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Ending Poverty in Nigeria: Donald Duke Calls for Strong Will and Strategy
Former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, has called for a clear vision, strong will and strategic planning on the part of policy makers, and determination and discipline on the part of the citizenry in order to end or bring to the barest minimum, the menace of poverty in Nigeria. Duke who was the guest speaker at the October 5th Big Ideas Podium, observed that Nigeria, as a country has never lacked in postulating a vision, but lamented that no matter the vision any government in power may have, if there is no strong will or realistic strategy to attain such vision, it will certainly fizzle out in a while.
The Big Ideas Podium is a national platform for public policy debates with the objective of addressing burning and crucial issues that affect development and governance in Nigeria, West Africa, and Africa. The Big Ideas Podium which is organised by the African Heritage Institution (AfriHeritage), Enugu, encourages the deployment of both intellectual and empirical insights as it scrutinizes societal and national problems with a view to developing shared understandings of, and proffering recommendations for policies or solutions to social, economic, governance and political challenges facing Nigeria and the African continent.
In his speech titled: “Ending Poverty in Nigeria: Using what we have to get what we want”, the charismatic former chief executive of Cross River State under whose tenure the state witnessed a tremendous lift in critical aspects of development and governance, including tourism, infrastructure development, urban and rural sanitation, education, healthcare, etc. cited examples of several national visions set by various governments in the past to get the country out of poverty line, but were not realized due to lack of STRATEGY of implementation and the WILL to do so.
"We have several examples to show, ‘housing for all by the year 2000’, ‘vision 2010’, ‘vision 2020’, ‘vision 20,20,20’. All ambitious cliches, but hollow in execution because neither the will exists and or the strategy for implementation is befuddle”.
In his assessment of the economy the country has run over time, he referred to it as a “wacko economy designed to create jobs and opportunities in foreign countries”. He warned that this time bomb will eventually explode if nothing is urgently done to reverse the trend. “In all this we are sitting on a bomb which is gradually detonating but we fail to appreciate this because the fizzles are far away”.
Proffering a solution on the way forward, Duke said Nigeria needs to design an economy with about 15% annual growth rate in the real sectors of the economy, he said this ought to happen consistently for about ten years in order to bring the country’s economy at par with the burgeoning population of about 230million by 2030 people.
According to him, “$2.5 trillion economy, averaging a per capital income of $10,500 that would generate growth in sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, intellectual property and information technology. Not based on an increase in commodity prices, particularly crude oil, which only makes available an increase in the foreign currency available to spend, contributes less than 10% to the GDP, aids corruption, stifles entrepreneurship, encourages laziness and kills industry”.
He averred that only an unparalleled WILL, such that we have never been able to muster from independence can achieve this.
He believes that the country can leverage on its abundant human and material resources to make this happen. He tendered two big Ideas that can be a game changer: proper and maximum utilization of the abundant energy resources in the country, for instance, converting the flared gas in the Niger-delta which is enough to power the gas turbines required to electrify the whole of Africa, to useable fuel. Secondly, lowering interest rates and elongating tenured finances, as these will encourage more borrowing and investment by the private sector in manufacturing, agriculture, etc.
He also posited that although agriculture has been generally touted as a way out of Nigerian’s economic predicament, with reference to food security, job creation and foreign exchange earnings, but lamented that until the country’s agricultural productivity is industrialized, it will perpetually remain at the subsistence level and therefore may not mean much to the country’s economy.
In his contribution, former governor of the Central bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, agreed with the guest speaker that given the rapidly expanding population of the country, one of the possible areas of advantage is the exportation of human resources to other countries, but emphasized that such human resources must be skilled in order to make a meaningful impact.
Professor Stella Okunna, one of the paper discussants agreed largely with the guest speaker on the need for VISION and WILL as imperatives in driving the country to the “Promised Land”, but added that perhaps, education should be the main key factor. Lamenting the poor standard of education in Nigeria, the professor of mass communication and Dean, Faculty of the Social Sciences at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and former commissioner for Information in Anambra State, observed that education should be the driving force towards the nation’s development but regrettably, the educational policy of today does not even impart employable skills to the youths upon graduation.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, the Executive Director of AfriHeritge, Professor Ufo Okeke-Uzodike set the tone for the day’s discuss when he provided a rich background to the worrisome threat posed by poverty in a country that ordinarily should not have any relationship with poverty. According to Prof Okeke-Uzodike, “poverty is an issue that is fundamental to national peace, without peace, no society can plan long-term or develop effectively”.
The Afriheritage chief executive wondered why Nigeria, in spite of its acclaimed abundant human and natural resources, skilled manpower, strong zeal for success and very determined citizens, still finds itself where it is today and her people being ranked as one of the most deprived people in the world?
He observed that Nigerian citizens are among the most educated professionals in virtually all fields of human endeavour elsewhere, but regretted that all that have not reflected in the development index of the country at home. He said “the blame for the dysfunctions may be placed on our collective heads. Our bad policies, our bad governance, our unbelievable greed, our corruption, our bad attitude, our self-centeredness, our impunity, and our politicization of ethnicity, region, religion, and even our local community combine to make Nigeria one of the worst places to live on earth – certainly for poor people”.
He said the day’s event would explore what is needed to be done within the available resources and capacities to reduce the poverty scourge in Nigeria. The program did not only inform and aid the understanding of poverty in Nigeria but also the associated policy issues and decisions.
The event was well-attended by scholars, professionals and the media.