(Vanguard of Sunday, July 2, 2000)
The good news is that government has called for open monitoring of the Poverty Alleviation Programme. The bad news is that the very method of monitoring will ensure failure of the effort. But so important is the need to ensure that the wretched of the earth is given just a little lift above floor level that we shall have ourselves to blame for the consequences of failure to provide the means for that little uplift. Any person who denies that there is poverty in the land must be living outside these shores. And anybody who votes for a programme that may be misunderstood through unscientific mode of execution may be building castles in the air. The danger to the programmer and the executors of the programme in the final analysis is that the target of the programme may pass a vote of no confidence on the programme, the programmer and the executor of the programme. Translated into votes at the appropriate time, the losers are predictable and those who will gain would not be difficult to identify. In the choice of governance we have made, a word should be enough for the wise.
President Obasanjo’s gift to the common man is the poverty alleviation programme. One thing must have run through the vision, the implementation strategies and the vote to execute the programme. That is that many are in Nigeria who need help to make ends meet. The UNDP puts the number of people who need this urgent help in Nigeria at 55 million that is a clear 45.5 per cent of the country’s total population. These people are said to live below poverty line. They do not access up to N350 a month!
The UNDP did not manufacture any figures. The analysis is derived from the figures supplied by our own Federal Office of Statistics and the World Bank. We are informed that the population of the poor has been rising from year to year since 1985, such that as at now, of every two Nigerians, one is poor. Where other countries have taken measures that have improved their ratings on the recovery scale, we in Nigeria have sunk deeper!
But why have we not improved in spite of the fact that Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Chile and Singapore are recording signs of recovery? What did they do yesterday and today, and what are they trying to do tomorrow – to improve the lot of their people? How long have they been independent of colonial rule and influence? What use did they make of the resources they have? Both human and natural? Have they the gifts of nature we have been endowed with – the visible sea that laps our southern shores and the vast resources it harbours; the forests and all the treasures; the grassland for grazing and intensive farming; and the desert in the North which may well be the future source of our energy supply? Have they more than our human population whose tribe and tongue differ, but has been fitfully striving to stand in brotherhood?
Why, in spite of every endowment, have we continued to opt for neglecting the human person, the single human spirit as the focus of attention? Why do we want to treat people as group souls, as animals? Why do we so much cherish poverty and therefore entrench measures that sustain and nourish dependence? Why are we afraid to let our people get up and walk through work? Why we must tight-fistedly and grudgingly dole out crumbs of bread we did not even take part in baking, but which we are custodians of through assumption of office? When shall we learn to give gratitude to God for the opportunity to serve in public office? How do we account for failure of almost every effort at governance since independence? Why are there so many churches and mosques and yet so little reflection of their influence in public office-holding?
The Poverty Alleviation Programme of the President is not and cannot be a personal programme. It has to be the programme on which the Administration is judged, on which his party, the PDP, is judged. But with what is happening to all the parties today, what impact can a party make on the programme which its elected executive implements? There may be no threat to the parties now, but come one election, a second and a third, and things will begin to show. And at the rate we are going, the parties should work hard if they want to witness a life-span of up to ten years.
But the Poverty Alleviation Programme must be seen as a programme of Obasanjo and the PDP for Nigerians to be executed by Nigerians, and with tax payers’ money. Yes, it came from the promise of a political party to make life better for the citizens. But it is the citizens who must execute this programme. And how can they execute the programme without being TOTALLY mobilised to do so?
The total mobilisation effort necessary to make Nigeria work cannot be left to the corridors of executive power. It must capture that part or aspect of the Nigerian which is most willing to be called to servce. That part is CULTURAL. The nationalities and sub-nationalities in the whole of Nigeria must be brought into the execution of the Poverty Alleviation Programme. They must be part and parcel of planning the needs of the 97,000 communities which are in a better position to identify the individual needs of the people. At the end of the day, the young man who learnt how to make chalk for use in the local school; the one who was taught how to mend a bicycle; the one who learnt how to make blocks; the carpenter; the one who has been taught how to can fruits and make chin-chin or tend snails or produce potato chips – all would in due timer emerge from under the poverty level and grow to employ labour.
The call by my townsman and political leader, Chief Anthony Anenih, that public officers should go to their areas and report on the operation of the Poverty Alleviation Programme is welcome but falls far short of the level of monitoring that must be put in place if this programme will measure up to the dream of its formulators. It must be refocused. Not only should it be a programme given to Nigerians by the Obasanjo Administration; it must be one that Nigerians should be proud of because in ten or twenty years, they should look back and pray for those who cut a way out of pervasive poverty and gave Nigerians the means to walk, nay run, through work.
First things must, therefore, come first. The committee which Vice President Atiku Abubakar inaugurated recently must revisit the implementation strategies of this great dream. If properly and scientifically implemented, this programme may well be the one single effort that brought this great country together as a Union, a feat that has eluded Nigeria since amalgamation in 1914!
(Published in Vol. 1 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 99 – 102; Lagos 2003)