campaigns and through deliberate policies of reducing infant mortality, such that people can have greater confidence that death may spare them an heir.

Perhaps the greatest safeguard against the dangers of over-population is increased investments in agricultural development and food production. Therefore, the panel recommends that the government should pay greater attention to evolving strategies for increased food production.

All three tiers of government have, for years now been levying numerous taxes and levies in their effort to generate more revenue.
State and local governments have been known to employ consultants and task forces to assess and collect taxes, which were hitherto unknown sometimes at gun-point. As at the last count and according to the figures compiled by the Organised Private Sector, there were about 250 of these taxes and levies.

Generally, most Nigerian cities do not have adequate water supply for even human and much less for industrial use. The collapse of water treatment facilities due to lack of spare-parts chemicals has caused intense hardships to many dwellers of Nigerian cities. It has led to reliance on ponds, rivers and generally untreated water for drinking.

As a result of this, there has been a resurgence of preventable water-borne diseases such as cholera and guinea-worms, which are now causing havoc in the country.

The need for safe drinking water, therefore, cannot be over-emphasised. In view of this, the panel recommends that: the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, should accelerate the process of the rehabilitation of all water-works and treatment plants in the country.

The Federal Government should embark upon a massive programme of the extension of rural water supply with a view to raise the current level of potable and safe water supply from the 30 per cent to 50 per cent by the year 2003. This is because the provision and expansion of access to water is a very vital programme of poverty alleviation.

In line with the policy of inculcating maintenance culture, the panel recommends an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to the federal, state and local governments through the initiation of massive public works programmes. This is to embark on project based programmes tailored towards the maintenance and restoration of critical public infrastructure and the environment.

These programmes should be designed to provide meaningful “hands-on” employment to large numbers of people wherever feasible. Such schemes would discourage the use of heavy mechanical equipment, thereby providing employment for unemployed youth, idle work forces, and those displaced or retired during the on-going processes of rationalisation in both the public and private sectors. It will also aim at inculcating and improving better attitudes towards a maintenance culture, injecting a sense of sustainability in government’s investments in infrastructure and restoring pride in our surroundings.

Rural development is a strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of the people in the rural areas. Over 70 per cent of the 67 per cent of poor Nigerians are found in rural areas. The rural poor are a heterogeneous group, including small-scale farmers, the landless, the nomads, pastoralists and fishermen and women. But they share common disabilities, limited assets, environmental vulnerability and the lack of access to public services and amenities especially education and health facilities.

The main concern in rural development therefore is the modernisation of rural society through a transition from traditional isolation to integration with the national economy for equitable and balanced development of the nation.

In making its recommendations, the panel has emphasised the need for a focus on eradication of absolute poverty rather than poverty alleviation because of the belief that deliberate steps must be taken urgently to destroy the psychology of poverty and the sense of helplessness amongst Nigerians. We have recommended strategies that will encourage personal initiative and community co-operation and lead to enhanced productivity and prosperity. Nigeria cannot truly be considered great and democratic if it is unable to provide minimum material comfort – the basic necessities of modern civilisation, that is, food, light, water, shelter, clinics, schools and jobs – for the vast majority of its citizens.”

These recommendations are for the next President to implement.

I wish the next President goodluck.
*Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.