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Poverty levels rise in Nigeria

After the recent strikes and wave of bombings, Nigerians could do with some good news; instead, the latest government poverty figures present a bleak picture.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has reported that in 2010, 60.9% of Nigerians (over 112 million people) were living in poverty – those surviving on less than 1 dollar each day. This compared to 54.7% (nearly 69 million) in 2004. Even worse, the NBS forecast that the rising trend looked set to continue.

The picture of growing poverty is at odds with Nigeria’s increasing oil wealth and rising economy. The country is now the largest producer of oil in Africa and on the back of this sector, its economy has been growing at around 7-8% annually for the past few years. Some analysts predict that by 2016, and with rising oil prices, Nigeria’s gross domestic product could reach 400 billion dollars annually (from around 250 billion in 2011) and may overtake South Africa’s by 2025.

The main problem faced by Nigeria is that its wealth is not trickling down and there is growing resentment among the poorest in society. The situation is particularly bad in northern regions of the country, where many more people are below the poverty line. The NBS reported that in the northwest and northeast regions, poverty rates were running at 77.7% and 76.3% respectively. This compared to 59.1% in the southwest. In one region of the extreme northwest – Sokoto state – nearly 9 out of every 10 inhabitants were living in poverty.

Almost all of the country’s 80 million Muslims live in the north and an increase in religious fundamentalism has been blamed on the rising poverty of the region. With unemployment high, the region’s young men are easily attracted into the ranks of militant groups. The government’s wide-scale use of the military to crack down on insurgents is also said to have exacerbated the situation, since innocent civilians are caught up in operations.

Social experts are urging the Nigerian government to bring peace to the region by boosting support programmes and job-creation schemes, instead of using military action. They would like to see the same kind of education and vocational training programmes offered in the north, as those introduced into the southern Niger delta, which until recently suffered from a long period of political violence. They believe that if Nigeria were to embark on ambitious development programmes, including the improvement of infrastructure, power and communications which are desperately needed to attract industry, it may be possible to reverse the bleak trend of rising poverty.

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