The recent prediction by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that only 27.2 percent of Nigerians will be poor by 2015 is a simplistic effusion of optimism that flies in the face of reality. The projection, ordinarily, should be heartwarming, but it is inconsistent with the figures earlier released by the NBS, which indicated that 69 percent or about 112 million of the nation’s 163 million population, were living in relative poverty.
The basis for the projected drastic reduction in poverty rate from about 69 percent to 27.2 in 2015, which is just two years away, is suspect. The reality in the country today is that while few Nigerians are affluent, majority of the populace cannot afford the basic necessities of life.
The optimism of the NBS in dishing out this doubtful projection flies in the face of reason. It may be designed to impress an outside audience as the Assistant Director, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of NBS, Mr. Iro Godwin, reeled out the statistics in Abuja during a “progress report” review ahead of the forthcoming United Nations Economic and Social Commission Annual Summit, holding in Switzerland in June, later this year.
Strangely, the Assistant Director who represented the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale, at the Abuja forum, said the 27.2 percent prediction was based on the first National Living Standard Survey carried out by the bureau in 2004. According to the NBS, the report of that survey showed that 54.4 percent of Nigerians were living below the poverty line. He explained that the bureau arrived at the 27.2 percent projection for 2015 by dividing the 54.4 percent obtained in 2004 by two.
This method of prediction is too simplistic to be realistic. At best, it is sheer linear mathematics that is not based on present realities. It gives a false sense of hope, as it did not factor in existing socio-economic realities that made the United Nations to rank Nigeria’s poverty level and Human Development Index among the worst in the world. For instance, Nigeria’s current Human Development Index (HDI) rating is 142, out of 169 countries with comparable data in the world.
This puts life expectancy in Nigeria at a frightening 48.4 years. We also recall that the NBS boss had, in a 26-page report last year, noted that poverty rate in the country could reach 71.5 percent after the 2011 figures are computed, if the impact of government’s anti-poverty and job creation programmes are not felt by those they were targeted at. Unemployment has also been rising in the country.
According to figures released by NBS in the first half of last year, unemployment rate was projected to rise above 25 percent this year, up from 24 percent in 2012.The statistics also show that unemployment rate between 2006 and 2011 was at a double-digit average of 14.6 percent. These figures indicate that the government’s policy on employment generation has fallen short of meeting its target.
Undoubtedly, there is a strong correlation between rising unemployment and poverty. Poverty cannot reduce when there is growing unemployment, no matter how optimistic we choose to be. As much as it is good to be hopeful, as the NBS statistics have raised the expectation that poor Nigerians will fare better in two years’ time, mere joggling of poverty figures will not help matters.
The essence of statistical data is to provide authentic figures to guide policy formulation. This is regardless of the expected “margin of error” inherent in statistical surveys. The NBS must be careful to always furnish the country with reliable figures that will make planning easier. Provision of authentic data is critical for national development. It is also vital for non-governmental organisations and potential foreign investors.
Let there be more serious commitment to poverty alleviation in the country. Organisations responsible for execution of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and similar projects should equally be dedicated to meeting their targets. It is important to stress the fact that poverty in Nigeria can, indeed, be reduced substantially by the year 2015, if government is sincere with the implementation of its poverty alleviation agenda.
This is a challenge for all tiers of government. The focus should be to improve the living standard of the people.