23 Years of Civil Rule and Nigeria Continues to rot in Poverty and Misery – a nation’s dilemma and possible solution!

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It is worthy of note to assuredly say that only politicians, their families, hangers-on, and preferred contractors will be commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the transition from military to civilian administration for the umpteenth year.

The failure of the trappings of democracy to offer the good life has dismayed, angered, and upset the overwhelming majority of Nigerians across the country and beyond. Poverty and misery abound; millions are unemployed, and essential social services are either unavailable or in limited supply. The entire country is on pins and needles.

And instead of clinking champagne glasses and delivering their customary false homilies, Nigeria’s political leaders should re-strategize and commit to change the country’s widespread poverty trajectory.

Nigerians hoped that the Fourth Republic, which was ushered in on the promise of liberty and wealth in 1999, would help to unlock the country’s tremendous natural and human potential and deliver comfortable human development indices. Those dreams were cruelly destroyed.

The proof is all around us. On the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index, the country had fallen to 161st place out of 189 countries by 2019. Nigeria comes short when it comes to the three “fundamental elements of human development”: a long and healthy life, access to information, and a fair standard of living. These factors include life expectancy, literacy levels, and Purchasing Power Parity-based per capita income. When the likes of South Africa and Egypt, its continental sisters, were placed 114th and 116th, respectively – a tale that Nigeria is distant from its continental economic rivals.

Every new worldwide rating only serves to highlight the shambles. It slipped from 15th to 11th place in Hanke’s Annual Misery Index 2021, an international economic study that uses inflation, loan rates, unemployment data, and GDP growth as factors. While other emerging economies, such as Brazil, were able to lift 20 million people out of poverty in just eight years, Nigeria continued to sink deeper into it. In 1999, it had a poverty rate of only 52%, but by 2018, it had replaced India as the world’s “severe poverty” capital. The World Bank revised its prediction of 90.1 million poor people in the country by 2022 from 90.1 million to 95 million by year’s end in March.

UNICEF estimated an increase in the number of children of school age who are not in school, from 10.5 million to 13.2 million, allowing it to maintain its position as the world’s capital for out-of-school children. According to some analysts, this number has likely climbed to about 16.5 million as a result of the country’s unprecedented insecurity. According to UNESCO figures, it ranks 137th out of 157 nations surveyed in terms of female literacy in the 15-24 year age range in 2018. It boasts the world’s biggest population of people without access to power, according to World Bank SDG tracking reports, among other unwanted firsts. According to USAID, 52 percent of the population lacks access to basic drinking water sources. Terrorism, kidnappings, and gang violence have approached failed-state levels of insecurity.

It shouldn’t have been that way. For one thing, experts agree that democracy accelerates growth and development. According to a study published in the University of Chicago’s Journal of Political Economy, democracy stimulates growth and has a “substantial and sizable” positive impact. “A country that converts from non-democracy to democracy gets roughly 20% higher GDP per capita in the next 25 years than a country that stays non-democratic,” they claimed.

However, the results have been varied and tilted against progress in this area. According to Knoema, a global data organisation, while GDP per capita increased from $583 in 2001 to $2,083 in 2020, expanding at a 7.9% annual rate, purchasing power has actually dropped, with cash value wiped out by inflation, which hit 16.82 percent in April.

The naira’s depreciation from N91 to $1 in 1999 to N415.72 to $1 on the official market, and over N600 to $1 on the more accessible parallel market today, has been terrible for an import-dependent country. Apart from inflation, unemployment has risen to 33.3 percent, the third-highest in the world, from a low of 5.0 percent in 2000. Over 23 million people are unemployed or underemployed, with the youth accounting for the majority of the unemployed. Strikes frequently result in the closure of tertiary institutions and the emptiness of hospitals. The education and health sectors, as well as their facilities, are in disarray. The provision of infrastructure has been neglected.

Without a doubt, some progress has been made. According to the Bureau of Public Firms, over 150 state-owned enterprises have been privatised, clearing the coffers of massive waste. In 2005-2006, a debt buy-back agreement relieved the country of a three-decade-old debt burden that had reached to $30 billion.

The liberalisation of the telecoms sector in 2001 resulted in 195.5 million active telephone lines by 2022, compared to less than 500,000 in the previous 40 years; it also drew over $70 billion in private investment and produced thousands of employment. Rice production will increase to 8.17 million tonnes by 2020, up from 388,000 tonnes in 1971, thanks to a scheme to expand production and save money on imports. Banking and financial services have grown in sophistication and scale. There have been some beneficial developments in the pension sector.

However, the problems are enormous. Leaders must confront what went wrong in order to set a new, more productive path. Poor, inept, and corrupt leadership has been a major influence. Since 1999, those in power have lacked vision, dedication, and political will to do the right thing.

Liberalization of the economy, privatisation of the four loss-making refineries, ports, airports, and the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, as well as the railways, were all overlooked. Unprecedented crude oil and gas profits have been squandered and embezzled. Lip service to the diversification of exports and revenues abound, concrete action to actualise them is absent, or ruined by inconsistency, maladministration, cronyism and corruption.

The centralising federation’s defective foundation, which weakens the 36 states, must be changed. States should establish and implement economic programmes as soon as possible and operate as self-sufficient, self-reliant economic units. It is necessary to safeguard people’s lives and property.

Nigerians should register to vote and take an active interest in the people who govern them in order to have the appropriate leadership. After 23 years of devastation, waste, and poverty, Nigerians must resolve to rewrite the narrative and establish a vibrant, thriving country.

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