Senate Poverty Alleviation Committee

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SENATE COMMITTEE MEETS PRESIDENT OBASANJO



The Senate Committee on Poverty Alleviation in Nigeria recently met with President Olusegun Obasanjo at State house, Abuja.  Following is the Committee Chairman's address at the meeting.

AN ADDRESS BY THE SENATE COMMITTEE
ON POVERTY ALLEVIATION AT ITS
MAIDEN MEETING WITH MR. PRESIDENT

1.  We congratulate Mr. President on his laudable people-oriented programmes in general, but more especially on his anti-corruption posture and his poverty alleviation programme.  We, as a committee and as individual senators, appreciate, with all sense of responsibility and patriotism, the multi-dimensional nature and enormity of the problem, and pledged our unwavering support to Mr. President.

2.  We agree with Mr. President that the process of fighting poverty must be considered in a holistic framework.  Furthermore, we believe that this should be ordered within an integrated process of widening the options and opportunities available to individuals, social groups, and whole communities. More importantly, we believe that the essence of poverty alleviation lies in
psychologically energizing our people, technically equipping them and materially empowering them to exploit the enormous resources of our great
country for wealth generation.

3.  From the outset, we must make up our minds to succeed.  Therefore, we must curb greed and corruption at all tiers of government to ensure that resources and programmes meant for poverty alleviation reach the target population and are judiciously expended with transparency, honesty, and accountability.  We must de-emphasize elitism, and should not politicize the programme; but rather, involve and carry along the people in our rural areas and even putting them in the forefront of the programme, as the programme is essentially theirs.

4.  We urge the government to put in place the relevant infra-structure to ensure food security for every household; provide good and sound education for both children and adults; and intensify its efforts at fighting disease, especially communicable and environment-related diseases.  Of course, the provision of regular electricity is a sine qua non.

5.  We commend Mr. President for streamlining and rationalizing the various existing institutions/agencies set up by previous administrations to achieve better focus and efficiency.  We particularly laud the proposed establishment of the Small and Medium-Scale Industry Development Agency as a core poverty alleviation institution, and applaud Mr. President on his intention to make the first nine (9) years of formal education compulsory throughout the country.  The President may, in addition, wish to put in place a school curriculum that would incorporate programmes aimed at inculcation of rural occupational skills with comparative advantage so that school leavers could be equipped for rural self-employment.  Our educational system should, in general, be focused at creating more of the job-creators and less of job seekers.

6.  We see Mr. President's idea of creating the Poverty Alleviation and Eradication Council, headed by himself and composed of other high-ranking members of the Executive Council, as an eloquent testimony of his seriousness and commitment.  We, however, believe that whatever government's thinking and input, the engine-room of wealth-creation and the best employer of labour is the private sector.  Therefore, government should, as a matter of priority and urgency, stimulate and encourage the private sector by creating an enabling business environment.

7.  We must create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the organized private sector, and especially in the informal private sector.  The poverty alleviation programme should of necessity take note of this.  It must be toiled to the local environmental circumstances.  Poverty is much more in the rural areas than in the urban centres, therefore the Local Government Areas should be the target, with states overseeing what goes on at the Local Government level, while the Federal level ensures that the activities in the local Government Area conform to natural guidelines and policy.

8.  We have identified four major sectors for immediate exploitation -
Transport, Agriculture, Skills training on the job, and small and medium scale enterprises.  There could be more, but work along these should go along way to making the requisite impact.

9.  TRANSPORT:  We should embark on a deliberate programme of training professional Drivers and motor cyclists, and empowering them with mini-buses and motorcycles on generous/ liberal repayment terms.  This will absorb several thousand of unemployed youths, and reduce the present transport problems.  It is envisioned that a driving school should be set up to train and retrain drivers and motor-cyclists in each SENATORIAL DISTRICT and initially 100 drivers per state and a minimum of 50 motor-cyclists per LGA should graduate from these driving schools.  This will also create job opportunities for the INSTRUCTORS.

In addition to the foregoing, we should have a large number of youths for training in motor vehicle maintenance (mechanical, electrical, bodywork and spray painting etc).  Graduates of such training scheme should be empowered with tools, and settled in well-equipped and well-managed workshops at strategic sites, and with liberal repayment terms.  For this purpose it will be necessary to set up a well-equipped Vocational Training Centre per Senatorial District.  Slight adjustment may be necessary in
Riverine/amphibious States.

10. AGRICULTURE:   Unemployed youths and rural women could be engaged in: -

a.  Crop Framing: in well-planned farm settlement using the school-to-land experience introduced in Rivers State in 1984.  In addition, we should revisit the first Republic experience with agricultural Institutions by setting up (One) Agricultural Institute per  Senatorial District with comparative advantage to look after local Farmers in their catchment areas.  Local farmers should be encouraged by the provision of tractors hiring services, fertilizer and insecticides, irrigation pumps for dry season farming, Ox an plough in such areas that need them.

b.  Fisheries: should be boosted by organizing local and intending fishermen into cooperatives and exposing them to fish ponds (aquaculture) and Trawling in well-planned fishing ports with emphasis on fish catching, preservation, processing and marketing.

c.  Poultry: should be encouraged.

11.    SKILLS TRAINING ON-THE-JOB.   Major players in the  engineering field-Civil, Electrical, Mechanical, Marine, etc could be engaged with tax and other incentives to take on youths in their (major) operations for skill-training.  Graduants from such programme should be encouraged with tools and special percentage of contracts.  This should be coordinated by the NDE.  Apart from the foregoing, it is also necessary to introduce business and commercial skills training.


12. SMALL AND MEDIUM SCALE ENTERPRISE:   There should be soft loans for people in the hospitality industry and general commerce.  There should be small and medium scale industry development coordinated by SMIDA in well-serviced industrial estates, initially one per Senatorial District as a strategically located centre.  In addition, major industrial outfits (the Oil companies, the Smelting Companies, NAFCON etc) should set up feeder industries relevant to their operations, and such gesture should be coordinated by SMIDA and attract reasonable tax free relief and other incentives for such outfits.  The Nigerian Tobacco Company (NTC) experience should be replicated.

13.   These are areas we would want Mr. President to consider in addition to what he has.  Lastly, we should like Mr. President to consider setting up a Poverty Alleviation Commission and vesting it with the implementation of this multi-faceted programme.  Such a Commission should report to the Poverty Alleviation and Eradication Council in  addition to what he has.

14. Finally, and once more we congratulate Mr. President and pledge absolute loyalty and unalloyed support in this laudable
people-oriented programme.

March 10, 2000

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