POVERTY ALLEVIATION AND IBB’s RURAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS

Nuhu O. Yaqub


Introduction

History is the most democratic of disciplines. Nobody is barred from writing history. Indeed, everybody has the privilege to be his own historian as well as to be a critic of historical works. And it is possible that some of these books or criticisms may become popular. Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between a popular work of history and an objective one. The hallmark [sic.] of the great historian is his ability, as the great Acton puts it, “to do the best he can for the other side, and to avoid the pertinacity or emphasis on his.” [Uzoigwe, 1989:3.]

Since this paper is essentially about the interpretation of historical realities (realities that affected most fundamentally the lives of the living) (some of those who have died were also affected by those realities, with the high possibility that some of those who died might have met their deaths through the deleterious impacts of such realities), it is of utmost importance, therefore, that we not only be concerned with the facts as they are, but also how they should have been. Objectivity, which is being considered a desideratum of a good historical work, is no more than a tool in the hands of the tool user. Historical interpretation is, perforce, relative, both in time and space; its objectivity is usually embedded, even if in a disguised form, in subjectivism. `Our history,’ meaning our critical stance thus, does not have to be a popular one, especially where it has involved the subject of “Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development Programmes” during the Babangida Administration. It is of course also important to stress that nothing stops that history from being popular if it has to be so, or if it is able to bring about what one may refer to as “subjective objectivity.” With this caveat, the paper is structured as follows: Section 1 shall provide the politico-economic background to the emergence of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd.) to power in 1985. Section 2 shall look at the concepts of poverty and rural development, while section 3 shall dwell on the analysis of the promotion and outcome of poverty alleviation programmes during the Babangida era. Section 4 shall summarize and knit the arguments into some concluding remarks.

Political-Economic Background to the Emergence of lialpangida as Military President in August 1985

General Ibrahim Babangida emerged as the undisputed military leader of Nigeria on 27th August, 1985. At the time of his arrival on the scene, Nigeria’s politico ­economic situation was, to say the least, unedifying. Politically, Nigeria was gradually but inexorably sliding into the worst form of fascism the country had ever witnessed or could ever have contemplated. (As a result of chronology, one could not have anticipated the emergence of Abacha’s dictatorship, giving the import of the preceding sentence. Although this paper is not about Babangida’s political transition programme, it is instructive to assert that had this latter programme been successful, Abacha would not have emerged to further dent the image of the country on the democracy index.) The junta headed by Major­ General Muhammadu Buhari, which Babangida’s palace coup carne to remove, had scant regards for the human and political rights of Nigerians. Journalists, in particular, and Nigerians in general, were threatened with detention without trial according to the provisions in the infamous and draconian Decree No. 4 of 1984. Most of the politicians, who the junta came to overthrow on December 31st, 1983, were clamped into jail initially without due process.

Even when they were punished under the laws of the country, they were taken to pseudo-tribunals in which military personnel also served as members. The history of the country’s judiciary had never been so subjected to mockery by the outrageous sentences of the politicians to terms of imprisonment of over 100 to over 200 years, even as concurrent sentences. In addition, the junta was so disdainful of the natural political rights of Nigerians to such an extent that when General Buhari was urged to unfold his political programme of transition to democracy, he dismissed the legitimate quest as irrelevant or, at best, secondary to the revival of the economy.

Economically, too, the country and people went through a trough. In point of fact, the economy inherited by the military in the new year of 1984 was unabashedly and unpatriotically mismanaged by the civilian regime of President Shehu Shagari (1979-83). The economy was so badly mismanaged that, at the macro-economic level, there were huge budget deficits, high unemployment, spiralling inflation, and further declines in the already decrepit status of the social infrastructures. Educational and health facilities, for instance, were in shambles and unresponsive to needs of the clients. [See tables 2 and 3 of Olaniyan, 1997: 214-215 in Appendix.] At the micro-economic level, industries shut down, bankruptcies were declared, while the few industries that remained afloat were unavoidably operated below installed capacities.   [For details of the state of the Nigerian economy and politics on the eve of the coup d’etat of 1983, see, among others, Falola and Ihonvbere, 1985; Joseph, 1987; Obadan, 1993; Olukoshi, 1986; and Yaqub, 1989.] The Buhari military junta was probably correct to insist that the major pre­occupation before it was the revival of the economy. But how did it go about this”

It merely consolidated on the series of stabilisation measures that the Shagari Administration had earlier put in place by April 1982 through the Stabilisation Act of the National Assembly. These included fiscal prudence; a reduction on the amount international travelers could carry with them (i.e., a reduction in Basic Travelling Allowance) (B.T.A.); the introduction of numerous levies and taxes; the placement of embargo on recruitment in the public sectors (federal and states); the removal or reduction in the amount of subsidies going to state-owned enterprises (SOEs); close monitoring of the issuance and utilisation of import licences; etc. The Buhari junta also ensured that as large as 34% to 40% of the foreign exchange earnings were committed to debt servicing and other international obligations in the 1984 budget. These measures were contemplated and/or introduced so as to court the sympathy and understanding of the foreign creditors. They, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were however not pleased, especially as the sticking issue of the devaluation of the national currency (the naira) was not embarked upon nor seriously addressed.

The junta tried to weather the rebuff by entering into counter-trade arrangement (through the process of selling or exchanging crude oil for essential raw materials and commodities) with some countries in the West (Italy, France, Austria); in Eastern Europe; and in Latin American (particularly brazil). This measure was not only a breach of the OPEC quota for the country, which action could further depress the international price of the commodity (already experiencing glut in the international market), but had also been pronounced to have been handled corruptly according to the succeeding Babangida regime. [See the analysis of the counter-trade strategy in, among others, Yaqub, ibid. 1989: 101-103.)

It was the inherent contradictions of these policy thrusts, particularly the non­performance or non-response of the economy to these therapeutic measures, plus the apparent disagreements within the junta (it was rumoured that the Babangida’s coup was a reactive action taken against the move being made for his retirement from the Nigerian army), which led to its sacking through a palace coup d’etat after 20 months in office in August 1985. It must be stated that the recession in the economy was quite deep-seated) worsened the income and consumption profile of Nigerians. More people, in other words, were becoming poorer when Babangida came into the saddle. (We shall come back to this point in a short while.)

The foregoing was the background to the emergence of the Babangida Republic that, without doubt in the annals of Nigeria, could be regarded as the most consciously engineered, intellectually serviced and nurtured military dictatorship. (Whether or not the administration achieved its objectives is part of the analysis that this paper seeks to provide, as done below.) When Babangida took over the reins of government, he reduced the political tension, at least, by releasing those who were jailed under Decree No. 4 of 1984; and made a subject of review the cases of the politicians who were atrociously given long jail sentences. Some of the politicians, at this point, had their sentences reduced to a reasonable length of time; while others were simply released.

The regime, by those initial gestures, prided itself as being on the high pedestal of respect for the human rights of Nigerians. Yes, in relation to the Buhari’s mindless dictatorship. He indeed made himself or the undiscerning Nigerian press made him the champion of human rights of Nigerians, although it must be put in context that his administration was no such champion. Such a pride of place truly belongs to the Nigerian independence constitution of 1960 that first guaranteed the citizen’s fundamental human rights (which subsequent constitutions have retained), as well as the countless battles waged by a coterie of human rights advocates in the wake of the consolidation of his own brand of dictatorship.

On the issue of the devaluation of the naira and, generally, the necessity for taking an IMF loan, he made this a subject of popular debate, although the decision of Nigerians to reject the loan and opt for a home-grown panacea to the economic doldrums was compromised when the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) he introduced in 1986 did not in any material particulars differ from the classical IMF therapy. Consequently, the naira was devalued; trade restrictions were removed; subsidies were removed or reduced on some essential items of consumption and/or from what some of the parastatals used to get. The latter were simply asked to subject their prices to the inter-play of demand and supply, i.e., the market forces. In addition, some of them slated for privatisation or commercialisation.

There were four objectives of SAP (see their specifications in Yaqub, ibid.105). Some of them, viz., to lessen the dominance of unproductive investments in the public sector, improve the sector’s efficiency and intensify the growth potential of the private sector, plus the policy measure of trade and payments liberalisation; deregulation, reduction of administrative controls and greater reliance on market forces; and the adoption of appropriate pricing policies for petroleum products and public enterprise output, i.e., removal of oil and other subsidies, appear to be among the most impactful measures on Nigerians generally. The removal of subsidies and the de-freezing of commodity prices, on the basis of these measures, no doubt worsened the existential conditions of the poor. Tables i and 2 at the end of the text show, respectively, the aggregate living index indicators in naira of Nigerians in the period 1970-1992; and nominal and real federal wages between 1989 and 1992. The evidence from the two tables points inexorably to the pervasive and worsening existence of poverty of the Nigerian social formation. Thus, although many of the various measurements used to calculate or determine poverty contain some weaknesses, but, statistically speaking. When the benchmark for poverty line was estimated by the World Bank based on two-thirds of the mean per capita household expenditure for 1985, [sic.] (i.e. 395.00) about 43.0 per cent of the entire population was considered poor. Using the same benchmark, 31.7 per cent of the urban population and 50.0 per cent of the rural population lived below the poverty line. However, there was a reduction in the incidence of poverty between 1985 and 1992 as 30.4 per cent of urban dwellers and 36.4 per cent of rural population were adjudged to be poor. Nevertheless, in terms of number of persons affected, the improvement was not considered significant considering the growth in population and the deplorable state of all social infrastructures which have jointly contributed to the worsening of the quality of life. (CBN, 1999:17. Emphasis mine.)

This is certainly an indictment on the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programme. To mitigate some of the deleterious effects of the programme, the Babangida Regime was, thus, compelled to introduce measures. Among the programmes so introduced and/or implemented, there were the Directorate of Food, Roads, and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI); the Better Life Programme (BLP); the Mass Transit Programme (MTP); the People’s Bank of Nigeria (PBN); the Board of Community Banks (BCB); the National Directorate of Employment (NDE); the National Agric6ltural Land Development Administration (NALDA); and the Technical Aids Corps (TAC). Some of these programmes were targeted at the poor generally; while some others were targeted at the rural dwellers. The Technical Aids Corps appears to be the only programme targeted at members of the middle class whose rank was grievously affected and radically depleted in the wake of the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme. The worsening of the social status of the middle class may be an unintended consequence of SAP. The programme ought to have rather strengthened the class as, historically speaking, it is the engine class for the sustained growth of any community/country. Then, with no other viable or visible programme for the regeneration of the middle class, TAC was clearly inadequate as a solution. Before we go further to critically look at the effectiveness or otherwise of some of these programmes, it is important to understand the, concept of poverty, its extent and manifestation in Nigeria and why it would be necessary to implement policies aimed at alleviating it. We also need to familiarise ourselves with the concept of rural development, particularly how it could have been used as a strategy to alleviate poverty. This is what the next section sets out to achieve.

Conceptual Clarifications

  1. Poverty

The –concept of poverty is generally assumed to be difficult to define or that it is hard to get a tool adequate enough to measure it. Aboyade (1975), for instance, argues that poverty, like elephant, is more easily recognized than defined. Therein lies the irony: why can’t the concept be defined when the poor are easily identified either in their absolute, abject, and squalid appearance or in relation to the living conditions of the more affluent and powerful in the society? The failure of social science to come to grips with the concept of poverty is not only a manifestation of some intellectual diffidence or failure, but tallies with the dominant view in the early stages of industrialisation in Europe that held that: “Poverty arose out of a fickleness of character (and thus) places the responsibility for poverty at the doorsteps of individuals … (Ozo-Eson, 1998:32). Although this view has since given way to the realization that the socio-economic framework is really at the root of poverty, R.H. Tawney has argued that, “The problem of poverty … is not a problem of individual character, but a problem of economic and industrial organisation. If has to be studied at its source and only secondary in its manifestations”. [Quoted in bid.] So, what is poverty?

Poverty is a condition of privation or want in which a poor individual is incapable of satisfying the minimum basic human needs in such areas as food, housing and clothing, to ensure a decent life or existence. There is also the non-material dimension to poverty. This is manifested in incapacities to participate fully in the political and cultural activities of one’s community. (For related definitions, see, among others, Achime and Afenike, 1997: 255-267; Aigbokhan, 1997: 181-209; Aku, et al., 1997: 41-53; Anyanwu, 1997: 93-120; Archibong, 1997: 457-473; Dike, 1997: 157-175; Echebiri, 1997: 55-72; Egware, 1997:487-503; Englama and Bamidele, 1997: 141-156; Obadan, 1997: 1-18; Odusola, 1997: 121-139; Olaniyan, 1997:211-232; Olowononi, 1997:475-485; Sagbamah, 1997: 233-254; Ukoha, 1997: 269-279; and Uniamikogho, 1997: 19-40.).

The poor have always existed in history. However, there are variations in the severity and depth of poverty profiles from one society to another and from one period to the other. In table 3, we reproduce the state of poverty in Nigeria between 1985/86 and 1992/93, as reported in the World Bank study of 1996. The World Bank study was in turn based on the survey of consumer expenditure for 1985 and 1992 that the Federal Office of Statistics generated. What emerge from the table are the differential rates of the poverty situation in different parts of the country; this is an epiphenomenon of the differential rates of affliction of poverty on individuals. Poverty can either be chronic or structural (in other words, long lasting) or temporary and transient. It is structural if it is caused by more permanent factors such as limited access to production resources, joblessness or endemic socio-political problems. When it is a short-term phenomenon, it is likely to be reversible (i.e., can be minimised) and, in this instance, it may be caused by natural or man-made disasters such as flooding drought, war, the failure of public policies, etc.

From the foregoing, we have mentioned some of the causes of poverty; but in actual fact, the causes of poverty are many just as its multi-dimensional nature. In the literature, the following are also identified as causative factors: the stage of economic and social development, i.e., where there is economic underdevelopment, there would be a “hindrance to the capacity of a nation to formulate and implement programmes and projects that would enhance real economic growth, the first necessary step for poverty alleviation.” (CBN, op. cit.: 14); low productivity; and market imperfections with the latter defined as:

Distortions in the employment market which introduces all forms of discrimination and rigidities that prevent the advancement of people along the social and economic ladder of progress, in the form of sex, age, colour, race and tribe. Also, the existence of an income distribution structure which is skewed in favour of [the dominant] classes in the society is a form of market imperfection that renders the less favoured class poor. (Ibid.)

Other factors responsible for the persistence of poverty include physical or environmental degradation; structural shift in the economy; inadequate commitment to the implementation of altruistic programmes or programmes targeted at the poor; political instability; and corruption. (CBN, ibid: 12-16.’; From this array of the causes of poverty, it is obvious that not one single or simplistic solution can be proffered, as a panacea for solving it. Actually, serious, and much more rigorous array of measures will have to be embarked upon when the phenomenon of poverty is to he tackled. But to what extent can poverty alleviated or under what context? This, again, is an issue that we shall return to in the interpretative section of the paper. Meanwhile, we shall continue our efforts at conceptual clarification by looking at the concept of rural development.

  1. Rural Development

In the literature, the concept of rural development is sometimes somehow erroneously confused with such concepts as “grassroots development,” and “community development” [Olukoshi, 1990. See also Oyovbaire, and passim; and Nweze, 1988: passim, for some of these conceptual confusions]. But grassroots development and community development can have both their urban attributes as well as rural components. But rural development is much more restricted conceptually and spatially – even though it is also more complex in practical and field activity terms. In terms of definition, the World Bank Sector Paper on Rural Development (1975:3) refers to it as:

A strategy designed to improve the economic and social life of a specific group of people – the rural poor. It involves extending the benefits of development to the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in the rural areas. The group includes small-scale farmers, tenants and the landless. (Quoted in Chambers, 1990: 147.)

It is good enough that Chambers (ibid.) notes that the definition is inherently problematic as it does not only exclude the mentioning of the women and children as relevant targetable social group in the rural setting, but it is paternalistic and self-serving: “Strategies are designed, unless otherwise stated, by the powerful; and it is they too who extend the benefits of development to the poorest. This side of rural development is important, but it should be balanced by a reversal of power and initiative.” (Ibid.) As a corrective or a complement to the above definition, therefore, Chambers sees rural development as:

a strategy to enable a- specific group of people, poor rural women and men, to gain for themselves and their children more of what they want and need. It involves helping the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in the rural areas to demand and control more of the benefits of development. The group includes small-scale farmers, tenants, and the landless [ibid.]

It is remarkable that democratic principles of participation in the decision relevant to rural development is embedded in the latter definition. Actually, for too long, it is the political leaders as well as the powerful elements in the by exploiting the rural population. In the end, such “development” would be counterproductive and self-defeating: meaningful development can only be sustained if it creates a bigger and more effective market out of the rural poor for the goods and services of the modem sector. And a developed, healthy, enlightened and skilled rural sector, will be better placed and more productive to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of the modern, largely urban, economic sector. Equally, the need for social and political peace and harmony, demands a bridging of the economic and welfare gap between the rural areas and urban centres. Indeed, in Nigeria, as in other similar societies, the development of the rural sector tantamounts to the development of the nation, and the concept of national development which ignores the rural dwellers is sterile. The rural and the urban sectors constitute two sides of the same coin; and because of its size, the rural sector actually constitutes the mirror of the nation. Also because of that size, a rural sector that is poor will, through the extended family relations and system of mutual obligations, constitute a drag on the urbanites who, in any case, derive from the rural areas. (Yesufu, 1996:246-247.)

It is probably in an attempt to address this issue and also because of the dreadful impact resulting from the implementation of SAP that made the Babangida Administration to embark on some programmes of poverty alleviation as afore­mentioned. In the next section, we shall take a critical look at some of them. It must be stressed that the programme(s) of poverty alleviation has (ve) components that apply to both the urban and rural dwellers. Thus, where poverty alleviation programmes are entirely rural based, we may also call them programmes of rural development. The need for art-appropriate rural development response to rural mal-development is undoubtedly related or is likely to give rise to the enunciation of poverty alleviation programmes. In Nigeria, it is in this combination plus, as has been stressed many times, the excruciating effects of the Structural Adjustment Programme that pushed for some of the measures that are reviewed hereunder.

Promotion and Outcome of Poverty Alleviation Programmes of the Babangida Regime: An Analysis

Poverty alleviation is defined as “the lifting of the poor out of poverty.” (Egware, op.cit.: 491.) This definition implicitly assumes that a poverty alleviation process can lift someone from a poor to a rich status. But can this really happen or to what extent is this feasible? Or putting the same question across in a slightly different fashion: does the author assume that poverty can be banished? It is very unlikely that the phenomenon of poverty can be banished from the face of the globe, Nigeria inclusive, giving the extant social systems (capitalism and the remnants of pre-capitalist social formations) that pervade the whole place. This is not to argue that, depending on the type of programme put in place, some people may not be literally lifted from poverty into affluence. This is also not to argue that historically either capitalism or its forebears as social systems has not altered the balance of class forces, wherein some poor people became rich and vice versa, instead, therefore, of seeing or implying that poverty alleviation measure would lead to the banishing of poverty, it should be defined as a process or a programme, which is aimed at blunting the sharp edges of poverty. At best, this is what the poverty alleviation programmes we are about to examine strove to do.

In the literature on poverty alleviation, two approaches for carrying out the process have been identified and analyzed; they are, respectively, alleviation through economic growth; and alleviation through redistribution. (Egware, ibid.) The first approach is generally problematic as it is hinged on the growth performance of the economy. In other words, it is anticipated that economic growth shall engender some “trickle down” effects through which the poor shall, as a result, derive some benefits and be “lifted up” the rung of the social ladder. Except where economic growth is consciously accompanied by redistribution – i.e., the second approach – the trickle down process is and has not guaranteed an automatic success. It is a tinkering or tokenist process, which may succeed with sustained (rather than a flash-in-the-pan) growth phenomenon. Poverty alleviation through redistribution, also tokenist, can itself face challenges, especially from some powerful and vested interests who would not like to be “robbed as Peters (the rich and the powerful) to pay the Pauls (the poor and the less influential).” It thus requires a serious commitment (a strong political will) from the leadership embarking on it. We shall see in due course where the measures we are going to analyse below fall in these two broad categories.

Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI)

Among the poverty alleviation programmes the Babangida Administration put in place, there was the Directorate of Foods, Roads, and Rural Infrastructures (DFRRI). Decree No.4 of 1986 with the following objectives established it:

  1. to identify, involve and support viable local community organisations in the effective mobilization of the rural population for sustained rural developmental activities, bearing in mind the need for promoting greater community participation and self-reliance;
  2. to identify areas of high production potential for the country’s priority food and fibre requirement and to support production of such commodities along agro-ecological zones within the context of one national market with unimpeded inter-state trade in farm produce;
  3. to formulate and support a national feeder and network programme involving construction, rehabilitation, improvement and maintenance, especially in relation to the nation’s food self-sufficiency programme as well as general rural development;
  4. to formulate and support a national rural water supply programme together with a national on-farm storage programme with emphasis on full involvement of local communities and local government personnel to ensure sustained maintenance of existing infrastructure;
  5. to identify and promote other programmes that would enhance greater productive economic activities in the rural areas as well as help to improve the quality of life and standard of living of the rural people; an
  6. to encourage contribution of labour, time and materials by local communities to be completed by a system of matching grants from the directorate and the local state governments. (Cited in CBN, cit: 49-50.)

Among the achievements of DFRRI from 1986 to 1993 we can include the construction of 90,857.40 kilometres of feeder roads at the sum of N720 million; the provision of electricity over a thousand communities. Other achievements by the Directorate included the provision of potable water to another set of 22,267 communities at an estimated cost of N193 million; while 2,000 individuals were trained and equipped with skills to build an improved rural type of houses. Also, an estimate of 15,000 extension workers were trained (CBN, ibid: 50.)

It was however not correct as the CBN (ibid.) has argued, that one of the major problems of the agency was the shortage of funds to cover projects on a nation­wide basis. In terms of the figures provided in Olagunju, et al., (see Addendum D), from 1986 to about March, 1992, the Directorate was given budgetary allocations of N2,435,940,924.00 out of which actual releases amounted to N1,925,848,083.68 (which included a total sum of N101,216.007.18 as total interests on fixed deposits and treasury bills). What was actually disbursed represented about 79% of the total budgeted or less by the sum of N510,092,180.32. The apparent non-performance of the Directorate within its six to seven years of existence could hardly therefore be attributed to inadequate funding.

It is more probably the case that one of the problems that beset the Babangida Regime and one, which appears to have dented its integrity forever, i.e. corruption, also afflicted the Directorate. Much more fundamentally, a look at the first objective mentioned above, would make one assert (a most probable and correct assertion) that neither the people nor the communities did participate at all in deciding on the little that is publicly acknowledged to have been spent. With the extent of bureaucratization of the Directorate then, a high degree of participation of the people and the `benefiting’ communities would have been antithetical, to say the least.

The People’s Bank of Nigeria Limited (PBN)

The second most important agency for poverty alleviation put in place by the regime was and still is the People’s Bank of Nigeria (PBN) Ltd. Launched on the 3rd of October 1989, the enabling Decree stated its aims and objectives as follows:

  1. the extension of credit facilities to the less privileged members of the society who cannot normally benefit from the services of the conventional banks;
  2. the provision of opportunities for self-employment for the vast unutilized and underutilized manpower resources;
  3. to complement government efforts in improving the productive base of the economy;
  4. inculcate banking habit at the grassroot[s] level and reduce rural-urban migration; and
  5. to cushion the painful effect of the Structural Adjustment Programme on the poor (Sokenu, 1992:3.)

The performance of the PBN is depicted in Table 4 below (see table in Appendix E). The period reviewed covers 1992 to 1997. From the table, it could be seen that, in terms of branches, the bank increased marginally in 1994 to its stabilisation from 1995. In terms of loans and advances sanctions, it increased substantially in 1993 by 114.5%; although there was only a sluggish increase by 6.5% in 1994, before rising again by 90.8% in 1995. From 1996 to 1997, the growth rate in this component of its operations appeared to have stabilised at 2.9% in the two years. The Bank has not been too effective in mobilising deposit inabilities in any significant sense apart from in 1993 and 1995. In this component portrayed growth rates of 58.6% and 31.8%, respectively. The apparent poor performance in this particular regard could be explained by the fact that since the bank caters for the poor, who are a social category that are likely to be hard hit by the Structural Adjustment, Programme, they are likely to be also unable to save on a much greater scale than. this result or evidence. What however one cannot talk about with respect to loans/advances sanctions is the extent to which the first and the last objectives above were and are still being fulfilled.

The National Directorate of Employment (NDE)

It was set up in 1987 to address the problem of growing mass unemployment involving all categories of labour (skilled and unskilled), including university and graduates of other tertiary institutions as well as the disguised unemployed street hawkers, both in the rural and urban centres. According to the 1997 CBN’s Annual Report (1994:105), the NDE continued to forge ahead with its four core programmes – namely, the Vocational Skills Development (USD), Special Public Works (SPW), Small-Scale Enterprises (SSE), and the Rural Employment Promotion Programme. The report added that: “Available data from the NDE, showed that 106,904 people were recruited under the Vocational Skills Development ….Of these, 100,000 were recruited to strengthen the delivery of the National Open Apprenticeship Scheme; 606 were trained under the Waste-to-Wealth Scheme, 3,953 trainees completed the fourth cycle modular training from the school-on-Wheels, while 1,535 benefited under the Resettlement Scheme …. (CBN, ibid: 105 and 109.) It appears that, save for the fanciful names of the programme, nothing much could be ascribed to the NDE, as its contribution, concretely speaking, to solving the problem of unemployment, which currently has assumed immense dimensions.

The Better Life Programme (BLP)

This programme was the brainchild of the wife of General Babangida and it was set up in September 1987. It was broadly aimed at encouraging rural dwellers, particularly women to improve their standard of living via the promotion and formation of self-help rural development organizations; inculcating the spirit of self-development in rural women via the promotion of education, business management and recreation and the creation of greater awareness among the populace, about the plight of women in particular and rural dwellers in general. In addition, the programmes were put in place to bring women together to highlight their developmental problems and offer solutions through collective actions, educate them in simple hygiene, family planning and the importance of child care, and, above all, enlighten them on the opportunities and facilities available to them at the local level for improving and enriching their lives. (Cited in CBN, op.cit: 51.)

The Better Life Programme did not receive direct government budgetary allocation but relied on voluntary assistance from government agencies, international aid donors such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), McArthur Foundation, etc. In this sense, the BLP was a much better organised First Lady programme than the Family Support Programme (FSP) and its twin sister – the Family Economic Advancement Programme (FEAP) – which literally became conduits for siphoning public funds. Apart from this, what have been the achievements of BLP?

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (ibid.: 51-52), BLP “…impacted positively on the living conditions of rural dwellers and the rural economy of Nigeria in all its areas of focus such as growth in income per capita and agriculture and moderation of rural price inflation especially through improved supply of products to the rural markets. Unemployment rates of mostly illiterate women were also moderated, while marginal improvements were recorded in the nutritional and health status of the affected rural people. The health programme increased the overall awareness of and the immunisation of children and pregnant women.”

In the area of education, there was a marginal improvement in the literacy level of rural women and a remarkable improvement in recreational facilities such as parks, community television viewing centres and in cultural awareness. The social welfare aspect of the programme was also laudable as facilities were provided for the aged, disabled, and widows, motherless and abandoned babies. The incidence and problems of Vesico-Virginal Fistula (VVF), a product of early marriage, was brought into focus, as VVF clinics including mobile medical clinics were provided in a number of endemic areas. In the area of art and crafts, (the

programme) encouraged improvement and (their) exportation… via participation in international trade fairs and organisation of training programmes in export development for rural women entrepreneurs.

This favourably disposed assessment of the programme is rather unfortunate as it is only offered at the level of generalities. For example, the assessment should have been able to come up with data on the extent of the growth of rural incomes; the magnitude of improvement in the health status of the rural populace; the improvement in their literacy rates as well as the amount earned from export activities. Is one really sure or required to accept that what the “rural women entrepreneurs” were thought to have earned from the export activities did not actually accrue to the urban women who flocked into the rural areas to cheaply buy the art crafts (of the rural producers), which they would eventually sell very dearly in the international market? In addition, how many television-viewing centres were actually recorded in the rural areas that largely had and still have no electricity supplies? What was the level of consciousness that developed consequent upon the existing number of television centres? Uncritical reviews of this nature tend in large measure to obfuscate rather illuminate the issues as crucially relevant as poverty alleviation and rural development.

BLP, being unique in the annals of the country (having been initiated by the then First Lady) gained some international acclaim largely because of some media hypes attendant to its activities and/or that were effectively manipulated towards that end. Agreed that the initiator of the programme – Mrs. Maryam Babangida – was given an international award in 1991 for efforts adjudged to have yielded some positive impacts in the area of sustainable hunger reduction/prevention. Beyond that, actually, the annual celebrations of the programme only brought out the worst forms of inanity among the First Ladies from the various states of the federation as well as the invited dignitaries. It largely amounted to the chasing of shadows rather than their substance as shows put up at the annual celebrations merely caricatured the conditions of existence of the rural people generally. The rural women invited to such celebrations were more humbled and/or intimidated by the arrogance of the dignitaries calling the shots. Otherwise, if identification with the rural folks was sincerely contemplated, why was it that a more concrete gesture of holding the annual rituals, (even once) in the mostly poverty-stricken and the worst neglected parts of the country did not agitate the minds of the urban women and wives of the chief executives of the states? BLP was simply another avenue for some well- connected Nigerians (both men and women) to further milk the rural people dry and/or nest their feathers (referring to the exploiters from the urban centers).

Mass Transit Programme (MTP)

This poverty alleviation programme was set up in March 1988 to, among others, plan and advise the federal government on policy issues affecting urban mass transit planning, operation and management, formulate the overall national policy on urban mass transit, and implement federal government directives on mass transit generally. (CBN, ibid:58).

A mass transit programme is generally a good policy as it is aimed at evolving a transport system as well as its development, which would enable many people, especially the poor that cannot afford to buy their means of transport, to patronize the mass transit system. The Mass Transit Programme (MTP) could or has since been unable to direct its attention to the rehabilitation and the restoring of the country’s railway services. Even waterways ought to have been dredged and cleared of the water hyacinth, which appears to be blocking their effective utilization. Besides, the MTP is urban-biased, as it is largely intercity and/or inter-state focused. Neither the rural people nor the poor amongst them did enjoy-the putative benefits of the programme. Also, to the extent that rural settings were not the major concerns of the MTP, it had not been able to co-ordinate with DFRRI to develop sustainable feeder roads, which are more critical in poverty alleviation endeavours. Finally, MTP should be placed in its wider macro-economic context: can MTP be effective and efficient when inflationary rates were consistently high in the period under review? The composite consumer price index quoted in the CBN’s Annual Report and Statement of Accounts, 1997: 131 shows huge and high indices in respect of transportation. This means that Nigerians, particularly the poor, suffered a great deal and did not benefit from all the assumed favourable interventions by the MTP.

Summary and Concluding Remarks

The paper has been a critical review of the policies of the Babangida Regime as they might have affected the subject of Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development. The approach used is a historical one, which has tried to understand the background to the emergence of the Babangida phenomenon on the Nigerian scene. Also, an attempt was made to properly contextualise how Babangida’s perception of the “manifest destiny” of both his regime as well as that of the country led him to introduce and implement the Structural Adjustment Programme. In the course of the implementation of the SAP, it was discovered that vulnerable groups had swollen the ranks of the poor, who generally always reside on the fringes of the urban areas and also predominantly in the rural areas. To mitigate the effects of SAP, a number of poverty alleviation measures – such as DFRRI, BLP, MTP, NDE, NALDA, TAC, PBN, etc., were equally introduced and put into operation. A critical review of some of the policy measures has revealed that only a few of them were really addressed to the problems they were saddled with or that confronted the poor. The degree of dereliction was such that poverty and rural underdevelopment not only persisted during and continue to persist after the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida had left office, but also consolidated and has continued to consolidate.

At the beginning of the paper, we quoted Professor Uzoigwe, a Fellow of the Historical Society of Nigeria (FHSN), who has averred in a timeless remark that anybody can write his history, but that the main issue of historical reconstruction is the extent to which it is objective. Before and shortly after ex-President Babangida “stepped aside” in August 1993, both official and not-so-official historians had gone to work on his legacies (see, among others, Amuta, 1992; Babangida himself, op.cit.; Oyovbaire, op.cit.; Olagunju et. al., op.cit.; Umoden, 1992). Both the official and not-so-official accounts have tended to over-dramatise the good legacies of the regime. Discounting for the time being the fact that the regime was humiliated from office on the account of the fiasco attendant to its political transition programme (which programme has been conservatively estimated to have cost the tax payer a whopping sum of over N40 billion), the economic programme did not fare any better. SAP, in particular, made the poor poorer, with the middle class virtually wiped out of existence. As has already been argued elsewhere in this paper, it is a historical truism that no nation-state can progress economically without a vibrant middle class. With the virtual disappearance of the middle class whatever claim can be made for the economic legacy of the regime is of no consequence.

Besides, the judgment of history on the regime in respect of how it has treated the poor shall have to be based or examined on the constitutive factors that make the poor more prone to poverty. In other words, did the poor earn more incomes to escape the poverty trap, to enjoy more abundant life with decent housing, with road accessibility to their farms and therefrom, with uninterrupted electricity supply? (It must be emphasized that all these services are basic and minimum requirements for the self-actualisation of any human being. They cannot be claimed to be the exclusive preserves of the mighty and the rich in society, who always get them anyway.) This is the first issue when assessing the effectiveness or otherwise of his regime. The second issue is the extent to which there was an element of democracy in the design and execution of the programmes of poverty alleviation and rural development. Thirdly and in a related focus, to what extent did the poor optimise the democratic potentials inherent in those programmes? Both the answers to and the adducible evidence about these questions/issues are in the negative. One cannot but arrive at the conclusion that history shall continue to record a verdict of failure for the Babangida Regime – contrary to the initiative it took to sponsor official and non-official historians -to distort the historical process in its favour. This verdict will also be without prejudice to the unique boldness, characteristic (but reckless) innovativeness and unsolicited experimentations (that have cost us more than the assumed benefits accruable therefrom) exhibited throughout the regime’s tenure. (See Table 1,2,3, & 4 in Appendix F)

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