Thursday, December 1 2022

Last week’s article in this column, “Waiting for government figures on poverty,” somehow received an immediate response. The day after the article was published, the government, through the National Bureau of Statistics, revealed that up to 63% of Nigerians are multidimensionally poor!

In other words, nearly two out of three Nigerians experience poverty in one aspect of life or the other. It is a complementary measure of monetary poverty in Nigeria, which sets the national poverty line at N137,430 per year per person. Anyone whose consumption in a year fell below this amount was classified as one of the 40.1% poor Nigerians, according to the 2018/19 study.

Although the two approaches seek to offer an understanding of poverty from different angles, their results differ, with the MPI generally yielding a higher incidence of poverty, the NBS explained.

The multidimensional poverty index measures poverty in terms of the deprivations or exclusions suffered by individuals in four main areas: health, education, standard of living, work and shocks.

This approach to the measurement of poverty, as innovative as it may appear, is in fact an extension of the monetary measurement of poverty. Simply, it disaggregates the impacts of income poverty, showing us what poor Nigerians lack due to their income poverty which imposes limits in terms of consumption choices.

By the way, another name for the poor is those who have been excluded from the mainstream economy. These are the landless, those who have no property or investment, and those who lack the skills to give them good jobs, whether they work for other people or for themselves.

The aggregate result tells us that the MPI for this year is 0.257, implying that poor Nigerians experience just over a quarter of all possible deprivations. The possible range is from zero (no poverty) to 1, universal poverty and deprivation.

Poverty is not by choice. Circumstances engender poverty in most cases. If people are excluded from mainstream economics, they can only pick up the crumbs that fall from the master table until they are empowered to free themselves from inhibiting factors. So it is with deprivation. If people are deprived of the benefits of these four areas covered in the study, it is hardly their choice.

According to the report, 38.7% are deprived of medical care or services. It can’t be their fault. Health insurance is a social service that should be provided by the state, at least in primary health care centres. Wealthy people usually travel at least once a year for a medical examination. The poor certainly want to be like their rich neighbors, but unfortunately they cannot afford it. The point here is that the MPI presents a disaggregation of the impact of monetary poverty.

Many Nigerians live in slums. There are slums everywhere, and they coexist with the rich and powerful in the savant neighborhoods of our cities. Why don’t the slum dwellers of Lagos live on Banana Island or Lekki? Why should there be slum dwellers in Abuja, when Asokoro and other prime neighborhoods are there? The answer, quite simply, is monetary poverty, which prevents the poor from finding housing in such places.

In other words, income poverty deprives the poor of the possibility of having good housing for themselves and their children. They cannot afford the rent and other expenses that come with living in such places. It’s deprivation, and it’s rooted in income poverty.

Rural priorities would also include vocational training and lifelong learning opportunities for adults who have never completed primary education, as well as good quality housing materials.

In his 2014 book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, Yuval Noah Harari states that throughout history, humans have suffered from two types of poverty: “social poverty, which deprives some people opportunities offered to others; and biological poverty, which puts the very lives of individuals at risk due to lack of food and shelter”.

The first part of Harari’s poverty or what he calls social poverty is what this report and other poverty studies describe as deprivation. As I explained above, deprivation is a product of the social structure that creates and maintains inequality, excluding some of certain advantages or opportunities. Generally, the poor do not deprive themselves of these opportunities; it’s usually the company that does it.

While in many countries biological poverty has become a thing of the past, according to Harari, social poverty cannot be eradicated. Biological poverty has been virtually eradicated in some countries, not because the conditions that precipitate it have ceased to exist or occur from time to time, but because there are social safety nets stretched below people who hold them back when calamities strike.

It is not so with us. Indeed, in Nigeria, both forms of poverty persist. This explains the study’s finding that up to 38.6% of Nigerians currently face the threat of food insecurity, while 28.7% are nutrition excluded. Together, 67.3%, or more than the MPI itself, have food issues in general.

The report notes that while health deprivations are “worrying in both areas (urban and rural), food insecurity is relatively even higher in urban areas. Food insecurity is currently a major problem in Nigeria, as rising prices put food out of reach for families.

And, if we add here the fact that up to 50.6% of the total population, more than half of the population is multidimensionally poor and deprived of cooking fuel (the report indicates that they cook with dung, wood or charcoal), then there is an additional challenge with food for more than half of the population.

What should be learned from this study is that the government still has work to do in the fight against poverty. It essentially calls for a change of strategy in the fight, whether against social poverty or biological poverty.


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