Some political promises are hard to keep. The nature of politics induces political leaders to make promises they know they can only deliver to sound bites and indifferent public applause.
You are not going to hear from me that President Muhammadu Buhari has clearly failed in one of his fundamental promises dear to the people: to fight poverty. He promised to lift 100 million people out of poverty in ten years. To show that he meant business, sometime last year he appointed some experts to help him come up with a formula to fulfill his promise to the people. He’s not ten years old, of course, but he’s long enough to devise a mechanism or a formula that could be working on his behalf long after he leaves Aso Rock.
He later claimed that he lifted 15.5 million people out of poverty in six years; 10.5 million of whom have left poverty behind in the last two years. The president should have called the experts to validate his formula to crush poverty and save the people. Winning the war against poverty is essential for human progress. Eric Meade rightly calls poverty “humanity’s greatest challenge.”
On June 12 of last year, Buhari painted a seductive picture of a country emerging from poverty. In his broadcast to the nation, the president said that his administration’s various intervention programs had turned Nigeria into a new and self-sufficient nation, a nation that can now produce enough food to feed itself. The immediate effect on agriculture, he said, was that the country now imports less food and produces more food. As he says, the ABP has “resulted in a sharp decline in the nation’s major food import bill.” Before his initiatives came into effect, just importing rice consumed billions of dollars; currently, we spend only $18.5 million importing rice annually.
Whatever the successes of the aforementioned initiatives, they are not entirely responsible for the low food import bill. Credit goes more or less to closed borders. More importantly, at least two things have challenged the success of these initiatives. One, local food production is low because insecurity has kept farmers at home, not on the farm. It works with less food at a higher cost to consumers.
Two, the collapse of the food import bill is welcome, but we must not forget that hunger is the result of lack of food. If we don’t have enough food or if the price of available food is out of reach for most people, the low food import bill will do us no good. Given the situation we find ourselves in now, some adjustments need to be made quickly to ensure a reasonable balance between the need to save money and the need to feed people and prevent the country from sliding down dangerous slopes towards famine. The World Bank has even warned of famine in sub-Saharan Africa. We must resolve not to add hunger to the portfolio of our dire national challenges.
The president’s grand claims actually amount to plausible fiction. By all indications, poverty in our country is clearly deepening and therefore worsening in the face of our challenges of insecurity and a somewhat sustained national economy with unsustainable loans. The wanton destruction of life and property, the uprooting of perhaps millions of people from their homes and loss of livelihoods and now living in IDP camps deprived of economic activities, the desertion of farms by our peasants for fear of murderers and kidnappers with the obvious result that we produce less food locally, the interruption of commercial and social interactions because murderers, bandits and kidnappers are the owners of our roads, all this indicates that the president sees the realities with blinkers on.
A few days after the president made his claims, the World Bank spoiled the good news. In a report released on June 16, the bank said a high rate of inflation led to the high cost of goods and services and impoverished another seven million Nigerians.
“As of April 2021,” the bank noted, “the inflation rate was the highest in four years. Food prices accounted for more than 60% of the total increase in inflation. Rising prices have pushed some 7 million Nigerians below the poverty line in 2020 alone.”
We have an estimated national population of 207 or 230 million. Of this number, some 100 million people live below the poverty line. It tells you why our country is the poverty capital of the world. He won that crown under Buhari’s watch, hence his promise to change the narrative of poverty and give the crown to a country more deserving of the honor we have enjoyed since 2017. The poor, like the rich, have qualifications. Experts classify them as poor, vulnerable, and extremely poor. We have all the degrees of the poor in our country.
Last year Buhari said: “My vision of lifting 100 million poor Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years has been put into practice and can be seen in the National Social Investment Programme, the first in Africa and one of the most largest in the world where more than 31.6 million beneficiaries participate. We now have a National Social Register of poor and vulnerable households, identified in 708 local government areas, 8,723 districts and 86,610 communities in all 36 states and Abuja.”
The fight against poverty is a circular challenge. It is a human problem. When a government pushes some people above the poverty line, circumstances push new people below the poverty line. It’s a win-lose-win-lose situation. While Buhari lifted 15.5 million people out of poverty in the last two years, a new seven million people sank below the poverty line in 2020 alone.
The president finds it frustrating. He confessed that his efforts to provide solutions we can believe in are undermined by “scarce resources and a skyrocketing population growth rate that consistently exceeds our ability to provide jobs for our population.”
Our stellar performance in maternity wards is ruining our economy. Our “galloping population growth rate” forces the Nigerian state to have more mouths to feed, more young people to educate and more young people to provide in terms of job opportunities. Our skyrocketing population makes the president look like someone who has trouble keeping promises to the people.
About a month ago, the Office of National Statistics told the president that the nation under his watch has plunged deeper into poverty than at any time in our national history. Despite his glorified initiatives, 133 million Nigerians are now officially classified as poor by the NBS.
That must be shocking news for the president. The man who believed he took on poverty and won is now faced with the bitter truth that he took on poverty and lost the battle rather miserably. His much-touted initiatives must have collectively induced more poverty than addressed it.
Buhari is ready to step down without fulfilling this promise to the people. He hasn’t lifted anyone out of poverty, let alone 15.5 million people. When he made the pledge, he believed that he had the ability to accomplish the tremendous feat that no Nigerian leader, military or civilian, has so far come close to.
Well don’t worry, Napoleon said promises are made to be broken. We cannot blame him for Buhari’s string of broken promises. Politics make promises the staple of the game diet. The politician who won’t make unrealistic promises that he knows he can’t keep hasn’t been born yet.