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Submitted by Abdulrahman Abdu on
In spite of Nigeria’s oil wealth (the nation is the 6th oil producing nation in the world), the poor constitute about 70% of the Nigerian population. And recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows Nigeria as the 26th poorest nation in the world (The Guardian, July 26, 2002; also see Dike, October 6, 2002). With the vast mineral, oil, water, land and human resources, many Nigerians live on less than $1.00 (one U.S. dollar) a day. Is this statistics not bad enough to wake the nation’s political leaders from slumber? Who are the poor in Nigeria? Poverty has narrow and broad definitions, partly because it is a physical matter, and partly because poverty is relative. It is physical because one can note its effects on those afflicted by it. And it is relative because a poor person in one country may not be perceived as such in another country. However, the poor are those that ‘have limited and insufficient food, poor clothing [live in] crowded…and dirty shelter…’ (Galbraith 1955), cannot afford medical care and recreation; cannot meet family and community obligations and other necessities of life. And people are "poverty-stricken when their income, even if adequate for survival, falls markedly behind" the average obtainable in their immediate community (Galbraith 1955). Poverty is a serious issue in Nigeria, because many people are struggling daily for survival without assistance from the State. Worse still, the nation does not have any guideline to measure the construct, which are available in some countries. For instance, in the US the 1995 ‘official federal policy notion of poverty guidelines ‘carry precise dollar amounts’ of about $15,150 for a family of four. Poverty guidelines, which are issued by The Department of Health and Human Services, determine financial eligibility for federal programs and household incomes for basic necessities. And any family whose income is below the set amount is considered living below the poverty line (journalofpoverty.org). The poverty threshold, which is the statistical version of the poverty guidelines, is used by the ‘Census Bureau’ to calculate the number of persons in poverty in the United States, States or Regions (Schwarz Oct.1998; UNDP 2002). Thus, a poor person could not afford the life style a rich individual would regard as the minimum for decency and acceptable in a particular community. However, no precise definition is really needed in Nigeria for us to understand what poverty is, as poverty is indelible on those afflicted by it. The poor are those who cannot afford decent food, medical care, recreation, decent shelter and clothe; meet family and community obligations, and other necessities of life. With this, it is not surprising that poverty is regarded as a form of oppression (UNDP Conference Report, 15-17 March 2001). The Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary depicts poverty as the condition or quality of being poor, need, indigence, and lack of means of substance. It is also deficiency in necessary properties or desirable qualities, or in a specific quality, etc. And the Journal of Poverty notes that poverty means more than being impoverished and more than lacking financial means. It is "an overall condition of inadequacy, lacking and scarcity, and destitution and deficiency of economic, political, and social resources." This is a broader perspective of poverty, which reflects its true dimensions. Therefore, people are living in poverty, ‘if their income and resources (material, cultural and social) are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living which is regarded as acceptable’ by their society generally (Ireland: NAPS, 1997). Because of the effects of her underdevelopment and corruption, the poor are found both in rural and urban settings in Nigeria, with different categories of poverty. Reports show that HIV/AIDS contribute to the worsening poverty situation at household level in many countries in Africa. For instance, a November 2001 Government of Nigeria sentinel survey reported that Nigeria had "5.8% HIV prevalence rate." And the United Nations ranked Nigeria as the forth-worst affected country in 1999 based on the number of HIV infections. With life expectancy of 55 years, illiteracy rate of 50%, and under-five mortality of 143 per 1, 000 live birth, HIV/AIDS affects over 2.7 million people in Nigeria (USAID, 2002). And with poor economic performance, corruption, the paltry expenditure of $0.03 per capita funding for HIV/AIDS as of 1996, and the citizen’s inability to pay for treatment once infected, the number of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria is expected to increase in future (UNAIDS 1999; see Hecht (PSR) UNAIDS 2000). For that a public awareness campaign should be intensified to educate the masses on ways to prevent the spread of the epidemic.