Building a Dependent Nation, By Adejoh Idoko Momoh
There has never been a more pressing time for economic revival in Nigeria and President Muhammadu Buhari knows this. Little wonder he spent the better part of his campaign announcing welfare schemes backed by bold ideas that promise to ultimately bring Nigeria’s poverty crisis to a halt. Most interesting of them is a scheme that will pay between N5, 000 and N10, 000 per month to the poorest 25 million Nigerians.
The scheme was first talked about when the All Progressives Congress launched its manifesto in 2014 and from the onset I have had reservations. I wondered if there was a time frame for the implementation of this program or if it will continue indefinitely? What intent this paltry cash sums will serve? Will people be expected to start small or household businesses with these sums? Will the funds be strictly for sustenance?
In a bid to deliver drastic change, we must be careful not to attempt lofty projects that will in the end threaten to cripple the same economy that we urgently seek to restore.
This programme alone if implemented as planned will cost Nigeria some N3 trillion annually. Can the economy in its present state bear this expenditure? If oil prices continue to hover around its current price, where will funds for this program come from? If 3trn is dedicated for a single welfare scheme, will there be leftover funds to implement the free feeding and housing schemes or the education plan?
In light of the enormity of this expense and the state of the Nigerian economy, it is unjustifiable and short sighted to spend 3trn on a single aspect of our population.
There are two very important things an economy like Nigeria needs and this scheme does not propose to deliver on any one of them. Nigeria needs funds to keep governance running and jobs that keep the citizens employed.
It is commendable to have schemes that provide deliberate assistance exclusively to the poor but for an economy that suffers a manpower shortage, these proposals must require beneficiaries to actually work and contribute in capacities however small to national development. We must be wary of creating a culture of dependency where poverty becomes convenient and rather than aspire from it, citizens choose to remain in it because of the perks or handouts they get from the government.
Yes, there must be welfare schemes and the Federal Government must do everything within its power to lift Nigerians from extreme poverty, but that can be done by creating jobs instead of doling out cash sums. This approach will solve the employment crisis on our hands and free up the proposed N3trn annual expenditure for use in more important and clearly challenged sectors.
The solutions must include teaching transferrable skills from which people can trade, creating a more conducive environment for small businesses to thrive, plugging leakages, crafting a robust development agenda that creates millions of direct and indirect jobs annually, ensuring qualitative and realistic education amongst others.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s aim must be to leave behind a self reliant Nigeria: One where every citizen is inspired to achieve prosperity through hard work and not one where citizens are reliant on welfare schemes that are not sustainable and therefore will be short lived at best. Skills development and small businesses that create employment must be the backbone of our economy. Small and Medium Scale Enterprises that grow into bigger ones are the only way we can create jobs: Real and sustainable jobs.
Besides all these, Nigeria cannot simply afford this spending: the national debt is some $69.6bn, high as it is the 2015 budget intends to increase it to about $87.3bn. Oil prices are at an all time low and government earnings have decreased dramatically. The naira is devalued and currently exchanges for about N207 to the dollar and it continues to be in a free fall. All these are not conditions favorable to welfare implementation.
Even when conditions are favorable, programs such as this should only be implemented as last resort, as they leave the government with even higher expenditures and do not necessarily ensure increased disposable income.
The All Progressives Congress and President Muhammadu Buhari will do well to rethink these plans and make certain they contribute to building more valuable citizens. Poverty in Nigeria must be reduced to the barest minimum, but this reduction must be guided by the principles of hard work and commitment to nation building.
After all is considered, the point of welfare should be building a more progressive nation and citizenry rather than one that is reliant on government benefits.