The Federal Government on Wednesday said state governors were partly responsible for contributing to the poverty of the country.
It blamed the state chief executives for priotising the construction of heavy pieces of infrastructure such as bridges and airports in cities rather than improving the lives of the rural poor.
The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, made this assertion while briefing State House correspondents shortly after this week’s Federal Executive Council meeting chaired by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja.
Agba, who noted that 72 per cent of the nation’s poor reside in rural communities, said the governors had abandoned the critical demography, preferring to spend state resources on the capital cities instead.
He said “The governors are basically functioning in their state capitals. And democracy that we preach about is delivering the greatest goods to the greatest number of people. And from our demography, it shows that the greatest number of our people live in rural areas, but the governors are not working in the rural areas.
“Right now 70 per cent of our people live in rural areas. They produce 90 per cent of what we eat. And unfortunately 60 per cent of what they produce is lost due to post harvest loss and it does not get to the market.
“I think from the Federal Government’s side we are doing our best. But we need to say that rather than governors continuing to compete to take loans to build airports that are not necessary, where they have other airports so close to them, or governors now competing to build flyovers all over the place, we appeal that they should concentrate on building rural roads so that the farmer can at least get their products to the market.”
Citing the findings of a recent survey he conducted across the 109 senatorial districts nationwide, the Minister said Sokoto state ranked the highest on the poverty scale, followed by the oil-rich state of Bayelsa.
“The result clearly shows that 72 per cent of poverty is in the rural areas. It also showed clearly that Sokoto State is leading in poverty with 91 per cent.
“But the surprising thing is Bayelsa being the second in terms of poverty rating in the country. So, you see the issue is not about availability of money. But it has to do with the application of money,” he said.
Agba lamented that despite the federal government’s intervention to alleviate poverty, the results did not reflect the amount of investment made in the area.
He said, “In the course of working on the national development plan, we looked at previous plans and asked why they didn’t do as much as expected. We also looked at the issues of the National Social Investment Programme.
“At the federal level, the government is putting out so much money but not seeing so much reflection in terms of money that has been put into alleviating poverty, which is one of the reasons the government also put in place the national poverty reduction with growth strategy.
“But if the federal government puts the entire income that it earns into all of this without some form of complementarity from the state governments in playing their part, it will seem as if we are throwing money in the pond.”
On food inflation, Agba said though states were in charge of agricultural land, they did not invest in them for the desired effect on their rural citizens.
He noted that farm products were affordable at the point of harvest but became expensive due to poor rural-urban roads, causing supply chain disruptions.
“UNIDO report shows us in terms of employment, the MSMEs employ 70 per cent of our people. So, you can imagine how much progress we will make when there are roads and power in these rural areas.
“In terms of agriculture, you find out that the federal government doesn’t have land that they would plant. The government has pushed for the Anchor Borrowers programme and that is going on very well but the state control lands states. They are the ones to provide land for agriculture. They are not investing in that. They would rather build skyscrapers in a city where people will see and clap but the skyscrapers do not put food on the table.
“When we’re talking about food prices, like I mentioned right now is driving inflation, prices of food at the farm gates are low. But when you now take it to the urban areas, you find out that the prices are high due to supply chain disruptions or lack of infrastructure to take them there,” he said.
He urged state governors to channel their resources into providing “food, nutrition, housing and clothing for our people before we begin to think of how to go to the moon and begin to build flyovers and airports in the state capital.”