Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The greatest challenge

Unlike families in the U.S. which face a number of significant challenges ( Bogenschnider chapters 1 & 2 ), poverty is the greatest challenge facing families in the developing world.

In 1960 when Nigeria gained her independence from the British and for the most part of the 60s, efforts towards eradicating poverty were centered on education, which was considered as the sure path towards the intellectual and economic advancement of the nation. The often quoted mantra by Nigeria’s first (and civilian) president at the time, Nnamdi Azikiwe was “show the light and the people will find the way”. Hence alongside agricultural extension services geared towards increased food production were, educational programs.

Then came the military regimes and the oil boom in the 70s, which changed this outlook. At the time the GNP per capita rose from $360 to over $1000, however by the time oil prices fell in the 80s GNP per capita fell to $370 (Federal Office of Statistics, 1990), at the same time the population of the poor grew from 15% to 28%. This figure has since been on the increase. Over the decades the persistence of poverty in the country has been traced to bad governance, low productivity and the lack of development of other sectors since the oil boom era, as well as unfocused government policies.

Unlike in the U.S., where the government debates on whether or not to get involved with families, successive governments in Nigeria have continuously tried their hands at the difficult task of reducing the level of poverty affecting individuals and families. The poverty alleviation measures implemented so far have focused more on growth, basic needs and rural development approaches. The first of such efforts was the Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), which was launched by General Olusegun Obasanjo in 1979. This program had as its goal an increase in food production, with the assumption that the availability of cheap food would lead to higher nutritional levels, which would translate into national growth and development.

However since 1983, a lack of continuity and shift in approach has trailed the poverty alleviation programs in the country. Each military administrator came with his own distinct idea of how to approach the problem. The impacts of each program were therefore minimal owing to their brief life spans and shortcomings in their implementation. While programs have collapsed one after another, one remains till date – The National Directorate of Employment (NDE), founded by the Babangida administration has been around for 23 years.

The NDE was launched at a time when the administration viewed unemployment as a major issue threatening the agenda of the government, since it posed as a danger to the economic and socio-political stability of the nation. The NDE was therefore designed to execute programs to curtail unemployment and articulate policies aimed at developing other work programs. Several poverty alleviation programs have come and gone with successive regimes over the years, most noticeable of these are the Better Life for Rural women and the Family Support Program (FSP). These programs incorporated a gender dimension into their strategies on the premise that women required special attention as a result of their immense contributions both as home makers and small scale entrepreneurs. These however suffered the same fate as past anti-poverty programs, i.e. coming to an end with the regime that had brought about their existence.

Taking cognizance of the tale of past programs and with the advent of the democratic rule in 1999, the administration set out a central coordination point for all its antipoverty efforts. This step was taken to avoid a duplication of agencies, which had also been blamed for past failures. The country has also subscribed to the United Nation’s millennium goals of halving global poverty by 2015, which has led to her outlining of a new poverty reduction strategy involving the Government and the poor as stakeholders working together to make progress. Many have voiced faith in this new collaboration which is believed if well managed will bear evident will fruit in the several poor families and the nation at large.

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