By Ibrahim Sheriff (Gold)
Kwara, like every other sub national structures seek to achieve major economic objectives as full employment of human and material resources, increased productivity, equality in income distribution and poverty reduction, all targeted at stimulation of economic growth. This is understandable from the prism that these economic objectives are intertwined and one have causal effect on another.
Attainment of full employment of human and material resources for instance, will result in increased productivity, get more people actively engaged, reduce poverty, expand the tax base and consequently, stimulate economic growth in the short run and development at the long run.
Kwara is endowed with agricultural resources which predominated the northern and southern parts of the States. The State is also with abundance of human resources, however, largely underdeveloped and inefficiently harnessed, which pitched our growing population as a threat rather than opportunity for increased productivity and sustainable development.
Since return of democracy in 1999, we’ve had successive governments designing empowerment programmes with the aim of alleviating poverty and enhancing economic growth.
In 2001, Gov. Mohammed Lawal of blessed memory distributed taxis and motorcycles for commercial use as a form of empowerment for the people, although there is no data pointing to the repayment for these vehicles and motorcycles, the fact remains the scheme is unsustainable as most of these vehicles had been phased out without any replacement within very short period, just like the taxis distributed by Gov. Ahmed under the ‘Maigida Soludero’ mass transit scheme, which today, are hardly found operational. Notwithstanding the huge public fortunes that has gone into them.
Worried by rising wave of unemployment in the State, with its attendant consequences on the state’s economic growth and prosperity, Gov. Abdulfatah Ahmed administration conceived Kwara Bridge Empowerment Scheme (KWABES), which can be likened to the President-Buhari led FG N-Power. The KWABES idea, according to then government was to prepare corps member under the scheme for permanent job placement, while earning allowance with the government.
KWABES was however suspended in 2016, with excuse of dwindling revenue. This is a reflection of non addition of any economic value by the scheme in the real sense of it, that could outweigh the opportunity cost of keeping the corps engaged. Although, the then government claimed to have absorbed over 1000 of those originally engaged under the scheme to permanent positions in the state civil service.
From the foregoing, it is clear that there has been policy summersaults in the effort by successive governments in addressing unemployment, tackling poverty and sharing prosperity among Kwaran populace, which can largely be linked to what I will call pursuit of ‘political populism’.
Instead of demonstrating foresightedness and instituting sustainable economic growth plans, successive leaders of the State have only proved to be interested in ‘poverty management’ rather than eradication, in their bids to attract immediate popularity that won’t outlive their reigns.
Fast forward to 2019, upon assumption of office, Gov. AbdulRazaq did not hesitate to institute a social investment scheme, KWASSIP, modeled after the Federal Government’s National Social Investment Programs. Although, while Federal Government engaged millions of youths under N-Power, Kwara state engaged none under KWASSIP, it however replicated the TraderMoni with ‘Owo Ishowo’, and Conditional Cast Transfer with “Owo Arugbo’.
Owo Arugbo, a scheme that gives stipend to the elderly people, considered to be vulnerable parts of the society, haven naturally been deprived of strength to work and fend for themselves is indeed plausible and will, to a large extent, achieve the goal of equitable income distribution and better living to these vulnerable segments of the economy.
Owo Ishowo which offers soft loan to petty traders to boost their businesses is however another unsustainable economic stimulant model in the face of today’s reality, considering the loan amount and scope of administration. If the international extreme poverty line is daily expenditure of $1.25; approximately #475.6 daily is anything to go by, a paltry sum of #10,000 a month to operate a business, within which such business owner will profit and feed his/her family is not taking people out of poverty, but ‘managing their poverty’, more so, in the short run.
The implication of the international extreme poverty line is that anyone living below #475 per day (#14,250monthly) is in extreme poverty. Rather than look inward and stimulate those variables that will increase the purchasing power of larger percentage of the populace, which will consequently dovetail into accelerated growth and shared prosperity, we have been busy trying to cure symptoms rather than the causes of poverty.
This has clearly shown that the #10,000 handout can never take care of the benefiting personalities, not even minding their household out of poverty. If anything, it is tantamount to lubricating poverty for easy generational sailing and transfer. If you ask me, that’s not where a government desirous of lifting its people out of poverty should place premium.
A year down the line, no drastic changes have been witnessed in the life and ‘businesses’ of the beneficiaries other than probably feeling the direct impact of a government who reached out to them.
Perhaps, if the intendment is to win converts, believers and electoral asset for the government of the day, it may undisputably win a handful, judging from the ability of the scheme to achieve real time economic turnarounds, like several other schemes alike in the past. If the founding vision of the scheme however, is to tackle poverty and bring as many as possible households out of poverty, then it is failing to achieve same and may continue to fail, unless the government changes the modus operandi urgently.
Rather than give stipend of #10,000 to 1000 people which means transferring #10,000,000, which most likely, will go to consumption without any productive multiplier effect, a serious administrator will rather invest #100,000 each to 100 people to start business, with an option of drawing higher sum, which is strictly dependent on the management and profitability of the new business.
Although, the President Goodluck Jonathan YouWin was a grant, save for the corruption and politicization that later marred the scheme, it remains one of the best social investment scheme which can be adapted by state governments. Because it availed young people with innovative ideas opportunities to access adequate funding for various businesses, some of which still profitably operational today.
Aside fund disbursement, YouWin also trained its beneficiaries, which the Owo Ishowo scheme may also adopt. Agreed, majority of them are unlettered, but can actually be grouped and taught basic financial literacy and savings culture, at least, even before accessing the funds. That is how to realistically tackle poverty, anything other than that is nothing but recycling poverty for electoral and political gains.
Also, What has happened to the promised resuscitation of our moribund industries which will keep vast number of youth in productive employment, increase purchasing powers, expand tax base and accelerate economic growth?
We have seen State governments (Lagos and Kebbi, and Osun states) direct involvement in agriculture and how it has worked out pretty fine. Unlike the scandalous and unproductive tractorization project, we can be more serious about maximizing our abundant natural resource efficiency by consulting widely and learning how to keep our wealth within.
While it might be too hasty to write off the AbdulRazaq administration in having the capacity and knowhow to drive the industrialisation aspirations of the average Kwarans, it is an undeniable fact that the we have handful major industry capable of employing thousands in Kwara, one of such is the Lafiagi Sugar Company owned by BUA group, whose owner incidentally is a long standing friend of the State’s Governor.
The construction which has been on for almost 7 years no doubt predated the OTOGE government, even though luckily. it’s been accelerated under the present administration, especially with the processing and granting of the land C of O. If Kwara must tackle skyrocketing unemployment, then the government must focus on attracting more of industries of BUA’s status, which will in turn birth cottage industries, MSMEs and SMEs as chain reactions.
This is achievable through provision of innovative, expansive and sustainable infrastructure, and aggressive investment in human capital development that will prepare our people for the opportunity ahead of the industrial revolution we seek, to avoid another round of capital flight when it is dawn.
As things stand today, we’re still merry-go-rounding, or more mildly put, we’re still on the drawing board if there’s anything like that.