_By Violet Osatohanmwen Obamwonyi_
Over the years, poverty has been a significant issue, particularly in developing countries like Nigeria, which have high economic disparities. Nigeria, still recovering from the 2016 economic recession, faced additional challenges in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, further impeding its economic progress. As the country grappled with the aftermath of the pandemic, it encountered more economic difficulties in January 2023 at the wake of the Central Bank’s currency redesign policy, and subsequently in May 2023, with the removal of the fuel subsidy by the federal government.
According to Trading Economics, in September 2023, Nigeria’s annual inflation rate reached a record high of 26.7%, from 25.8% in August. This surge was primarily driven by the removal of the fuel subsidy and the devaluation of the Naira against the US dollar. Food prices rose to 30.6%, the highest since August 2005, and other categories like transportation, housing, utilities, and miscellaneous goods and services also increased. This inflationary trend is contributing to worsening living conditions, limited access to education and basic services, subpar housing, informal employment, and overall declining living standards in Nigeria.
The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) report for the year 2022, by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), highlights issues of concern in the Niger Delta region. The report shows that while Edo State like other states in Nigeria, faces numerous challenges, its MPI is the lowest in the whole of the south-south region. The NBS report reveals that Edo has 1.4 million people living in multidimensional poverty, a figure representing only 35.4% of its estimated 3.9 million population. In comparison, states like Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Delta, and Bayelsa have higher figures.
The report shows Akwa Ibom with 5.08 million people (representing 71% of their 5.451 million population), Rivers with 4.4 million people (representing 62.4% of 7.47 million population), Cross Rivers with 3.44 million people (representing 75.6% of 3.8 million population), Delta with 2.73 million people (representing 50% of over 5.46 million population), and Bayelsa with 2.61 million people (representing 88% of 2.9 million population), living in multidimensional poverty.
Following the report, the question that has left readers, statisticians and citizens hazy, is how Edo became the state with the lowest MPI in the south-south amidst the economic challenges faced by the nation, and considering that the state is least in terms of oil revenue among the listed states above?
It is crucial to note that since the advent of the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration, Edo State has witnessed unprecedented developmental reforms initiatives which have contributed immensely to its low MPI. Governor Obaseki who is a technocrat has always been of the opinion that the region’s over reliance on the federal government allocation from mainly oil revenue, which has been dwindling for years, would lead to abject poverty if nothing is done. He therefore proposed that states in the region adopt a strategic approach which include; transparent and accountable governance through technology, responsible financial allocation, and investments in education, healthcare, job creation and skill development to uplift citizens from poverty.
In well guided steps to restore quality into the educational system, the Obaseki-led administration introduced the Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation (EdoBEST). This government-led initiative has equipped over 15,000 government teachers with pedagogical and technical knowledge to improve the quality of their lessons, thus ensuring all Edo children get quality education, regardless of their location.
EdoBEST 2.0 was subsequently implemented to address the needs of Secondary School students, enhance Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and tertiary education. The Edo-BEST@Home platform, an online variant of the program which allows pupils to pursue their lessons remotely, has received commendation from the World Bank. The success of EdoBEST made it become the only sub-national program in Africa to be included in the World Bank’s Accelerator Scheme.
To tackle the out-of-school menace that has raised the learning poverty level in the state, Governor Obaseki introduced the School O’clock initiative to ensure no child is left behind as far as access to education is concerned. In 2023 alone, Edo State Government has thus far renovated over 336 primary and junior secondary schools, built 200 blocks of classrooms and renovated 202 others, while several others have been penciled down for remodeling.
The Governor has overseen the upgrading of various tertiary institutions in the state, such as the Edo State College of Nursing Sciences, College of Agriculture in Iguoriakhi, College of Education, Abudu, among others. These efforts aim to enhance access to quality education and provide better learning opportunities for Edo State residents.
At the heart of its healthcare reforms, the Obaseki-led administration has revitalized Primary Healthcare Centers (PHCs) in the state, employing more healthcare personnel and furnishing these centers with cutting-edge facilities. This has led to the delivery of accessible and high-quality healthcare services to local communities. Additionally, the State Government has established the Edo State Primary Healthcare Development Agency (ESPHDA) to oversee all PHCs, enhancing their responsiveness to the primary healthcare needs of the people.
To reduce the financial burden on residents for healthcare, the Governor introduced the Edo State Health Insurance Scheme (EdoHIS), offering health insurance coverage for as little as N50 per day. The Governor has also enrolled all state workers on the health insurance scheme to ensure that workers have access to quality and affordable healthcare services.
To align with its vision of tackling housing inequality, the Obaseki administration developed the Emotan Garden City and the Coral City. These projects aimed at enhancing the quality of life of residents in the state, by offering affordable and appropriate housing solutions, have provided residents with cheaper housing infrastructures, making many low income earners landlords within a short time span.
To ensure that the state’s workers take home salary is sufficient for their needs in spite of the inflation, Governor Obaseki implemented a N40,000 minimum wage scheme, and a 33% upward review of salaries of workers across all grade levels in the state. The Government has not only increased the minimum wage as against the N30,000 approved by the federal government, but has maintained a conscientious payment of salaries and wages on or before the 26th of every month. In May 2023, the Governor announced the approval of a 13-month salary for all state’s workers.
To cushion the effects occasioned by the fuel subsidy removal, the Governor reduced office days for civil and public servants from five to three days, while they work remotely for the remaining two days. This he did to cut down on the high cost of transportation; a gesture which workers in the state enjoyed for a period of over four months until the launch of the free transportation scheme in the state. Records show that over 700,000 commuters have benefited from the state government’s free bus scheme in one month and about N314.7m have been saved by beneficiaries.
In line with the administration’s desire to create an investment-friendly environment, the Edo State Investment Promotion Office (ESIPO) was established in 2018. The Office which is dedicated to making the investment process in the state smoother, eliminating bureaucratic hurdles for investors, has successfully attracted and facilitated investments that have generated employment opportunities for the residents.
Its commitment to utilizing technology as a driver of economic growth has not only revived local businesses but also positioned the state as an innovation and opportunity hub. In 2021, the Office partnered with the German Development Agency GIZ to provide digital marketing training to Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs). This initiative proved fruitful, benefiting over 450,000 businesses through comprehensive training programs, workshops, seminars, and online courses.
Entrepreneurs in the state have gained vital skills for harnessing the potential of the digital realm. Consequently, these once-disconnected MSMEs are now proficient in using social media, e-commerce platforms, and online advertising, resulting in increased brand visibility, customer engagement, and revenue growth.
To combat youth unemployment and deter illegal migration while enhancing the lives of residents, the current administration set up the Edo State Skills Development Agency, popularly known as EdoJobs. Records revealed that from 2017 to 2022, a substantial number of individuals, approximately 227,308, have benefited from EdoJobs upskilling and empowerment initiatives.
These encompass the EdoJob Centre which involves job matching and placement, Edo Production Centre, offering vocational skills in manufacturing and construction, Edo Food and Agric. Cluster, providing opportunities in the agricultural sector, Edo Innovates and Tech Park, creating jobs through technology, Edo Future500, fostering entrepreneurship development, and the Victor Uwaifo Creative Hub and Soundstage, generating jobs through arts, culture, entertainment, and tourism.
In order to also boost employment in the formal sector, the Governor has hired over 5,000 young graduate professionals into various positions in the civil and public service.
Significantly, the government has initiated various projects, including the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA), Benin City Mall, Benin River Port in Gelegele Community, Saro Oil Palm Farm, Ethanol Modular Refinery, and Edo Radisson Hotel. These projects are expected to create numerous job opportunities for the people of Edo State, thus further reducing the MPI of the State.
These various interventions by the Governor Godwin Obaseki administration and many more not listed in this treatise, have contributed immensely in making Edo one with the lowest MPI in the south-south region of Nigeria.