Former Chief Economic Adviser to Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Prof. Magnus Kpakol has had his say on the poverty level in Nigeria.
In a recent interview, Magnus said we can only kill poverty in Nigeria if the government can concentrate on human capital development.
He added that without proper data, government policy decisions will always be based on political and other sentiments.
See what he had to say on his expectations for Nigeria, “I had very high expectations because you would recall at that time, we had just come out of military rule and everybody was excited that we had democracy, although I didn’t come right away, I came a couple of years after that had happened. Also I never had any intention of coming back to work. I probably thought I could do some consulting down the road but as things happened, before I knew it I was in Nigeria as Chief Economic Adviser to the President.
I had great inspirations from President Obasanjo because I saw in him a man that was completely dedicated to the redemption of Nigeria after those many years of military rule and so that gave me a lot of excitement and there was this great aspiration as a result to achieving great things and I was privileged to go with him round the world. We travelled quite a bit, meeting strategic partners. So I had very high hopes for Nigeria.
And then the President had a very good team, very solid people, most of the areas were occupied by the right kinds of people. So we had great hopes for Nigeria. Looking back, you were at National Planning, NAPEP; what would you say were your experiences in terms of planning and execution of government programmes and projects? I think that people mean well but we don’t often work from practical realities. From the point of view of having correct information. So often times you find a government that is making decisions that are not evidence-based because the data are not readily available.
I think we have a little bit more data now than at that time, some of the data we had you couldn’t depend on them. With all due respect, at that time it was called The Federal Office of Statistics I was over it, it was more of my parastatal and I told the President that we had difficulties with the data.
You may recall I had a little skirmish trying to bring it to Abuja because it was extremely important for me that we are able to get good data. So often times we end up making decisions that are more emotional and more political than are practical because they don’t have the data. I want to be exact.
One of the real big things, if you really don’t have the data, then sentiment and emotions can move decisions because if I have the data I can tell you this is what the number shows and this is what it has to be. But when the data are not available then it is a matter of ‘I believe’, ‘I think’, ‘you think’. Somebody said our people are suffering.
Okay your people are suffering, I am not able to prove to you that they are not suffering because I don’t have the data. Okay, this people are suffering more than the other people. In my tenure at NAPEP (National Poverty Eradication Programme), I wanted to focus more on the North, I wanted to shift a lot of the resources to the North because I felt that they were poorer but I was told that you couldn’t because people are also equally poor elsewhere and you couldn’t really argue too much.”
On why poverty is getting worse in Nigeria, “The reason I think we are poor is because of serious deficiency in human capital. If we have to try to find one reason and pin it down and say this is what it is, I mean people can say it is mismanagement, we don’t have infrastructures, but as the World Bank has recently found, two third of the wealth of nations is really human capital.
So our problem is that we have not historically put a lot of emphasis into preparing the type of human capital that can create the economic value. What I mean by human capital is the body of knowledge that we have, the skills that people have, skills for being creative, innovative and be able to perform to create economic goods and services, to create value.
If you have to create a television or whatever you have to do, you have to first of all conceive it in your mind, then you process it, then giving your skill sets, you would be able to know where you can get the necessarily technologies to use, and knowledge and information, then you understand the season, the climate and the facilities that you can use.
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