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NIGERIA / POVERTY POLITICS - 2002-03-14


Poverty, fueled by corruption, remains endemic in Nigeria. The country ranks sixth in the group of oil-producing countries, OPEC. But according to the United Nations Development Index, its people are among the poorest in the world. Stakeholders discussed the problem in depth at the roundtable held to assess the country's Poverty Alleviation Program.

The roundtable was hosted by Center for Democratic Research and Training, Bayero University, in Kano. The university's vice chancellor, Professor Musa Abdullahi, opened the forum by pointing out just how serious the problem is. "The statistics (about it) is in fact very frightening", says Dr.Professor Abdulai, "we are told that every seven out of ten Nigerians live below the poverty line."

Another speaker, Professor Attahiru Jega, director of the Center for Democratic Training and Research, said President Olusegun Obasanjo has made poverty eradication a major policy issue. "Although it is too early to assess the impact of government's policy on poverty eradication, we believe that it is still for us to assess the implementation mechanism of the program; in order to see how best to contribute to reshaping the policy for greater results."

The Obasanjo administration scrapped previous government poverty alleviation programs such as the People's Bank, Directorate of Foods, Agricultural Bank, and Family Economic Programs. It replaced them with the Poverty Alleviation Program and has spent about three hundred million US dollars in the past year. The government says it took the step because the earlier programs did not help the beneficiaries. But critics of the administration argue that the current program has been politicized due to conflicts among local politicians for influence and patronage. At the end of the forum, the participants issued a communiqué listing what they called the major impediments to eradicating poverty in Nigeria. They include political bureaucracy and corruption. The delegates say these problems may have serious implications for democracy. They suggested leadership reorientation, the commitment of all Nigerians to the poverty eradication program, and the re-structuring of the program. The chairman of the Communiqué Committee, Dr. Mohammed Mustapha, called for a review of the government's Poverty Eradication Program. "The execution of the program through several agencies and institutions at federal state and local government levels for example NAPEP, NAIC SAPEC (etc) constitute a major obstacle in excessive bureaucracy, duplication of roles, abuse of responsibility, politicking and misappropriation of funds." The Obasanjo administration introduced the National Poverty Eradication Program when it came to power three years ago, calling it an effort to restore hope and self-confidence, and create wealth for every Nigerian. The delegates support the idea of the Poverty Eradication Program, but they called for it to be restructured to make it more welfare oriented and less political. They suggest that it work from the grass roots to the leaders, and not the other way around.

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