The World Bank defines poverty in absolute terms. The bank defines extreme poverty as ‘’living on less than US$1.90 per day (PPP), and moderate poverty as less than $3.10 a day. It has been estimated that in 2008, 1.4 billion people had consumption levels below US$1.25 a day and 2.7 billion. Almost half the world — over three billion people — live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. More than 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening. Absolute poverty, extreme poverty, or destitution refers to the complete lack of the means necessary to meet basic personal needs such as food, clothing and shelter. By whatever name it is known or defined, poverty is not what a human being should experience because its effects are agonizing to individuals and societies. More than 1.3 billion live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day. 1 billion children worldwide are living in poverty. According to UNICEF, ‘’22,000 children die each day due to poverty. The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income. The richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income.’’ Around 27-28 percent of all children in developing countries are estimated to be underweight or stunted. ‘’The two regions that account for the bulk of the deficit are South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.’’
Poverty is such a worrisome development for humanity such that a paper presented by a respected scholar and erudite political scientist, Prof. Tunde Adeniran is still very useful today in terms of information on how best to confront this hydra headed problem by the global community. The postulations are contained in a speech made by Prof. Adeniran to members of the Ibadan Dining Club on Friday November 28, 2008 by the professor, who has served the nation variously as the Executive Secretary of the defunct MAMSER, an acronym for Mass Mobilization for Self-Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery, established on the recommendations of the Political Bureau headed by Dr. Samuel Joseph Cookey; Nigeria’s Hon. Federal Minister of Education and later, Nigeria’s ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. The treatise is below:
Until two days ago I had two different topics as the subject I would like to pick from and use for my address on this, occasion. Fortuitously, a friend visited me and we chatted for over an hour and’ ended up with the expression of mutual concern for the depth and dimensions of poverty in the land. And, right now, I strongly feel that we should focus on two forms of poverty (material and mental) rather than-one. First, I wish to begin with the more obvious category of poverty. At the federal and state levels there are, presently, programmes aimed at reducing or alleviating poverty. The ultimate goal is poverty eradication or elimination. Outside the framework of the institutions of government there, are certainly roles for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), clubs, societies and individuals. It, is essential, ‘however, to have a clear understanding of the meaning and dimensions of poverty in spite of its being a relative concept.
Let us admit, as a reference point, living at the brink of subsistence as equal to material poverty. In other words, as far as we are concerned in Nigeria, the ‘mass of people who are victims of inadequate diet are not poor as they do not belong to that category faced with the specter of starvation or who live’ from hand to mouth”. Inequality of opportunities, unconscionable income distribution whereby the poorest 40 percent of families earn just about the income of the top 1 percent, etc, all entrench material poverty as people are deprived the goods and services needed for meaningful standard of living, while the middle class is gradually disappearing! Many in public office are also compounding the situation through the instrumentality of their insatiable appetite for material acquisition and disregard for a legacy that could liberate our society from poverty.
Debates have no doubt been on for quite some time regarding the minimum set and volume of basic needs that government should provide to solve the problem of material poverty – free education, medical care, subsidized energy and transportation, etc. The poverty index is expected to factor in to consideration the urban-rural dichotomy, gender, age profession/occupation, etc. And there used to be the issue of strong correlation of occupation with education. Many of our cities that are growing inconsolably are filled with a large army of the unemployed, the unemployable and the “working poor”. This last group of poor people work in low wage industries – be they service trade, manufacturing or distribution.
Outside the crowded hordes.that have taken over our inner cities, the concrete jungle being controlled by “Area boys” and touts of’ different callings, are the “rural poor”. There is the common belief or general assumption that the quality of life of the rural poor is essentially far below that of the urban poor based on relative access to health services, housing, etc, especially the much needed opportunities to develop God-given potentials. And what about the physically challenged and the old or aged – our senior citizens who spent their youth toiling for our fatherland? These are people who now need more drugs, little but high quality food, better living conditions but with considerably reduced energy and opportunity to cope with their basic needs.
Now to the second category of poverty – which is MENTAL POVERTY. Today, our country suffers more from this than from material poverty. It results partly from spiritual poverty or poverty of the soul. It is the poverty of ideas which limits our horizon and delimits the choices before us by values which are depraved and actions which are dehumanizing. We accept what ought not to be as inevitable, rationalize poverty of thought and pessimistic forecasts relating to material poverty while employing these to blur our visions, which demand appropriate actions’ at appropriate levels. The consequence of this is that the two forms of poverty converge to undermine individual and national development. What then are we to do?
We are, of course, aware-of the scale of anti-poverty efforts of government at state and federal levels. Whether they are adequate, appropriate or implemented as planned is not for debate here. The relevant question here is what we can do before we and our nation are consumed by poverty. First, we need to appreciate the essence of continuously drumming it into the ears of all those in positions of authority that there is need for federal, state and local public service employment programmes, as a high priority and consistent weapon in the war on poverty. The physically challenged and other categories of disadvantaged individuals should, always be made to benefit from special educational programmes, vocational training, manpower retraining; rehabilitation and relocation as well as compensatory education and skill acquisition/training programmes to grant them access to income- generating jobs in the labour market.
For the young, or for their sake, there should be serious family planning to curtail the spread of poverty while education (being the surest weapon against poverty) should now be made free, functional and compulsory up to the senior secondary school level throughout the country. For the old, the ageing non-working citizens, health insurance should be guaranteed and a comprehensive social security scheme should cover all categories of Nigerians. Young or old, money is needed to fight material poverty. For this, basic necessities of life (water, electricity; transportation etc) must be made available and affordable. This calls for the promotion of a welfare state rather than the construction of a distorted neo-liberal economy.
More work needs to be done, however, in the area of mental poverty. The disease here is more potent. Delay, evasion or rationalization in this regard could be’ deadly. The child who does not believe in school or who is kept out of the school system is suffering from it Parents who buy certificates for their children or who hire others to write exams for them are suffering from it.’ Leaders and institutions who acquire sub-standard products for citizens are’ suffering from it. Manufacturers and traders who deceive and cheat consumers are suffering from it. Those who engage in system distortion and manipulation at various levels are suffering from it. Those who initiate, encourage, promote, perpetuate or institutionalize varieties of corrupt practices within the polity are also its sufferers. So are the outlaws, the lawless and the rascals who ride on the crest of the savagery of greed.
There is a peculiar poignancy with a salutary effect on our country’s illusion of progress and the quality of life’ of our citizens as poor people continue to’ share common existence with the rich and the affluent. And there is the dilemma of hope and despair as the latter continue to concede the right of co-habitation to the former within the national socio-economic and political space. Poverty in our land is acquiring a virulent stature as we all become accomplices in the diminution of virtues, thus armoring poverty to menace our ‘souls, our thought processes and our nation.
The solution lies in our propagating a new belief system, the sanctity of our core values, and the restoration of our devaluated mien and values – from the smallest unit of our social grouping, to the highest level of our socio-political structure.