POVERTY AND RURAL LIVELIHOODS IN NIGERIA
The Global socio-economic indicators published periodically have consistently classified Nigeria among the poorest nations, despite the orchestrated position of the country among the oil rich OPEC nations. All the sub sectors of the economy fall below the internationally acceptable standard. These include the revenue per capital, budget for health and education, provision of portable water, housing, food and nutrition, literacy level, unemployment, proportion of the different cadres of health professionals to the population, and other infrastructure and welfare packages. There is high infant and maternal mortality rate.
Poverty Situation in the Rural Communities
The year 2006 national census figures, rate Nigeria, with its 141 million populations as the world’s most populous black nation. Over 60% of Nigerians live in the rural communities. The population explosion with annual growth rate of 3%, overstretches the already poor and inadequate infrastructure and economy.
Record keeping and data generation and publishing is almost non existent and that published even nationwide is an underestimation and unreliable because the people depend traditionally on oral information. The people are just trying to learn the usefulness of data, its production, collection, compilation and publishing. The required materials and the necessary manpower lack. Consequently it is not useful at this stage to ask for written indicators so as to justify the extent of poverty. Just a sojourn among the rural communities would unveil the miserable situation, by far worse than the regrettable living conditions in the urban cities of Nigeria.
Means of livelihood
The inhabitants of the rural communities are peasant farmers, engaging in strenuous labour to produce crops for domestic consumption. The produce are also sold in local market so as to be able to buy some other needed items, food and materials.
The astronomical population rise has caused the reduction of the quantity of available farm lands which are over cultivated with the consequent reduction of yields. Fertilizers from the government are within reach of the urban rich who in turn inflate the prices which the rural poor could hardly afford.
Traditional crafts such as weaving with cotton wool, raffia palm trees, bed building from palm tree bamboos, brooms, basket making, carved furniture, different kinds of mats for roofing, ceiling of houses, musical instruments such as wooden gongs, xylophone, drums and many others are fast reducing its importance because modern industries and
technologies of the urban areas have introduced the models which are refined, attractive and massively produced.
Consequently, revenue from these traditional crafts are poor and discouraging.
– Blacksmiths traditionally produce farming implements and hunting weapons. But these too are being replaced with modern technologies from the industrialized world.
– Deforestation and ecological changes have further rendered scarce the number and species of bush animals. Hunters can no longer count on this profession for survival.
– Different types of edibles such as oranges, pawpaw, mangoes, coconuts, bananas and plantains are now purchased in bulk by the urban rich, thus rendering these beneficial food scarce in the rural areas. The peasants prefer selling them so as to generate money for school fees, clothes and for some other household needs. The food values are missed to increase the malnutrition and anemia in the rural areas.
Seasonally, nature provides abundant varieties of foods such as mushroom, snails, different kinds of vegetable leaves and many others to the rural communities. Unfortunately again these are little consumed and sold off to the scrambling and exploiting urban traders.
– Excess foods such as maize, melon, are wasted as processing and preservation are not possible.
The use of children prematurely to sustain the economic life of the family: such as street hawking, child labour
Extramarital sex for money from the rich, professional commercial sex trading stealing, extortion and bribery.
– Petit trading with inadequate capital and in times of competing economic needs, the whole capital can be consumed, leading the family to worse hardship.
– Traditional savings and loans system, whereby members make certain saving contributions weekly, borrowing is allowed with attached interest. Individual houses may be used as banks and with the danger of loss to thieves and natural disaster. The modern banking system is yet to have influence over the rural population, who moreover have no easy access to the banks.
– Production and sale of palm produce such as oil and kernels, cassava production and garri processing are additional sources of revenue to the rural people.
– Payed local labour is also provided by the parents and young adults. The services include, bush clearing, crop cultivation, house building, fetching of water, etc.
– Some people also survive through medical practices as herbalist, traditional birth attendants and fortune tellers. If the costs are not affordable, the client might mortgage part of his farmland which sometimes is finally lost to the health care provider.
Medical quacks, however, abound in the rural communities and their practices have often leaded to disabilities or even loss of lives. What is most pathetic is that the culprits disappear with impunity.
The ignorant poor inhabitants often fall victim to crooks and deceivers.
Nevertheless, these alternative services are resorted to, especially, if there is no money to access the proper health institutions.
– Rural roads are generally poorly maintained and inadequate to provide access to the urban areas to export the produce from the rural inhabitants. Transport means are few and expensive.
Television and radio set are owned by a few while most areas lack electricity. All these limits access to information and communication through electronic media. Newspapers are also scarce even though a handful of people could read them.
Health facilities are inadequate in number and types
Secondary (government hospitals), clinics, maternity, medical laboratory, pharmacies eye and dental clinics etc in all the 744 Local Governments in the country. The distribution of these facilities are also uneven while health staff are grossly inadequate for the different cadres. Consequently, there is problem of availability and accessibility of health services. For instance, for the 27 LGAS in Imo state, there are 19 general hospitals which are
moreover poorly equipped and understaffed. The cost of Medicare and transportation to distant centers worsen the accessibility.
The general inadequate and poor infrastructure results in high endemicity of diseases: malaria, communicable diseases and parasitic diseases, high infant and maternal mortality rates. Life expectancy is 50 to 55 years.
Nigeria has the world’s fourth large tuberculosis burden while the control of HIV/AIDS upsurge is a big task. The rural communities are helpless as national HIV control is yet to reach them. Ignorance, adherence to harmful culture and poverty make the rural communities most vulnerable. UNICEF is co-sponsoring the campaign against the six childhood killer communicable diseases but success is further reduced by opposing religious beliefs of anti-drug use, wrong notions that the immunization cause the illness or lead to sterility. There is also the wrong cultural belief that tuberculosis, leprosy and other diseases are punishment from the gods and therefore incurable while Tuberculosis, in particular is also a poison introduced into foods and drinks by the enemy. For these reasons, correct medical treatments are ignored.
Unhealthy cultural approach to food and nutrition result in the avoidance of beneficial foods such as eggs and cow meat by pregnant women; fruits, vegetable leaves and milk during the immediate postpartum or post operation with adverse health consequences of under nutrition and slow healing of wounds.
In the rural communities, there are few pit latrines while the generality of adults and older children defecate in the open farms and forests and the little children pollute the compounds. Faeco-oral transmission of intestinal worms abound therefore, as people march barefooted on the worm –infested excreta or the soil, the pollution of which is further spread by the flood water.
The polluted soil is also hand manipulated during sweeping, playing, crop harvesting and the improperly or unwashed hands are used to eat food.
The poor rural inhabitants are remarkably victims of skin diseases, especially among children as soap might be lacking, water for bathing or washing the clothes lacking or inadequate.
In some rural communities, much remarked in Ebonyi State Nassarawa, Benue, Kano and many other areas of Nigeria, disuse of schistosomiasis – polluted stagnant water is opposed culturally despite the sinking of bore holes for wholesome water by donor Agencies. These are some of the evils of ignorance, low level of literacy and erroneous cultural beliefs; which abound mostly in rural communities.
The need for birth control is ignored while the available land for cultivation and manuring with domestic wastes continue to be scarce because of population increase, disposal of the ever increasing solid wastes pose serious threat to life. The dumps provide breeding sites for rodents, snakes or collection of water for breeding mosquitoes here and there, these dumps by the way sides are unsightly, cause obstruction and may also cause physical injuries.
Schools and Education in the Rural Communities
“Free – education” is often a political talk which is not holistically practiced in most states. There are many school drop outs as parents cannot afford the cost of school fees and books. The learning environment such as lack of ceiling, windows,, broken building floors and leaking roofs does not encourage the pupils who often start playing truancy, abandon the school or end up in poor academic results. Some of these children are engaged in forced labour as house helps with attendant exploitations and the risky street hawking.
Most children captured from merchants of child trafficking and prostitutes come from this class of rural children. Note worthily, inhabitants of rural communities have little opportunities for costly and qualitative education.
The causes and consequences of poverty in the rural communities are numerous and diverse.
This is much limited to the traditional structure of the family, age grade and church meetings, folk stories at the end the days toils children play different types of traditional indoor games- and football .
It seems, however that the real social relaxation of couples is frequent sex and the production of many children, now difficult to nourish, clothe and generally cared for.
Traditional festivals are periodic and are occasions for meeting of friends, in-laws and family members to make merry and to thank God for blessings. Poverty alleviation slogan by the government is only heard but not seen or felt practically in most rural areas. The local government authorities show no interest in the development of the rural communities. No social amenities but multiple taxation for services not provided.
Food and Nutrition
Nutritional education is limited. Traditional attitude to food preparation and food imbalance remain endemic. Essential food components are ignored and nutritional deficiencies are rampant. The population increase in families render the available food inadequate in type quality and quantity. The family income cannot afford better diet.
Domestic animals are kept, not used for food but sold. Fruits are minimally eaten and the greater part sold to other users.
There is the compounding problem of illiteracy and lack of awareness of legal rights, a condition which is often exploited to further victimize the inhabitants of the rural communities.
The rural areas are increasingly becoming the hiding places of criminals, who rob, rape, injure and sometimes kill their defenseless victims.
Families are attacked by a large number of robbers who are armed with sophisticated weapons, such that neighbors become afraid to intervene, Government Law enforcement agents are scarce in the rural communities.
The inhabitants form security associations and members, in turn keep night watch and sometimes under the rain and risk of being attacked by the robbers.
In summary, from whichever perspective, the rural communities in Nigeria demonstrate poverty, deprivations and misery. Most of the problems are preventable and the general socio-economic situation can be improved. It would be recommended that interested rural development agencies should arm at addressing these issues.
There should be community sensitization / awareness creation, participation in the planning and implementation in order to promote ownership and sustainability of development projects in the communities.