Enugu-based Development Strategy Centre (DSC), in a chat with The Guardian at the weekend, queried Nigeria’s growth realities, which it said had defied the natural expectations that gains from economic growth should naturally and automatically trickle down to the poor.
The assertion came just few days after the knowledge institution had held a one-day workshop titked: “Pro-Poor Growth, Unemployment and Poverty in Nigeria: A South East Agenda”, in partnership with African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), Kenya.
The Managing Partner of DSC, Dr. Cosmas C. Ohaka, who made the lead presentation at the workshop, was concerned about the drivers of regional unemployment and poverty in the midst of economic growth in Nigeria, with particular interest on the South East region.
For him, as long as economic policies are focused on improving and sustaining economic growth, income redistribution policies may no longer matter, because poverty should reduce with increase in economic growth, which currently is in reverse.
Reports have shown that every region witnessed rise in poverty incidence between 2000 and 2015, the same period that Nigeria recorded steady growth. This seems to indicate that increase in economic growth does not automatically translate to decline in poverty incidence in any of the regions in Nigeria.
The workshop, which attracted high government officials from South East region like Secretaries to the State Governments, Permanent Secretaries and Commissioners of relevant ministries, also had in attendance, representatives of the Bank of Agriculture; coalition of organised private sector- Manufacturing Association of Nigeria and Chambers of Commerce; the academia; and the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).
It was also graced by the representatives of UK Department for International Development (DFID), including representatives of the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL-ARC & PERL-ECP), among others.
Ohaka, in his presentation noted that even if growth continues for the next couple of decades, some people will still not benefit from it due to their level of education that makes them unemployable. Worrisome too was that poverty was more prevalent in the rural areas than in the urban centres, just as male-headed households were more likely to be poor than their female-headed counterparts.
“Nigerian economy experienced steady, positive growth between 2000 and 2015. But, the economic growth panned out by 2016, when the country experienced its first negative growth in two decades. The negative growth has continued up to the first quarter of 2017.
“However, the negative growth of 0.5% posted in the first quarter of 2017 implies that the country is slowly recovering from recession. But this is not the first time Nigeria experienced cyclical movement in economic growth. Therefore, there is hope for economic recovery, but certain lessons ought to be learnt from the most recent economic growth, including concurrent growth in poverty and unemployment in the midst of economic growth.
“Based on the level of growth over the one and a half decade since 2000, it should be expected that poverty should also have decreased proportionately. The reverse was actually the case, as statistical agencies in Nigeria continued to post rising figures of poverty incidence and unemployment.
“The study therefore, establishes the link between the sectoral composition of economic growth and the tendency that the growth will reduce poverty and unemployment. Part of the findings of the study is that the oil sector of the Nigerian economy recorded a very high level of growth within the period under review.
“However, the oil sector employed only about 2 percent of the country’s labour force. This made gains from the oil sector growth to circulate only among the few that were actors in the sector. On the side of the non-oil sector of the Nigerian economy, agriculture has continued to be seen as the sector that employs majority of Nigeria’s labour force. To a very large extent, productivity of the sector depends on nature and is therefore seasonal,” he said.
The former Minister of Power, Prof. Chinedu Nebo, in a panel discussion that he moderated, opened up the discourse by dwelling much on thinking deep into how to promote the economic development of the South East region for the good of the economy.
Besides,the State representatives were therefore asked to share their experiences with respect to what they are doing differently to drive growth on one hand, and on the other hand, reduce unemployment and poverty.
The Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Anambra, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu, said there is obvious development strides of the state, particularly the willingness to learn even more from others.
Similarly, the representative of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) of Abia, who also doubles as the Economic Adviser to the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Chukwuma Agu affirmed that there is a number of economic policies currently being pursued by the Government of Abia State for the benefit of the poor masses in the state.
However, the representative of Bank of Agriculture (BOA), South East Zonal Office, Aaron Obigbo, lamented the seeming lacklustre attitude of most state governments from South East region to take advantage of the various programmes made available by the bank, such as the Anchor Programme, to better the lives of people in the region.
According to him, while Kebbi State and others are maximizing the opportunities provided by the bank, those in the South East are yet to identify with the bank, except Anambra State and recently, Abia State. He therefore, charged the region to consider utilizing the funding opportunities at the bank as well as abiding by the terms and conditions of the institution.
The president of Association for Public Policy Analysis (APPA), Comrade Princewill Okorie, expressed sadness towards the high rate of unemployment in South East region.According to him, poverty and unemployment in the region appear to be a political tool and wondered why there is no consumer protection programme in the region, thereby making it more vulnerable to all manner of treatments by producers and service providers. He also frowned at the inability of Nigeria to explore the option of renewable energy to tackle the energy challenges of the country.
Other issues discussed extensively by the participants during the panel discussion as having contributed to the economic quagmire of the region range from challenges of power, multiple taxation, high cost of governance, high cost of doing business, neglect of agriculture, to the neglect of coal deposit in Enugu state.
However, states in the region were encouraged to look into the challenges raised, as well as other drivers of poverty and unemployment with the view to promoting the economic development of the region.As the workshop wrapped up, the Policy and Strategy Adviser of PERL-ARC, Dr Gabriel Ojegbile, commended DSC for organizing such thought provoking workshop and stressed the need to further engage the states in the region with the outcomes of the workshop.