Tackling poverty from the roots – The Role of Media1                                               By                     ...
relations, the structural and systematic allocation of resources among different groupsin society and their differential a...
greatest challenge that this process faces therefore is the extent to which itaccommodates a process that speaks truth to ...
empowerment of the poor for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of theeventual product.Ultimately, democratic and...
The fallout of this globalising trend for us is the breakdown of social capital andnetworks, privatization of security, pr...
3. The poverty reduction strategy must recognise the need to reconcile economic and   social development and enhance the i...
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Tackling Poverty from the Roots – the Role of Media

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Tackling Poverty from the Roots – the Role of Media

  1. 1. Tackling poverty from the roots – The Role of Media1 By ‘Kayode Fayemi2, Centre for Democracy & DevelopmentDear Friends and Colleagues from the Media,It is a pleasure to welcome you to this Media Training Workshop on PovertyEradication in Nigeria. This workshop is part of a series of activities in CDD’sProgramme on Poverty Eradication in Nigeria. It is informed by our belief that themedia has a crucial role to play in highlighting the depth and scope of poverty in ourcountry, with a view to ensuring that all stakeholders respond comprehensively to thefear of want experienced by all in the country. It is our view that the media can do alot more in this task, but it also needs to enter into partnership with other developmentmonitors in the country in order to keep the citizenry fully informed and better awareof the situation.Poverty in Nigeria is deep, widespread and multifaceted and we are all victims of it inone way or the other – the rich elite and the poverty stricken masses alike – althoughnot to the same degree. A cursory look at the available statistics paints a very gloomypicture of the nature and dynamic of poverty in our country. According to the HumanDevelopment Report 2002, no fewer than seventy percent of the Nigerian populationlive below the poverty line,(indeed the UNDP representative in Nigeria, ProfessorMbaya Kakwenda repeated the same figures two days ago in Osogbo, adding that thecountry’s poverty situation has deteriorated by 25% since the inception of thisadministration in 1999).Compared with the figure of 28.1 percent two decades ago,this is a very serious situation. Life expectancy in our country is 51.7 years and theHuman Development Index ranking places Nigeria in 148 out of 173 countries in2002.I have highlighted these figures just to demonstrate in very graphic terms the nature ofthe problem, even though they is a sense in which even these figures underestimatethe crisis, at least in qualitative terms. Although Nigeria remains the sixth largestproducer of oil and more oil is being discovered off shore; although our GNP is in theregion of $40-50 billion and we retain the potential to be the region’s engine foreconomic growth and development, the huge resources of this blessed nation haveseldom served the people of our country well.It is precisely because the resources have failed to deliver to the poor, either in termsof security and safety, health and education, good governance and development thatwe must stress that poverty is not just a statistical issue, horrendous as the figuresabove sound. Poverty is about people – ordinary Nigerians standing at the thresholdbetween death and despair. In our view, poverty is at its root bred by unequal power1 Being text of the Welcome Address to the Media Training Workshop on Poverty Eradication held atthe FSP Hotel, Ogba, Ikeja, December 18-20, 2002, organized by the Centre for Democracy &Development, Lagos, Nigeria with support from DFID Nigeria.2 Director, Centre for Democracy & Development – kfayemi@cddnig.org 1
  2. 2. relations, the structural and systematic allocation of resources among different groupsin society and their differential access to power and the political process. Thedistorted distribution of the nation’s wealth has resulted in the enrichment of aminority at the expense of an impoverished majority. There is no doubt that thechronic nature of poverty in Nigeria has a link to historical and continuingmismanagement of resources and corruption. In short, poor governance has had ahuge role to play in guaranteeing this parlous state of affairs.The implication of the above is that any attempt to take poverty reduction oreradication from the ambit of rhetoric to action must recognise the need to locate itwithin the governance framework, by bringing back politics into policy making. AsNigeria seeks to produce its strategy for poverty reduction, the media is one criticalplayer in ensuring that all Nigerians – in their various communities and constituencieshave a role to play in promoting a clearer understanding of the poverty situation. Aswe understand it, framers of Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers in the internationalfinance system, intend them as national statements of overall plans to reduce povertybased on a process of broad consultations with the people. While there remains agreat deal of scepticism about the extent to which PRSP represents a cure, rather thana panacea for poverty reduction like structural adjustment programs before it, the ideaof subjecting government policy to the yearnings and understanding of the mostaffected population is one that we in civil society broadly, but cautiously welcome.It is important in our view that we first understand what the poor themselves thinkpoverty is and their own strategies for long-term solutions to the problems of chronicand persistent poverty. Yet, consulting the poor and seeking their understanding ofpoverty is not an end in itself since consultation without participation throughindependent means of articulation and enforcement amounts to no consultationultimately. There is indeed some evidence to suggest that we already know what thepoor thinks of poverty in Nigeria. The Voices of the Poor investigations conducted bythe World Bank for the World Development Report 2000/1 demonstrate clearly thatthe poor have more nuanced perspectives on poverty. The poor, more than anyinterlocutor, understand the uncertainty, insecurity, marginalisation and powerlessnessthat come with poverty in society.Across the country, the priority areas for the poor also relate to how best to reduce theshocks that might upset their security: Lack of potable water; inadequate access toeducation; inadequate access to health, lack of rural feeder roads; unavailability ofmarkets for locally made goods; lack of processing facilities and lack of agriculturalinputs remain on the list of top priority for the poor. The interim poverty reductionstrategy paper prepared in 2001 by the Nigerian government (copies are in yourfolder) broadly reflects this view as captured extensively in the Voices of the Poorconsultation of 1999. Ironically, government policy so far, if one takes the efforts ofNAPEP as the central pillar of its poverty eradication work, reflects very little pro-poor schemes leading to poorly designed money guzzling schemes like ‘KekeNAPEP’ which can hardly contribute to poverty reduction scheme in the long-term.This problem of policy not matching the results of the consultation remains a majorcriticism of the PRSP approach in countries where they have been undertaken so far.A common complaint is that the consultations were neither deep nor widespread,hence the eventual decision on priority areas were also fundamentally flawed. The 2
  3. 3. greatest challenge that this process faces therefore is the extent to which itaccommodates a process that speaks truth to power and seeks to provide a nearaccurate reflection of the diversity and difference of opinions in various communitiesand constituencies in our country.This is where we see the most crucial role for the media. As the most articulatevehicle for addressing the peoples’ yearnings to their leaders, we see the media asproviding the necessary bridge in articulating the peoples’ views on poverty andlinking up with civil society institutions on bringing this issue to the public domain.Our own involvement in civil society, especially at the level of our organisation isinformed by our core values of building partnerships and bridging the gap betweengovernment and civil society. It is also a reflection of our role as facilitators andcatalysts for the development of the poor in our community. Whilst we commendGovernment’s current effort in placing the poor on the agenda, the policy incoherencein government also worries us. Indeed, it reinforces some doubts that the eventualproduct may not match the hype that has surrounded the process if they are notaddressed.This incoherence brings to bear on the process a great deal of uncertainty as to whatthe policy objective really is. NAPEP - the central organ of government tasked withthe responsibility of addressing the problems of the poor talks constantly about anagenda for poverty eradication, although its performance to date is anything butcommitted to poverty eradication. Other government departments talk of povertyreduction. Although it may seem in the realm of mere semantics, this terminologicalin-exactitude betrays the ideological and political underpinnings of these initiatives.For hard-headed monetarists who believe that poverty cannot be eradicated, theyconcentrate on excessively monetarist and fiscal paradigms which prevent the policyframework from tackling the real roots of poverty and thereby developing policyinstruments that tackle poverty on a systemic basis. Even those who talk oferadication in the system only appear to use it as a gimmick to hoodwink people intobelieving that their condition will be qualitatively better in due course. It is ourexpectation that the eventual product will seek to address the sources of risk thataffect poor people in a co-ordinated and integrated fashion, by breaking out of theincreasingly artificial separation between elimination, eradication and reduction. Awell informed media is needed to help break down this artificial divide whilst taking adevelopmental stance on the questions of poverty and its eradication in the country.Fortunately, the coordinators of the government PRSP process have repeatedlyreassured Nigerians that the production of the Full PRSP is not solely government’sresponsibility, but that of the Nigerian peoples’. The implication of this for us in civilsociety is that nothing is cast in stones and that this product will not be based onreceived wisdom from outside Nigeria. It means, in our view that we shall not make afetish of macro-economic stability, especially when the evidence in Nigeria suggeststhat such stabilization policies have not yielded any significant social and economicbenefit to the masses that suffer most from these policies. We hope it is a reassurancethat human resource development will be at the core of the strategy through theadoption and application of labour standards; promotion of equity through tacklingthe problem of low salaries and wages; tax policies that demonstrate commitment topoverty reduction; spatial distribution of new investments; a gendered understandingof the impact of poverty and solutions to poverty and capacity building and 3
  4. 4. empowerment of the poor for the purpose of monitoring the implementation of theeventual product.Ultimately, democratic and good governance is pivotal to poverty eradication inNigeria. Without a doubt, the capacity of governments to govern can make a crucialdifference both to the trajectory of poverty and to its impact on equitable resourcedistribution. There is ample evidence in the literature to demonstrate that wheregovernments of have ceased to exist, acute physical insecurity for ordinary individualsand communities is exacerbated, and this leads to the loss of basic services like healthand education, destroys physical and social capital and produces widespread povertyand immiseration.The greatest assets against shocks and disasters ultimately lie with the development ofhuman resources, better management of natural resource endowment and respect forlocal ownership of the reform agenda whether in determining the role of the State orin arriving at the most effective poverty reducing mechanisms. It is also useful toexamine and analyse individual situations on their merit, rather than assume adogmatic line on privatisation. This is of course not to suggest that market has no rolein reforming states structures. It is to say that there are no universal models of themarket as providing the best assets against shocks and disasters. Consequently,formulating realistic policies that are not driven by dogma will be central to theeventual ownership of this process by Nigerians.Yet, as we focus on how to eradicate poverty in Nigeria, we must also not forget thatwe are not an island to ourselves, especially in this age of globalization. Our ownview is that even when we get things right in Nigeria through the design of a politicalstrategy and policy position that ultimately approximates to what our people want,this has to be located within a wider global framework.Conventionally, poverty reduction has been promoted through a lop-sided focus onmacro-economic stability strategies like Structural adjustment reforms, electoraldemocracies and support of measures that seek to provide the enabling environmentfor foreign direct investment and the global integration of the economy – in short, amutual pursuit of political and economic liberalisation. So far, the logic of trickledown economics has failed to produce an integrated world economy in which allzones are winners.This clearly contradicts the core assumption of globalization that wealth wouldautomatically be created when the free market gains universal acceptance in theworld. By arguing that the best way to build assets against shocks is not via thecreation of local self sufficiency, but for national economies to concentrate on whatthey can contribute to the world economy, globalisation ignores the comparativeadvantage of the North, locks states of the global South into relative powerlessness bycreating conditions for conflict which further weakens the mediatory role of the statesand extends the poverty frontiers. Instead, it empowers those elites within the statewho can form part of the convoluted network in business and government capable ofacting independently of the juridical state. We have seen that all too well in the lastforty years of Nigeria’s independence. 4
  5. 5. The fallout of this globalising trend for us is the breakdown of social capital andnetworks, privatization of security, proliferation of arms and narcotics, all of whichultimately undermine food security, environmental security and the security of theindividual. It has also helped in deepening the rural-urban divide, fostered inter-generational strife occasioned by youth frustration and exacerbated the scourge ofrefugees and the internally displaced, all of which have moved the hapless below thepoverty line and moved them closer to violence and conflict. Seeing the kidsresponsible for the carnage in Kaduna in the last few weeks, we really don’t need anyfurther evidence that it is the future of the country that we are endangering with nostrategy to arrest the frustrations of our youths. Joining international anti-povertycoalition is therefore part of our overall strategy in civil society in our quest forsustainable development and we hope our friends in the media will see the criticalimportance of connecting our local experience to the global experience in highlightingthe dangers of the path we are currently trodding.In conclusion, let me reiterate our view that we are at a crucial juncture in the effort tomove from a transitional phase of our civilian rule to a consolidated phase of ourdemocracy. The extent to which we reduce the poverty levels in our country has adirect correlation to sustainable democracy in Nigeria, and the failure to do so byimplication is also directly correlated to democratic reversals. Yet, we also believethat it is possible for all of us to be winners in the poverty eradication campaign. Infact, it is in our interest as members of the elite stratum in society(media and civilsociety, all) to ensure that poverty is wiped out in our society and on the face of theearth. This is not utopian thinking and the first step to take to ensure that this happensis the empowerment of the people to take control of their lives. Raising awarenessthrough every medium – radio, television, newspapers, community papers represent amajor way in doing this. But in order to empower, the media must also beempowered with the appropriate and accurate information on the nature of theproblem and the various solutions possible. Until we move power from the centre tolocal communities and constituencies, it would be difficult for us to tackle the rootcauses of poverty. The thrust of our own approach therefore is to work with localcommunities in defining and articulating a nuanced understanding of poverty andadequate responses to it.This said, we are committed to participating in this process but we also want tounderscore the importance of producing alternative frameworks that can helpgovernment sharpen its own findings whilst working in synergy with civil society andother critical stakeholders.Based on the above comments, I hope this workshop will help us in tackling some ofthe most critical aspects of involving the media in this work. This can only be done,in my humble opinion, if we take the following lessons derived from my reflectionabove to heart, namely:1. There is a need for conceptual clarity through a comprehensive approach to any anti-poverty strategies in policy and development circles and the media must help promote this;2. Ultimate poverty eradication is only possible in the context of local empowerment and fiscal decentralisation; 5
  6. 6. 3. The poverty reduction strategy must recognise the need to reconcile economic and social development and enhance the input of non-state actors – in policy formulation to enhance social capital rather than entrench the leverage of donor agencies on States;4. The Poverty reduction strategy must problematise the link between globalisation and poverty reduction, rather than assume that it is always going to be positive in the promotion of pro-poor growth;5. The Poverty reduction strategy must locate the poverty agenda within the democracy and development framework by bringing back accountable politics into policy making;6. An empowerment approach to poverty reduction is a process, whose results will not necessarily be immediate; hence the need for a long term view by interested stakeholders and anti-poverty strategists.I thank you for listening and wish you successful deliberations. 6

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