The Minister of Transportation, Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi has called for a change in the development policies of the government to affect rural communities as much as it does urban areas.
He said this shift would be effective in tackling poverty and inequality in the land.
Amaechi made the assertion while delivering the Convocation Lecture at the 49th Graduation Ceremony of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), today.
He said, “There are areas that we must address if we hope to overcome our frightening inequality and poverty. We must free our policies from an urban based focus”.
The poorest urban Nigerian he said, is many times better off than the most well off rural Nigerian. He therefore stressed on the need to emulate the Chinese and Indian examples in focusing on the rural majority if Nigeria must end the increasing marginalization of her rural compatriots.
He further said that, “Our current land title and tenure systems have continued to consign our rural landowners to peasant holders of acres of farmland without commercial value. We need to reform our land title system by removing encumbrances on rural land titles so that rural farmers can use such land to access credit from the banks and credit unions.
“Inequality has produced an anarchic population as life has become a scramble and a hustle among many. Poverty induced criminality has sent crime statistics through the roof nationwide resulting in the culture of perennial insecurity that now haunts the nation.
“A resource poor treasury has led to considerable decay in the capacity of the state to equip the armed and security forces adequately to contain an upsurge in crime and militant nationalism and regionalism. Our hospitals and healthcare delivery system is in desperate disrepair just as our public infrastructure has continued to decay by the years”.
His lecture titled, ‘Inequality and the Dignity of Man,’ evaluated the effect of such policies in other countries with once similar circumstances as Nigeria such as China, India and Brazil, stating that if it could work in those countries, then it can work in Nigeria, despite ‘our’ very peculiar situation.
He stated that, “The achievement of the Chinese in poverty reduction has been equated with a modern day miracle. The achievement corresponded with a period of sustained economic growth. It adopted the strategy of focusing on the poorest people in the rural areas.
“It massively moved them from poor homes in the countryside to apartment blocks in urban areas. This is similar to the strategy adopted by the late Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, in tackling poverty among the slum dwellers of Singapore. This led to rapid urban renewal and the uplifting of the standards of hygiene and living among the former slum dwellers with a corresponding economic empowerment”.
In India, Amaechi said four basic schemes were adopted, targeted at alleviation of poverty in rural areas as a priority. “First, there is the Rural Livelihood Mission, which guarantees the rural poor access to finance to increase household incomes, entitlement to rights, increased access to participation in the national economy through participating in banking and insurance services.
“Secondly, there is the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 which is designed to guarantee the livelihood of rural people. It is an employment guarantee scheme that assures individuals of a minimum of 100 days minimum wage employment.
“Thirdly, there is the Rural Housing Guarantee Scheme designed to provide housing for all by the year 2022. It guarantees the rural poor access to permanent housing with electricity, LPG connections, pipe borne water and toilet facilities under an affordable mortgage arrangement that is both simple and affordable.
“Finally, there is the Public Distribution System which aims to manage food distribution and reduce the scarcity of essential food items to rural dwellers at affordable prices. It is designed to address the problem of food insecurity in the rural areas. This combination of policies and strategies has assured India of a modest poverty reduction rate of 13.65 million people per annum in the last twenty years,” he said.
Amaechi, however, acknowledged the efforts by the current President Buhari-led administration to reduce poverty by carrying out social welfare and empowerment schemes as well as efforts by previous administrations, but insisted that more has to be done and done right by this administration and successive administrations to come.
According to him, “The Buhari administration has embarked on a cocktail of measures targeted at reducing desperate poverty among the most vulnerable segments of our populace. These include the various Direct Cash Transfer Schemes, micro credit Trader Money, the School Feeding Programme, the Small to Media Enterprises credit scheme, the various Agricultural Credit Schemes and Anchor Borrowers Schemes. It is hoped that these schemes will over time converge to reduce the magnitude and demographics of the poor in our midst.
“Previous government efforts have also contributed significantly in reducing poverty over the years. These include the Community Banks, Rural Banking and Rural Branch Network, Directorate of Employment, NERFUND, Directorate for Roads and Rural Infrastructure, Mass Transit Programme, Keke NAPEP Programme etc.
“In spite of some of these bold schemes, however, the burden of poverty in Nigeria continues to weigh heavily on the nation. It is either that these schemes are not well thought out or the magnitude of resources committed to them is too meagre to make any significant impact”, he pointed out.
The Minister advised that politics and leadership have roles well cut out in this regard and must take up the challenge to better the lot of the country and its people. “There cannot be genuine democracy in a society divided by unequal access to the good things of life,” he said.
To the graduands, Amaechi advised to embrace the challenges and opportunities the outside world holds, with courage.
“The moment of graduation holds special meaning for both the graduands and their parents. For those graduating, it is the fulfillment of a set of hopes, the completion of one leg of a race in life and the beginning of yet another lap. The world outside the university campus holds infinite possibilities and surprises.
“It is different from what you have on campus. It is real and sometimes shocking. But it holds the invaluable treasure of experience without which we cannot face life. I hope you all find it an exciting ride especially in our time and place. In a world of dwindling opportunities and immense challenges, I urge you to embrace the realities with courage and determination. Above all, you require all the creativity to convert every challenge to an opportunity.”
In his remark, the UNN Vice Chancellor, Prof Charles Arizechukwu Igwe thanked the Minister for the lecture and presented him with a plaque in commemoration of his lecture at the 49th Convocation Ceremony of the institution.
Dignitaries at the ceremony include the Visitor to the University, President Muhammadu Buhari represented by the Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, the Chancellor, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ooni of Ife among others.