With the end of the military rule and the emergence of democratic governance with its mantra of speedy development for the Nigerian State in the new millennium, there was a great surge of optimism that Nigeria, a giant in Africa, could use here normous resources for political and socio-economic development. Working in tandem with the global effort to eradicate poverty in all developing nations, there was expectation from the ordinary citizens that their plight would be a thing of the past in no time. However, more than a decade of democratic governance in Nigeria has not amounted to poverty alleviation not to talk of eradication. The seeming efforts of government within the period have not yielded positive fruits, but have rather depreciated, decimated and disenchanted the poor citizens, while feeding them crumbs when an advanced socio-economic life should be their lot. This paper posits that there is a missing link that needs to be bridged through empowerment of the poor and increasing their influence on decision-making in the Nigerian State.
Keywords: Nigeria, democracy, poverty, alleviation, eradication, governance.
The 20th century was described as the “century of the democracy”, yet in the 21St century, the quality of the democratic freedoms that people enjoy is an admixture of both that of the medieval and the modern epochs in political history of the world. And Africa, with its chequered history of military misadventure in politics, was taken further down the ages in terms of democratic advancement. Nigeria, one of the worst hit by the military parody of political leadership until just a little more than a decade ago (even though they are still present in disguise) has had a history of mis-governance which has in turn led to a decelerated socio-economic development evidenced in the level of poverty in the country for which there has been need for eradication. This is also the very first of the Millennium Development Goals, which is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by halving the population living on less than $1 (dollar) a day and suffering from hunger. It is worthy to note that Africa has been overtaken by the democratic appeal, the quest for good governance especially after the era of military dictatorships, and Nigeria falls squarely into the mould of the nations that were in dire need of not just democracy, but good governance as well. The long years of military misadventure in politics left a lot of developing countries like Nigeria in the lurch politically, socially and economically; and allowed them to wallow in the throes of excruciating poverty, illiteracy and diseases.
Therefore, the bulk of the world’s poorest people are in Africa; and as noted by Adejumobi (2000:2):The debilitating poverty of the people accentuated by the economic crisis seems to have provided a basis and indeed, a common platform in the demand for democratic change by the people. Thus, the struggle for democratization in Africa has relevance not only in liberalizing the political arena and achieving civil and political liberties, but also to ensure better living standards and social welfare for the African people. This search for democratic governance involves going beyond reforming the institutions of democracy as is presently going on (or supposed to be going on in Nigeria) but taking a step further in ensuring that democracy becomes an apparatus for citizens’ empowerment and participation in the process of decision-making. This would help government to work effectively on the main elements of democracy – accountable governance, participation, citizenship and rights (Madavo, 2005).Given the above scenario, the problem antiques, which this paper intends to discuss, are: How can poor citizens influence poverty eradication programmes and how are their priorities taken into account in policy formulation? How can the promotion of democracy and poverty eradication programmes be integrated at policy and implementation levels? Does government provide the poverty-ridden citizens the opportunity of being heard and their problems solved? These questions will guide our paper and in the process lead us to discovering any lacuna between democratic governance and poverty eradication in the 21st century Nigeria.
The structure of a democratic government and the roles or functions it is supposed to play in a policy for socio-economic development is of paramount importance to us in this paper. Thus, we shall adopt the structural-functional approach in our analysis of this paper, as it is very relevant to our understanding of the poverty eradication drive of the Nigerian political leadership since the turn of the century. As noted by Charles worth (1967), structural-functionalism explains the basis for the maintenance of order and stability in society, and the relevant arrangements within the society, which maintain the said order and stability. The structural-functional theory is a distinguishable approach primarily because of the selective aspect of social reality that it seeks to describe largely in terms of structures, processes, mechanisms and functions. It revolves around two main concepts for which it is known: Functions and structures, on the basis of which three basic questions have been raised: (a) what basic functions are fulfilled in any given political system? (b) by which structures? And (c) under what conditions? While functions deal with consequences of patterns of actions, structures refer to the arrangements within the system, which performs the functions. The basic assumption of the structural-functional framework is that all systems have structures, which can be identified, and those structures perform specific set of tasks if they are to remain in existence. Political systems are compared in terms of the manner in which structures perform the expected functions in society. All political systems are involved in the input-output functions, which involves the citizens getting involved in the activities of the State, while the latter works towards the interests of the former. The structural-functional analysis enables us establish the relevance of the structures created by government to eradicate poverty in Nigeria, and whether these structures have played any significant role in the lives of the people. It will further help us understand the level of participation of the poor masses in the decision-making in government of the Nigerian State.
Democracy, Governance and Poverty in Nigeria
While there seems to be a consensus on the conceptual meaning of democracy as a form of government that gives all members of the society certain freedoms to exercise their rights, we chose to take the definition of governance given by the World Bank (2008): Governance is defined as the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced; the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies; and the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them. Governance has political and economic aspects; the former deals with the way a nation is governed; how the citizens, institutions, and government articulate their interests, mediate their differences, exercise their rights and obligations, and agree in a relationship. In this regard, governance deals with how power is exercised, how open the political process is, how decisions are made, and how much participation citizens are allowed in decision-making and in the management of public affairs. The economic aspect deals mainly with how societal resources are managed and the role of governments in the process of socioeconomic development. The economic aspects also provide the context in which corporate governance is practiced by setting the laws under which corporations are established and the regulatory framework for the conduct of corporate affairs. In developing nations like Nigeria, where satisfying basic necessities of life is still a challenge, the definition of governance has taken an inclusive form. Good governance thus includes effective participation in public decision-making and management by citizens, accountability, legitimacy, transparency, the rule of law, and an open and enabling environment for addressing socio-economic problems. This requires participatory democracy and capacity by governments to respond to the demands of development. The emphasis should be on open governance, as participatory government is not a sufficient condition for good governance. Expression of citizen demands, whether for services, accountability, or transparency, is futile without a government willing and able to listen and respond. A democracy without effective administrative capacity is an empty shell. As such, good governance is not only about providing an open and free political atmosphere; it also requires a government with the capacity to raise the standards of living and quality of life of the people (Adesida, 2001).The slow progress, the manipulation of the process, and the resulting disenchantment as prompted doubts as to whether participatory democracy in Africa will thrive or collapse in the near future. After analyzing the recent wave of democratization in Africa and the daunting challenges faced by African societies,
Adesida (2001) concluded that “… the majority of Africa in the absence of global fiscal munificence, may
– once the internationalvogue with democracy recedes
– be cut looseto drift their own way, sliding back into political strife, dictatorship and military rule”.
Thus, the capacity of leadership in Nigeria to respond to and address critical challenges such as: achieving sustained high economic growth and development, meeting basic needs such as food, shelter, housing, clean water and electricity, providing better access to education and health, increasing agricultural productivity, ending civil strife and wars, and reducing poverty substantially hinges on whether Africa is able to institutionalize good governance. Conversely, addressing these factors will also determine whether the current wave of democratization will be sustained and become the norm in the 21st century, with the attendant socio-economic development. There is a nexus between democracy, governance and poverty in Nigeria. Scholars have tended to be on the two divides as to this connection but many of them believed that the very substance of democracy cannot be completely detached from the living conditions of the majority of the citizens. For these scholars, democracy, to be meaningful, has to have a strong social content designed to give the poor and the disadvantaged a clear stake in its institutions and politics (Olukoshi, 2000).The link between democracy and governance is such that the one cannot be attainable without the other, and the latter socio-economic impact, poverty, would definitely prevail where the former is unstable. This thesis is predicated on the contradictory gulf between the ideal and practice of democracy and governance in Nigeria. Everyone seems to be agreed that the concept, democracy, is a simple one that essentially involves the principles of checks and balances, adequate revenue allocation formula that engenders parity and helps people to live comfortably and freedom to live within one’s fundamental human rights. It also involves periodic elections that throw up representatives and political leaderships for the provision of basic amenities to the people. Lending credence to this, the International IDEA (2001:216-217) notes: In the history of electoral politics in Nigeria, the vital connection between elected and electors necessary for a liberal democracy has been missing. That is to say, the political responsibility of elected public office holders, their accountability to the electorate, and the sanctity of the electoral process all remain elusive… the level of political will needed to ensure the realization of this objective has been absent or has yet to take firm root in the country’s political culture. This lack of political will on the part of government has been noticed in the state of poverty in which Nigeria has found itself. Conceptually, poverty is a state of inadequate command over, or inadequate access to, resources to satisfy wants which are considered normal by the value system of a given society (Aboyade, 1976). Its basic features are lack of basic social amenities, malnutrition, diseases and ignorance. It also involves the setbacks resulting from the problems of policy inconsistencies, disharmonies, lack of focus and contradictions inherent in the rural development programmes in any country (Ogugua, 2006; CBN, 1999;World Bank, 2001). Ajakaiye (2002), following the trend of the other authors mentioned have conceptualized poverty in four ways: lack of access to basic needs; lack of or impaired access to productive resources; outcome of inefficientuse of common resources and as a result of ‘exclusive mechanism’ in the system by certain groups to exclude others from participating in economic development and the democratic process. He equally delineated between structural and transient poverty, the one being the persistent or permanent socio-economic deprivations linked to a host of factors such as limited productive resources, lack of skills for gainful employment, endemicsocio-political and cultural factors and gender. Transient poverty is temporary or transitory, and is linked to natural and man-made disasters; it is reversible but can become structural if it persists. The causes of poverty, according to Ajakaiye (2002) are unemployment, ignorance, high level of inflation, poor governance, corruption and environmental degradation. Fukuyama (2000) had noted that there is a level of poverty where economic activity is undertaken for the fulfilment of basic natural needs. Thus, poverty is a relative rather than the absolute concept arising from money’s roles as a symbol for worth. Okoye and Onyukwu (2006) in giving the dimensions of poverty noted that the concept has undergone about four changes over the past decade. First, there has been a shift from a physiological model of deprivation, focused on the non-fulfilment of basic material or biological needs to a social model of deprivation, focused on such elements as lack of autonomy, powerlessness, lack of self-respect/dignity, etc. The social model is about incorporating issues of political and conomic rights and social justice into the antipoverty programmatic framework. Second, there has been renewed emphasis placed on the concept of vulnerability and its relationship to poverty. Third, the concept of inequality, and its relationship to poverty, has re-emerged as a central concern. Fourth, the idea that poverty should be conceptualized as the violation of basic human rights has been painstakingly argued of late by United Nations system agencies, among others. Nigeria is a poor country plagued with bad leadership and this has become one of the greatest insults to the average Nigerian citizen. As noted by Ilo (2008:173): Poverty robs people of their humanity and disrobes them of their sense of self. Poverty inferiorizes a person. It degrades a person and reduces self-confidence. Poverty closes the door to life. It makes life a tale of pain and sorrow and a journey into the uncertain land of want and frustration. Poverty makes people powerless and voiceless; it denies them the opportunity to actualize themselves and invest in themselves for the enrichment of our common humanity. Poverty … is the greatest weapon of mass destruction in the present world. He goes further to state that poverty in Nigeria is anthropological. When persons are bereft of their identity, their dignity, their freedom, their thought, their history, their language, their faith universe, and their basic creativity, deprived of all their rights, their hopes, their ambitions – they sink into a kind of poverty which no longer concerns only exterior or inferior goods or possessions but strikes at the very being, essence and dignity of the human person. “It is this poverty which we call anthropological poverty. This is an indigence of being” (Ilo, 2008:174). Thus, Umezurike (2006) conceptualized it as:
A social condition in which an individual, for example, is forced to live below the minimum level of subsistence acceptable to the society due not necessarily to the role that individual plays in the social reproduction of wealth, but rather, arising from the unsuitability of the mechanisms for the distribution of social surpluses in the society for which the state plays the central role. Sachs (2005) distinguishes between three degrees of poverty: extreme or absolute, moderate poverty and relative poverty. Extreme poverty exists when households cannot meet basic needs for survival and are chronically hungry, unable to access health care, lack the amenities of safe drinking water and sanitation, cannot afford education for some or all of their children, and lack rudimentary shelter, clothing, shoes, among others, it occurs only in developing countries. This was corroborated by the World Bank (2001) and Ajakaiye (1998).Moderate poverty occurs when basic needs are barely met, while relative poverty is generally construed as a household income level below a given proportion of average national or community income. For technical and statistical purposes, poverty is usually measured by establishing a poverty line, set at some multiple of income necessary to buy sufficient nutrition. Thus, the World Bank’s benchmark is $1 per day per person, measured at purchasing power parity (PPP) to determine the number of people in extreme poverty, while income $1 per day and $2 per day can be used to measure moderate poverty. Based on this grading, half of Africa’s population is deemed to live in extreme poverty. Writing on democracy dividends vis-à-vis political violence in the Nigerian State, Ibeanu and Luckham (2006) noted that democratic governance has not reduced corruption, assured more equitable distribution of oil revenues, nor has it ensured their reallocation to poverty reduction. The country is constructed around patronage and money politics, and structurally resistant to any kind of reforms. This fact is further amplified by Sanders (2008)when she notes: The cancer of corruption, especially systemic corruption, is among the most powerful forces undermining good governance and poverty alleviation in Nigeria, siphoning financial resources and creating barriers to investment, commercial activities, economic growth and most importantly, to development. Assessing poverty reduction strategies in Nigeria, Tomlinson (2002) adds to the debate on Nigeria’s poverty eradication programmes by noting the two main problems with the traditional top-down approach to fighting poverty. According to him, the first is that poverty programmes are designed on the basis of what poor people need…well-intentioned governments assume what poor people need, which contrasts with what poor people think they need. Secondly, programmes that are designed by the central government have lacked membership at the community and local government levels, which in turn are needed for sustainability, and sustainability needed for maintenance. For this reason, several programmes, including many here in Nigeria, have languished, failed and disappeared. Perhaps, one of the most incisive analyses of poverty and government visions and policy implementations was made by Obasi (2001) when he disclosed that the poverty situation has been exacerbated by the implementation of free market reform structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) in the country since 1986, which had the dual objectives of reducing the demand for imports as well as domestic goods and services to stabilize the ailing economy of Nigeria; and restructuring it to make it more flexible and growth-oriented (Obasi,2001:17-18). However, SAP measures resulted in overall adverse social consequences as the cutback in overall government expenditure on goods and services meant higher prices for education, healthcare, housing, water, electricity, transportation, food items etc. The downsizing of the public sector meant unemployment, privatization and commercialization of public enterprises transferred public wealth into the hands of the few rich and privileged Nigerians who have access to the funds needed to buy off the public enterprises, and the devaluation of the local currency reduced the country’s purchasing power globally, and made imports very expensive and local products extremely cheap for foreigners (Obasi, 2001:19-21). Adejumobi (2006) had gone historical in his analysis of the African continent and the challenges of democracy and governance in the 21st century. He notes that the military experiences of most African States left them yearning for democracy as they felt that was the only way to escape the insidious political demobilization and economic decapitation that had meant poverty, disease and illiteracy for the population. However, having got democracy, they discovered that it had a lot of frailties, uncertainties and sometimes reversals. He notes further that the international political economy was responsible for the manner democracy and good governance has been largely understood in Africa. He accuses the international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank of being only interested in how the global market could be made to progress with Africa and in Africa given the enormous and often tapped resources abundant in the region. Thus, the various recipe given by these IFIs rarely work in Africa for many reasons. Ashe noted:
Underlying the litany of Africa’s development problems is a crisis of good governance. By governance is meant the exercise of political power to manage a nation’s affairs. Because countervailing power has been lacking, state officials in many countries have served their own interest without fear of being called to account. In this way, politics becomes personalized and patronage becomes essential to maintain power
… The environment cannot readily support a dynamic economy. The causes and dimensions of the crises in Africa are well-documented (see Onimode, 1988; Sandbrook, 1993; Ravenhill, 1996; Mkandawire, 1995; Szeftel, 1998) but then the issue of governance keeps coming up as a recurring decimal because “governments do not govern and often link the organizational capacity to manage society and promote economic change and social welfare” (Adejumobi, 2006:7). This is the cause of the disorientated society we have in Nigeria and the reason why poverty has become more or less a birth right for more than half of the Nigerian population. Presently, 70.8% of the Nigeria population lives under $1 per day (World Bank, 2008).
Poverty Eradication Strategies in Nigeria
The Nigerian government’s development plans in the late 1980s became mainly concerned with poverty alleviation “when an unprecedented erosion of people’s living standards owing to the prevailing global recession” (Okoye and Onyukwu, 2007) became the lot of Nigerians. Thus, there was a flurry of policies aimed at resolving this social malaise, and, given the military quick-fix method, by the end of 1998, more than fifteen poverty alleviation institutions had been set up in the country, some of which were the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP), Agricultural Development Programme (ADP),Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme (ACGS), Directorateof Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Better Life Programme (BLP),Peoples Bank of Nigeria (PBN), Community Banks (CB), Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP), National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA),Strategic Grains Reserves Programme (SGRP) among others (Gberevbie et al ., 2007).However, since the democratic government of Obasanjo which took off middle of 1999, the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) was introduced and later jettisoned as a result of what the government called inefficiency. In its stead, the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) was formed in 2001 with four schemes
– Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES); Rural Infrastructure Development Scheme (RIDS); Social Welfare Services Scheme (SOWESS); and Natural Resources Development and Conservation Scheme (NRDCS). There is also the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS).The major aims of all these were to ameliorate the suffering of the people by providing them employment opportunities and access to credit facilities to enable them establish their own businesses (Gberevbie et al., 2007; Omeje, 2007; NAPEP, 2008). This is a follow-up to the UN World Summit for Social Development (2005), which had broadened the definition and measurement of poverty from using income as a yard stick, to a definition that encompasses other dimensions of poverty such as access to health services and education. As the Summit noted: More recently, that definition has been further expanded to embrace concerns about risk and vulnerability, social exclusion, powerlessness and lack of voice or representation. For the policy maker, the correlations between the various dimensions of poverty offer an expanded set of policies relevant to poverty reduction.
In Nigeria, NAPEP is a central coordinating agency for government’s anti-poverty efforts from the local government level to the national level, and is primarily focused on poverty reduction. Some of the merits of the programme, according to Aliyu (2001:12-13)are:-It adopts the participatory bottom-up approach in programme implementation and monitoring;-It provides for a national framework that lays emphasis on appropriate and sustainable institutional arrangement;-It provides for pro-active and affirmative action’s deliberately targeted at women, youths, farmers and the disabled;-It provides for inter-ministerial and inter-agency cooperation;-It provides for the participation of all registered political parties, traditional rulers and the communities;-It provides for technology acquisition and development particularly in the real sectors, agriculture and industry;-It provides for capacity upgrade for existing skills acquisition and training centres;-It provides for the provision of agricultural and industrial extension services to rural areas;-It provides for institutional development for marketing of agricultural and industrial products; and-It provides for integrated schemes for youth empowerment, development of infrastructure, provision of social welfare services and exploitation of natural resources. Despite these lofty plans, a number of factors have contributed to the failure of past poverty alleviation efforts of the government. According to Egware (1997) and Ogwumike (1998), the major and general problems are inconsistency of the various programmes; poor implementation; official corruption (government and public servants alike), poor targeting mechanisms and failure of government to focus directly on the poor. Specifically, NAPEP does not seem to be different from the previous programmes as it is still the usual top-down approach; thus, the conception that the design of the programme is problematic. Moreover, since ignorance is a major cause of poverty in a developing nation like Nigeria, the NAPEP design should have involved the adult education agencies in order to reach the various rural communities who are hard hit by poverty. Furthermore, women and their poverty plights were not adequately taken care of in the design of the NAPEP policy beyond the talk of affirmative action. It is a fact that poverty affects women more than their men-folk; a special programme should have been designed for women in the NAPEP design, but this is not the case. As corroborated by NAPEP (2008): As a result of the various poverty reduction initiatives and programmes, government surveys show that poverty incidence in Nigeria dropped to 54.4% and 41% in 2004 and 2005 respectively. However, respondents affirm that poverty eradication programmes have not significantly affected them positively.