I was stunned watching the BBC’s Hardtalk interview programme in which Governor Ibrahim Shema denied the alarming poverty rate in Katsina state. It is not surprising, though, for Nigerian politicians to deny statistical evidence that portray unfavourable picture of their constituencies, but I did not expect that attitude from Shema whom I have always respected for his pro-civic policies. Huge amounts of resources are being spent on human development in Katsina; however, no significant change has been achieved because the resources are not being utilised prudently.
The methods used by the survey agency to come up with the recent poverty figures that placed Sokoto and Katsina at the top with poverty rates of about 80 and 75 percents respectively might not be completely unbiased, but even if it were mere speculation, these high figures call for alarm for the policy makers of these states. Let the governors carry out their own survey if they truly care for the people they govern. I may well be right if I assumed that the politicians are comfortable with the situation because it is what keeps them in power. The masses would continue to be docile like sheep during elections, as long as illiteracy and poverty remain rife.
A 75 percent poverty rate simply means that among every four persons in Katsina, three are poor. Based on the criteria used, those three out of four people live below 1 US dollar (160NGN) a day. Anyone who visits our villages would affirm the veracity of those figures. I believe it may even be more than that in Katsina state. One of the major reasons for the dilemma is the incessant high population growth rate in our northern states, which our leaders are reluctant to tackle. If the people cannot be stopped from irrational procreation, then stop encouraging them to marry more wives than they can comfortably take care of.
Governor Ibrahim Shema has done well in transforming the mindset of Katsina people, which somehow and unfortunately, seems to have made his government unpopular. Sticking to his pro-civic policies under tough situations of sheer intolerance of criticism, to me, is indeed courageous. He believes in the philosophy of teaching people how to fish instead of giving them the fish every time. It is unfortunate that the poor people he wants liberated prefer being given the fish every day. But is his strategy working?
The empowerment programmes being implemented in the state are not far from the fish-giving. This is what usually happens: People hang on to an empowerment program because they know there would be incentives in form of business capital in the end. They don’t care if they understand the agricultural or vocational skills they are taught. They collect the lump sum meant for starting a business only to use it as a dowry for a second or third wife they long cherished at a time when their current families are in great deal of destitution. The same thing happens when school teachers are given agricultural loans or when female students in colleges of education receive cash under UN Girls’ Education Project scholarship. My sister once told me that most of the girls doing the NCE programme were in school because their parents had no resources to marry them off. When they received the scholarship money, then that would mark the end of their studies – back home for marriage. Counterproductive, isn’t it?
What is the way forward then? I would suggest that the government and other stakeholders focus on creating job opportunities through building of industries like the Katsina Paint Company established earlier. Irrigation and livestock farming is another relevant area, since we have the enabling environment. The affluent people from the state should be encouraged to invest in these sectors.
It is time we stood up and faced reality. Our religious and traditional leaders must be pragmatic. We cannot continue with a method that has continuously been taking us backward. We must stop treating marriage and childbearing with untoward sacredness it does not deserve. Social and economic prosperity should be our major concern, and we have to work together to achieve that.
Written by Sadah.
Article first published in Dailytrust newspaper of 27 June 2013.
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