Tackling Poverty

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As the global community gradually draws the curtain on the Millennium Development Goals, stakeholders within the MDGs framework in Nigeria are taking a stand to ensure that poverty reduction is given a voice in the Post-2015 global agenda

When in 2000 the global community, through millennium declaration in New York adopted eight strategic development goals, the expectation was to within 15 years life span of the programme, among other things, reduce the prevalence of poverty by half.

With about 13 years down the line, the goal appears far from being attained globally despite tremendous efforts by the various countries. This scenario notwithstanding, indications are that with issues like environment, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, low-carbon economy, energy security, social foundation, access to energy, oceans and seas, forest desertification, health, education, shelter, etc. making bold entry with promptings by some countries of the developed world, there is the need to ensure that poverty reduction remains one big goal in the successor framework.

In Africa, this position has been tenaciously canvassed with a leading voice being offered by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs, Dr. Precious Kalamba Gbeneol, who has at different fora advocated that global post-2015 development Agenda can only have the necessary impact on the development of developing nations if it has at its core, eradication of poverty with focus of enablers on economic development and job creation. Gbeneol is optimistic, especially given the fact that Nigeria boasts of two powerful representatives in her predecessor and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General on Post-2015 planning, Amina J. Mohammed and the Minister of Finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on the  High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on Post-2015 Planning.

At an informal dialogue titled: “Turning Commitment to Realities– Perspectives on The Post- 2015 Development Agenda” during the 57th Commission on the status of women at the United Nations headquarters in New York penultimate week, the SSAP-MDGS listed issues that must be addressed in the post-2015 development framework to include access to sustainable energy, infrastructure, population demographics and governance. The forum had in attendance Modest Jonathan Mero, Vice Chair of the Second Committee of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly; David Steven, Senior Fellow and Associate Director at the Centre on International Cooperation; Professor Joy Ogwu Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the UN and other participants.

Gbeneol noted that the changing population demographics imply that the greatest challenge facing developing countries at the moment is providing economic opportunities for young, educated segment of their population and ways to do this must be included in the framework of the new development agenda. The presidential aide said Nigeria’s youth unemployment currently estimated at around 42 per cent poses danger to national political, social and economic stability as had happened in other countries.

“The UN Resident Coordinator for Morocco recently said an underlying factor in the Arab Spring was education not being rewarded with employment. Nigeria and Sub-Saharan Africa face a similar trend, except on a far larger population scale, with far less infrastructural capacity and weaker social safety nets than present in Morocco”, Gbeneol added.

Gbeneol, however, added that harnessing the potential of the increase in Nigeria working age population could drive Nigeria forward at an incredible rate, accelerating economic progress with potential for development of social infrastructure for future generations. This, she said can only be done if the environment that will lead to creation of jobs for youths are created. Gbeneol stressed the need for an expansion of enterprise, but added that and such an expansion needs to be supported by better infrastructure. ‘‘This is true not just for Nigeria, but also for the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa”, she said, adding that an additional 122 million workers will enter Africa’s labour force by 2020, and that by 2035, the size of the African labour force will be larger than any nation’s, including China.

The presidential aide suggested that “targeting investment in skills development of the youth population will enhance their productivity in the labour market. One way of capturing youth education and skills training within a Post-2015 Agenda would be to take a youth unemployment target informed by indicators such as participation rates in youth vocational training and tertiary education enrolment”, she said.

As contained in the thematic and sub-national consultations on post-2015 development agenda that will form part of Nigeria’s position in the new global document, which was recently convened by the OSSAP-MDGs, participants agreed that a national employment policy should be dynamic and responsive to economic needs. They also agreed that there is the need to establish a global fund for youth employment and job creation, integration of community development plan and projects into national plan, synchronisation of wage differentials as part of the process to ensure growth and employment.

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The need to address challenges of poverty remains a national concern especially with the statistics on poverty released by the National Bureau of Statistics not offering much to cheer about. But Gbeneol sees this as a reason to double up efforts in addressing this scourge of the poor population. Since her appointment in September, 2011, the presidential aide has remained a passionate advocate for the fight against poverty, as well as equity and justice for women, while leveraging on the Conditional Grants Scheme, CGS as a major means of achieving the global developmental goal of eradication of extreme poverty among the people. Indeed, one of her first major steps in office was to preside at the launching of CGS to the Local Governments. It was there that President Goodluck Jonathan, represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo symbolically handed out a total of N11.3 billion to 113 Local Government Areas, the pioneer beneficiaries of CGS to that branch of government. This amount being the federal government’s commitment to the N22.6bn budget of the 113 LGAs, the remaining was contributed by states and LGAs.

Determined to take development to all parts of the country, the SSAP recently gave indication to further scale up the programme to 148 LGAs. The scale-up was designed to strengthen inter-governmental collaboration and coordination among federal, state and local governments.

As Dr. Gbeneol has consistently maintained, poverty reduction can only be successful with close collaboration between various agencies and stakeholders involved in the implementation of various pro-poor initiatives in the country. This thinking is also in line with the understanding that most of the activities required to meet the goals are, in fact, the constitutional responsibilities of state and local governments.

The centrality of the CGS initiative in the overall success of the MDGs is such that Dr Gbeneol has among other things, singled it out for a shot in the arm. She is also convinced that the CGS initiative is central to achievements of MDGs, as it will ensure higher programme implementation rates, and that sustainability of facilities would come with improved coordination, empowerment and incentives to the lower tiers of government. It is for this reason that the SSAP-MDGs has placed emphasis on fine tuning the process of CGS since her appointment. Dr. Gbeneol once noted that “by strengthening the role of local governments in articulating local needs, responding to human development indicators, managing development initiatives, the CGS seeks to move beyond construction of infrastructure to improve all the aspects of service delivery and respond to emerging priorities.”

Also as part of the moves to further tackle the daunting challenges of reduction of extreme poverty, the OSSAP MDGs last year developed the Conditional Cash Transfer, a social safety net patterned along the Brazilian model of poverty reduction and social protection, an innovative scheme that has been successfully used to tackle such problems in other countries. The CCT, which will see OSSAP-MDGs leading the deployment of structured social protection schemes to sub-national governments, is modelled to help break the generational circle of poverty. In 2012, a total of N10 billion was committed to the CCT out of which the states are to contribute the sum of N5 billion. The CCT, is designed to address the needs of qualified core poor households with a view to giving them access to funds aimed at improving their lives and their children’s.

Accordingly, the scheme is designed to be beneficial to over 56, 250 households within the first year. Each of such households will obtain grants ranging from N5, 000 to N100, 000 to commence trading. Gbeneol had stated at the launch of the scheme that the development had triggered government’s determination to address the problem of inequality and consequently stimulate economic growth among the rural poor. The scale up of CCTs is also designed to complement the impact of the projects executed in the health, education, agriculture, water and sanitation sectors through the CGS and special projects.

The CGS 2012 round project areas were designed for poverty alleviation through Conditional Cash Transfers in line with national framework, investment in Agricultural produce and skill development, Women economic/skill empowerment projects/ programmes, Primary Healthcare infrastructure and human resource development to support actualization of National Strategic Health Development Plan, NSHDP, Ward Minimum Health Care Package, WMHCP and Integrated Maternal, Newborn and Child Health, IMNCH, Improving access to safe water and sanitation in line with National Policies on Water and Sanitation, with specific emphasis on sustainable solution and Improvement in governance and institutional mechanism. Different projects and initiatives designed to achieve these objectives are being executed across Nigeria.

As the world seeks to adopt a successor framework that will further help in delivering to the people the desired future, analysts hope that the challenge of eradicating poverty will be given the desired attention.

—Desmond Utomwen/Abuja