Oil rich Nigeria has been rated the poorest country on the planet according to a survey that also warns that Africa will host most of the world’s poor within 12 years.
In its latest report on poverty, the Brookings Institution think tank estimates that the number of people living in extreme poverty in Nigeria had grown to 87 million people, overtaking India, which has 73 million.
The shock news comes as the Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative reveals that Nigeria – Africa’s second biggest energy producer and largest economy – has earned $484bn from oil in the last 10 years but has little to show for it.
Nigeria was hard hit by the oil price collapse and had to borrow money in a bid to restart the economy after growth slowed from 6.3 percent in 2014 to 1.9 percent for the first quarter of 2018.
“For a country that is so richly blessed, Nigeria’s poverty narrative is an embarrassment to both the citizens and outsiders,.” Nigeria’s daily Punch newspaper said in a recent editorial.
However, Nigeria’s trade, industry and investment minister, Okechukwu Enelamah, told journalists that the the indices used for the report might have been complied when Nigeria was in recession. “I think first we need to understand … there are reports that are lagging in indicators, which means people are reporting on history.” he said, adding that the government’s urgent infrastructure programme would lead to a reduction in poverty.
But Tope Fasua, CEO of Global Analytics Consulting, noted that Nigeria with a population of 198 million has a higher proportion of people living in extreme poverty compared to India, whose total population is above one billion.
“This is a national tragedy and not an issue only for the current government but for successive governments since the return to democracy [in 1999] and even the military,” he said.
Renowned economist Adetilewa Adebajo said, “This is most unfortunate for Nigeria but not surprising.”
He added, “Our population is becoming a liability as our GDP has not kept up with our population growth of 3 per cent over the last three years. If we cannot reverse this trend with sustained GDP growth of at least 5 per cent per annum we will remain an improvised nation.
“This is ironic as Nigeria remains the largest economy in Africa, but its population is fast becoming a poverty liability instead of the huge market potential asset,” he added,
The Washington-based think tank, which receives funding from the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation, reported in May that 14 of the 18 countries in the world where the number of people in extreme poverty is rising are in Africa. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, currently ranked third, is also expected to overtake India soon.
The shift in the centre of global poverty from Asia to Africa is no surprise to Andrew Shepherd, director of the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network at the Overseas Development Institute, whose group noted the trend several years ago. “Broadly speaking I would agree that there is a shift from Asia to Africa, although it is probably slower than some people think.”
Shepherd added that the situation appears to be aggravated in Africa by features less visible in many Asian countries, including poor governance, climate change and conflict. He said: “I think it is shifting to states that are conflict-affected and states most affected by climate change – and there is quite a correlation between the two – and states that have both poor policies and are significantly underfunded and in terms of aid. There is a whole bunch of these states and a significant number are in Africa.”