Why They Failed Poor You And How You Can Get Back At Them By Afolabi Iselowo
Nations are only as good as their people. To attain greatness, it’s vital that Nigeria’s leadership identifies and sides with citizens to get the best out of them. Today, not only are Nigerian citizens disregarded, they are battered by leadership in a manner that erodes their dignity of existence. Failure to care for the social prosperity of the Nigerian citizen comes at great cost to Nigeria’s economic bottom line, and fairness. There are about 112.5 million Nigerians who struggle with hunger. Living on N200 per day or less, 70% of our population cannot afford healthcare, education or housing. There is no dignity or decency to citizens’ existence. Let’s not be fooled, it’s the business of government to fix the social space! Government’s sole aim is to fulfill its social contract to care for its people.
How can we care for our human assets- our citizens? This question must be addressed from the cradle to retirement. Or, perhaps from the fetus! First things first- Is it possible to stop 55,000 Nigerian women dying every year because of the absence or inadequacy of maternal care? This June, I lost a friend who was 6 months pregnant. A few years ago, it was a colleague of mine who bled to death after she was delivered of her first baby. How many will we continue to lose? Since the inception of the current administration, we have lost over 3 million children between 0-5 years to preventable diseases. For a nation that flaunts its status as the largest economy, it is callous to continue the wanton killing of our women and children from preventable causes. We can create a New Nigeria that provides universal health insurance for all these families. The New Nigerian plan consists of a maximum contribution of N500 to guarantee universal access to healthcare. This is sure to reduce maternal and infant mortality by a significant percentage.
So, today a poor child that escapes the dreaded 0-5 years age segment has little or no chance to enroll in school. This is why as the largest economy in Africa, we provide the largest numbers of out-of-school children in the world. The unschooled 10.5 million children of primary school age are not only left behind by their counterparts, but are the next recruits for social vices a decade, or less, away. A New Nigerian government that provides free meals in schools would reduce these numbers drastically. Osun provided free lunches and got its school enrollment to 80%, the highest nationally. Just envision complementing free meals, with free tuition, relevant curriculum inculcating computer programming, and free uniforms and furniture. No child will be left behind!
From Secondary to Tertiary Education, tackling access and curriculum issues will enhance our national asset base. A programme that strategically enhances and incentivizes Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Education and Entrepreneurship (STEMEE) is the critical ingredient for real productive growth. The idea is for the New Nigerian government to invest in these without any cost to the students at both Secondary and Tertiary levels.
Graduating from school shouldn’t be the torturous prospect it is today. From the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), nothing about youth employment inspires much confidence. One of the early declarations of the new CBN Governor was to state that youth employment stands at 80%! The NBS estimates that there are 20.5 million Nigerians between 15-35 years who are jobless! The largest economy in Africa somehow contrives to exclude the young majority from its “large economy”. A New Nigerian government asserts that if it gives immediate jobs to 20,000 graduates in every state next year, we would have 740,000 less unemployed youths. Add these to the proposal to create a salaried one-year post NYSC programme where vocational and lifetime business skills are imparted, then you have millions of empowered youth. A bold New Nigeria will make Nigeria the outsourcing hub of the English Speaking world. The establishment of industrial/ technological/ outsourcing parks with government enabled Internet, electricity and start-up grants will spawn young entrepreneurs who will not only keep the call-centre jobs in Nigeria, but also export legal, accounting, technological, film/ animation/ music/ video/ audio editing outsourcing services to the world.
Small-scale farming efforts on the arable and fertile lands of Africa’s largest economy yield insignificant returns. A strategy of providing 10 million mobile phones at N60 billion to farmers will not get their produce to markets. Most farmers are poor because their produce will not reach the markets before they go bad and are poorly compensated when they do sell. Food crops, consisting roots, tubers, fruits and vegetables must be elevated to the cash economy. A New Nigeria will buy the produce at guaranteed world-indexed prices, while ensuring food processing and haulage is both methodical and widespread. Farmers who are sure of a certain income can now access credit and expand their farming practices to inculcate best practices. Imagine the multiplier effect with these same farmers providing produce for the schools free meal plan. We are looking at a minimum of 5 million jobs across Nigeria from this sector.
While we lift our hands to build our nation, we must lend a hand to raise the living conditions of the most vulnerable among us. The elderly, the disabled and the very poor need assistance. A conditional cash transfer of between N5,000-N7,000 will lift the human capital of at least 25 million Nigerians. Taking them in phases, the New Nigerian government will ensure that beneficiaries enroll their children in school and immunize their children.
Some contend, rather, theoretically that the private sector can somehow fill up these jobs. I don’t see how. First, doing business in Nigeria isn’t exactly the smoothest ride. Trying the most basic function of registering a business is a foretaste of the more harrowing and expensive experience of getting sustained electricity. The bottom line is that private sector will seek ways to eliminate costs and has no direct stake in social welfare. Others ask how to fund all of these social programmes. You only need to look at the waste of recurrent expenditure (at 70% plus of total budget) and theft of unremitted oil revenue. Imagine what the whooping US$20billion unremitted 2012 oil proceeds can do for citizens rather than a handful of brutal rulers. We are citizens of a nation where a serving minister spends N130 million every time she flies (which is often, and totaled N10 billion). Osun, today, feeds 254,000 children at N50 per day. At N2.3 Billion annually, to feed children, Osun spends less than one-quarter of the plane charter expenses of a serving minister. This is the sort of sacrifice that must be seen and demanded in our national life. This is the path and spirit of New Nigeria!
There’s an almost ignorant arrogance associated with bandying economic indices in a country where most people only know hand-to-mouth survival. So, let’s say we indeed have the largest economy in Africa, how large is the number of those who cannot benefit from this largest economy? For this is the true test of leadership. If our Federal Government flaunts our economic leadership status, we must also accept our leadership in creating the largest band of economic inequality in the world. The quest for the New Nigerian government is to remove this inequality. Every one must join this quest. The leaders of the largest economy cannot be allowed to just fail poor you, without consequences. You must support a New Nigeria that lifts a collectively prosperous Nigeria!
The New Nigeria plan derives from the Social Programme of the All Progressives Congress (APC)
Afolabi Iselowo is a lawyer and a human rights advocate.
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