Saturday, 13 April 2013

Worry over poverty as govt spends N18tr in one year

Wednesday, 27 March 2013 00:00 From Mathias Okwe, Assistant Business Editor, Abuja News - National AT least, N18.844 trillion was generated and spent between 2011 and last year in Nigeria by the Federal and State governments, according to figures by the Budget Office of the Federation. The Budget Office also declared that the country recorded real growth, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of seven per cent in 2011 and 6.28 per cent in 2012. Apparently, these are impressive numbers and really support the classification of Nigeria by the Breton Wood Institutions as a medium income country. But stakeholders are worried that though the country is rich, a vast majority of her citizenry continue to live in abject condition as the recently-launched United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) has indicated, signifying that most of the Nigerian people are excluded from the “impressive growth.” The UNDP report places Nigeria amongst the least countries of the world that recorded achievement in the upgrade of the welfare of their citizens - the Low Human Development category, where mostly poor nations or low-income countries as they are called belong. Overall, Nigeria on the rating table is placed number 153 out of a total of 186 countries around the world where the survey was conducted. The countries are classified into four categories, namely: Very High Human Development; High Human Development; Medium Human Development and the least, Low Human Development. The indications as contained in the report on Nigeria are frightening as they are disturbing. For instance, the report says 143 under-five children die yearly of preventive diseases out of every 1000 births; 630 women die out of every 100,000 deliveries in the country; the population of people living under one United States dollar and twenty five cent per day (an average of N170) is 68 per cent while life expectancy is 52.3 years, meaning the majority of Nigerians die before even the public service’s retirement age of 60 due apparently to deprivation. This is so, according to the report, because Nigeria’s public spending on health yearly, relative to the size of her GDP, is just 1.9 per cent, which earned the country a score of less than one per cent - at 0.510 per cent. The report says: “The HDI represents a push for a broader definition of well-being and provides a composite measure of three basic dimensions of human development: health, education and income. Nigeria’s HDI is 0.471, which gives the country a rank of 153 out of 187 countries with comparable data. The HDI of Sub-Saharan Africa as a region increased from 0.366 in 1980 to 0.475 today, placing Nigeria below the regional average. The HDI trends tell an important story both at the national and regional level and highlight the very large gaps in well-being and life chances that continue to divide our interconnected world.” Perhaps, it is this worrisome human development numbers that informed the World Bank’s latest intervention in the country where it is expected to commit $300 million on a social safety net programme aimed at attacking poverty by directly identifying the vulnerable in the society with the sole aim of addressing the sharp inequality in the country where a few are stupendously rich while the majority continue to wallow in abject want. As a prelude to the commencement of this new initiative, which is a partnership between Nigeria and the Breeton Wood Institutions, its Director for Human Development Group, Dr. Ritva Reinkka, was in Nigeria penultimate week on an assessment and on the spot analysis visit. At the end of the country tour, Reinkka explained that the new initiative known as Youth Employment and Social Support Operation was the World Bank’s new strategy of combating poverty through prosperity sharing and cash transfer by critically identifying the core vulnerable in the society and empowering them, as opposed to the several social safety net programmes in the country that may have been hijacked by the privileged few and directed at the wrong people, thus widening the gulf between the haves and the have-nots. Already, Reinkka assured that the board of the bank is to give approval for the release of the credit before the end of March to enable the project to kick off next month. Although she said 20 states in the country had indicated interest to participate in the project, the pilot scheme is to start in seven states: Bauchi: Niger; Cross River; Ekiti; Osun; Oyo and Kwara. Under the scheme, the vulnerable will be identified and selected for the purpose of conditional cash transfer under the social safety programme like public works and skilled acquisition programmes as an empowerment tool to give them a lift in life. Reinkka expressed concern that though Nigeria was recording growth, it was not inclusive as there was still wide disparity between the haves and the have-nots in the country with even a large population of about 10 million Nigerian children dropping out of school because of funding. She said: “There is a lot more that needs to be done to have inclusive growth in Nigeria and scale up on child and maternal mortality rate and the quality of education. It is disturbing that about 10 million kids are dropping out of schools in Nigeria. Nigeria does have a special challenge in this regard because it is one of the countries in the region with the biggest challenge in this regard. There is a big issue concerning the quality of education. There is a concern that your education leaders and leaders in finance are doing well but a lot still needs to be done. “In health, what we see in Africa is that under-five death is reducing. We are hoping that Nigeria will join other 14 countries that have halved the under-five mortality rate. “We are also concerned about the growing inequality and the different income and human development indicators between the North and the South of Nigeria. That is why under our social protection and safety now a reality in Africa, we are going to the Bank’s Board for approval of a $300 million next week for social safety in Nigeria. “This is in line with the thinking of our President, a medical doctor who sees himself as a civil society activist as he is shifting emphasis from inputs and consultancy to results and output. He has been shaping our thinking to accelerate the speed to poverty reduction,” the visiting director further said. Present at the briefing were the Nigerian World Bank Country Director, Madam Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly and the Sector Leader of Human Development for the World Bank Country Office Nigeria, Prof. Foluso Okunmadewa, among others. Each year since 1990 the Human Development Report has published the Human Development Index (HDI) which was introduced as an alternative to conventional measures of national development, such as level of income and the rate of economic growth.

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