Combating Rural Poverty & Hunger in a Recession: The Changes That Must Be made in Arochukwu

Mazi Ben Ezumah

Background: Nigeria is in dire straits. Anybody who thinks otherwise at this point is either being mischievous, self- delusional or perhaps just arrived from a lunar voyage. For one, all the economic indices concerning Nigeria presently are negative. Standard and Poor(S&P) in the first quarter of 2016 revised Nigeria’s sovereign outlook to B+ Negative. It further postulated that, “…Nigeria’s monetary policy has weakened the country’s credit profile…”

Also, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, “…Nigeria’s total merchandise trade reduced to N3.65trillion in the fourth quarter of last year(sic)(Q4,2015)compared to N4.02trillion in the previous quarter”. As at present-naira exchanges at 315:25 to the dollar at official rate, whereas the Black market rate stands at N415 to one US dollar. Nigeria’s foreign reserve in the first quarter of 2016 stood at $27.1billion indicating a dip of 2.6%.

South Africa overtook Nigeria as the largest economy in Africa in the second quarter of 2016. It’s noteworthy that this is happening roughly two years after Nigeria rebased its Gross Domestic Product placing itself ahead of South Africa as the largest economy in Africa. Now, South Africa’s GDP stands at $301bn while Nigeria’s is $270.

More Problems: Manufacturers Association of Nigeria in a statement in August averred that “…Foreign exchange restriction placed on 41 items by the CBN of Nigeria affected the business sector. Since then, about 272 firms had been forced out of business, 50 of which were manufacturing companies relocated to neighbouring countries.222small scale businesses have closed shop leading to 180000 job losses.” Add those numbers to the job losses in the banking and insurance sectors since the last quarter of 2015 to date, you begin to have an idea of the recent job losses on national scale which no doubt have compounded the  already terrible unemployment situation in the country.

Moreover, crude oil prices continue to hover around 40-45 dollars per a barrel, a clear indication that the country is in for a long winter. As a monolithic economy, Nigeria depends largely on crude oil sales as a foreign exchange earner. All in all, whether or not the country is “technically in recession” or “neck deep in recession” , or “approaching recession” are semantic expressions left for pundits and economists to handle, but the citizens who have seen their savings eroded by increasing prices of goods and services know better. The effect of the current economic woes is seen in the gross lack of investor confidence as many foreign companies have either closed shop and moved to Accra and other places, or merely running skeletal services locally. Succinctly put, the present economic hardship maybe around for some time to come as there seems to be no solution in sight. At least not as long as oil prices remain low and the country is unable to diversify its economy placing it on the trajectories of agriculture, solid minerals and perhaps tourism.

Impact on Rural Economy: In a recession such as the one Nigeria is in, rural dwellers or rather the poor who constitute majority of inhabitants in Arochukwu are often hit harder than urban dwellers. Majority of them have relatives outside Aro and depend on them for sustenance. But as the economic woes deepen, so do people,who make regular remittances from outside the town, have to adjust to the harsh economic realities. As a result, the rate of poverty, hunger and disease in a rural setting such as Arochukwu will no doubt climb steadily.

The way forward: Entrepreneurial education. Several indigenes in Arochukwu are entrepreneurially illiterate. Their daily retinues revolve around eating, drinking, holding talks in the name of meetings and retiring for the day. In other words, they are largely inactive and so very poor. Some raise the retiree flag as excuse not to engage in worthwhile ventures that can make money for them. Truly, sedentary life style or inactivity is a major cause of many diseases leading to untimely and ill-prepared deaths among many residents in Aro.

Thus, entrepreneurial education is key in addressing the tripartite problems of poverty, hunger and disease in Arochukwu. Village meetings can move from the traditional meeting mode and formalize as Co-operatives so as to position themselves properly for micro-credits from micro finance institutions. Such co-operatives can go into Animal husbandry-cows, goats, sheep, rabbits, grass-cutters, poultry, snailery etc. They can also organize themselves to focus on cassava production, garri processing, fish pond business, palm wine business, meat processing and packaging, etc.

The aphorism that, “Tough times don’t last, only tough people do” is simply true and makes a lot more sense now. There is no trade or job that should be beneath someone whose priority is survival-to keep the “body and soul” together.  Nd’Igbo went through a brutal civil war and survived, and so I strongly believe there is no economic or political condition that they cannot weather through. But the secret is determination and hardwork. I’m often piqued by comments such as, ”nwa aro anaghi ari elu.” What nonsense is that? We must do away with sentiments and practices which encourage laziness or slothfulness.

Apprenticeship/Mentorship: The secret behind Igbo entrepreneurial prowess lies in the sustainability of apprenticeship and mentorship schemes. Aro people must learn how these two work for other communities such as Ohafia, Abariba, Nnewi, Enugu-Agidi, Nsukka, Onitsha, etc. so as to stem the tide of high youth unemployment in Arochukwu. Young people must be patient, willing and ready to learn a trade or craft at the feet of their masters, so that in time they too can become masters. This is how the informal sector can grow and eventually reduce the high incidence of abject poverty,hunger,want and disease in the community. The legion of young people who are unemployed within Arochukwu community can be trained and placed on the path of personal development and responsibility through apprenticeship and mentorship schemes co-ordinated perhaps, by Nzuko Aro or other Aro based organizations. This must be seen in the wider sense of security, health and social imperatives of the community.

Farming/Agro allied businesses:  Arochukwu lacks adequate land space for large scale farming. However, people interested in Agriculture related businesses should not be discouraged by that. The Israeli example has shown that high yield is not dependent on land space, but on the right application of farm inputs. Thus, education is needed so that our people can maximize the benefits in the use of their farm lands through the use of improved varieties and technologies. Unemployed graduates interested in farming/agro-allied businesses can organize themselves into co-operative societies and approach financial institutions for low interest loans.

Prior to then, the necessary changes must take place in the minds of majority of people, so as to usher in a new wave of entrepreneurial activities that will definitely reduce the high incidence of poverty, hunger and disease in Arochukwu. A community can decide, through strategic planning and hard work to make itself prosperous and live happily -and far above national economic indices calamities or woes. It can be done.

About author

Ben Ezumah

Ben Ezumah was born in Arochukwu, Abia state, Nigeria. He attended Holy Ghost College, Owerri (1983). His first degree was at University of Jos (1990) where he obtained BA (Hons.) in English and Linguistics combined honors. He obtained Post Graduate Diploma (PGD) in Journalism from the International Institute of Journalism, Abuja. (2003) Post Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) from the University of Abuja (2005), Master of Science (MS) Adult Learning in English as a Second Language (2015) from Walden University, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.(2015). As a result of his inter-disciplinary works and specializations, he can rightly be described as a Journalist, Educationist, Playwright, Essayist, Creative Writer, Linguist, Biographer and Poet. Some of his publications include though not limited to: Meditations of an Old Prostitute-a Collection of Poems (2002), co-author: Perspectives on Aro History and Civilization-the Splendor of a Great Past-Volumes 1,2&3(2001),2003)&(2007)respectively. Wedding-Bells that Never Rang (2013). Ben Ezumah was the pioneer Editor, Aronews for about ten years. He is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors,(ANA) Nigerian Environmental Society(NES) among several others.

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