BackpageState Governors Must Wake up To Their Poverty Alleviation Responsibilities

State Governors Must Wake up To Their Poverty Alleviation Responsibilities


February 25, (THEWILL) – There is no denying the fact that Nigeria is in the throes of a biting cost of living crisis that continues to drive more citizens into poverty and economic deprivation. While there have been numerous economic upheavals in the country’s history, few can compare to the current economic quagmire that threatens the survival and livelihoods of millions of Nigerians.

The origins of this crisis are multifaceted, with a complex interplay between various economic indices. However, three major factors stand out as the key drivers of this economic mess. First is the growing dependence on imports for virtually all essential commodities, from petroleum products to basic food items. Successive governments have failed to diversify the economy and boost local production capacity. This over-reliance on imports implies that any slight volatility in the value of the Naira leads to immediate shocks on prices of essential commodities.

Secondly, the runaway inflation rate continues to severely erode purchasing power for average Nigerians. As of January 2024, inflation rate peaked at 29.90%, the highest level since November 2005. This effectively means that whatever little income people earn is barely enough to purchase the same quantity of goods. From transportation to healthcare and food, Nigerians have to spend more to access the same or even lower quality essential goods and services.

The third factor exacerbating this crisis is the free fall of the Naira. With the currency exchanging at well over N1,600 to a US Dollar in the parallel market and slightly less at the official rates, imported items become near-luxuries that only a few Nigerians can afford. From machinery to raw materials, the weakened Naira makes imports exorbitantly expensive. Ultimately, manufacturers and other businesses transfer the high costs to final consumers in the form of higher prices.

The impact of these factors on the majority of Nigerians is catastrophic. As at 2022, over 133 million Nigerians, representing 63 per cent of the population, were multidimensionally poor, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This means that they lack access to essential basic needs like healthcare, education, and decent standards of living. This figure will have multiplied recently as it is estimated that millions of Nigerians live below the poverty line of $1.90 per day. These figures depict a nation entrapped in economic deprivation.

Millions of households can no longer afford two proper meals per day. Prices of staples like rice, garri, beans and yam have gone completely out of reach for average families. There are disturbing stories of families going for days without a proper meal. The rate of malnutrition is rising, subjecting the majority to preventable illnesses at the same time when drug prices are through the roof. Access to decent housing is also increasingly elusive, with many dwelling in slums and other inhospitable environments.

Clearly, the solemn duty to rescue citizens from this worsening crisis lies with the government at all levels. The President bears immediate responsibility for formulating and implementing sound economic policies that can help stabilise the economy. There is a compelling need to address issues like rising inflation, unstable exchange rates and over-reliance on imports. Focused investment in boosting local production especially in agriculture and manufacturing is indispensable at this point. The president must rally stakeholders, harness ideas and swiftly activate interventions.

Yet, beyond Abuja, state governors cannot abscond from culpability. With increased federal allocations and more powers, they are better positioned to directly boost economic activities within their states and make life better for people living under their jurisdiction. But majority of our state governors have no capacity to govern their domains effectively and productively. This is where it gets even more frustrating for all of us. Why are these governors not using the acres of arable lands within their domains for massive food production? Why aren’t they producing food directly or going into a PPP arrangement?

While few governors have initiated commendable programmes to ease the burden on people in their states, majority seem oblivious of the economic trauma ravaging households within their boundaries. Instead, they are often expending monies on needless and wasteful trips abroad to satisfy their unquenchable thirst for luxuries.

This gross dereliction of duty is reckless and appalling.

In Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu stands out for unveiling impactful responses to cushion residents from the economic crisis. He announced a 25% reduction in all public transportation fees, including for the BRT buses, trains and ferry services. This immediately eases the commute burden for millions. He also introduced flexible three-day work weeks for civil servants from grade level 1-14. This helps them save on cost on transport and decongests the roads.

Additionally, his administration is providing direct food palliatives to over 300,000 vulnerable households across the state. Relief packages with items like rice, garri, beans and other staples are being distributed. To crash food prices, the governor opened up 42 new neighbourhood markets which open for business every Sunday. By increasing supply, citizens access affordable foodstuffs. The state feeds between 1000 to 1500 people daily in supervised soup kitchens in every local council area for the first 30 to 60 days.

These policies cushion the economic blows on millions of Lagos residents. Other governors are also unveiling initiatives aimed at alleviating hardship facing citizens. In Ogun State, Governor Dapo Abiodun arranged distribution of rice, garri and beans to vulnerable residents. Over 20,000 10kg bags of rice have been shared by the Kwara State government to identified citizens.

Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom sponsored a bill to establish a bulk state food purchasing agency to supply affordable food. Governor of Benue State, Fr. Hyacinth Alia provided fertilisers to farmers to improve food production. He also arranged to pay exam fees for secondary school leavers sitting critical national examinations. In Borno State, Governor Babagana Zulum distributed cash and food to over 70,000 vulnerable persons impacted by insurgents.

Governor Umo Eno of Akwa Ibom State has announced that he has sponsored a bill currently before the State House of Assembly aimed at addressing the cost of living crisis experienced by the people. The bill proposes the establishment of the State Bulk Purchasing Agency to make staple food items more affordable. According to Governor Eno, the agency will purchase food items in bulk to ensure their availability at relatively lower prices, with a commitment to transparency in the process.

These actions reinforce that beyond the federal government, governors also play a pivotal role in implementing policies that directly uplift resident’s welfare. While some are rising to the task with impactful interventions, every governor needs to make citizen’s wellbeing the pivot of their administration. They must leverage their proximity to directly address pressing basic needs confronting ordinary Nigerians.

The sporadic unrests in parts of the country linked to the economic crisis portend grave danger. If left unchecked and unaddressed, the seething frustrations among citizens may degenerate into violent agitations beyond what security forces can contain. Though the prognosis looks dire, this crisis equally presents an opportunity for governments at all levels to change the narrative by executing strategic interventions that deliver prosperity to long-suffering citizens. Our leaders must be guided by the timeless words that where there is a will, there is always a way.

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