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To tackle poverty, Africa needs welfarist policies and people-centred development – Akinwumi Adesina

President of the African Development Bank Group Dr. Akinwumi Adesina has appealed to leaders in Nigeria and across Africa to make poverty history as he outlined a compelling case for welfarist policies and people-centred development.

“Given the high levels of poverty in Africa, and Nigeria, what is needed are welfarist policies that exponentially expand opportunities for all, reduce inequalities, improve the quality of life of people,” Adesina said as he received the prestigious Awolowo prize for leadership at a colourful ceremony in Lagos on Wednesday.

Africa’s present and former presidents were among hundreds of guests who attended the award ceremony where Adesina delivered the Awolowo Foundation’s annual lecture on ‘Making a New Nigeria: Welfarist Policies and People-Centred Development.’

Among visiting Presidents were Azali Assoumani of the Union of the Comoros; Samia Suluhu Hassan of the United Republic of Tanzania and Sahle-Work Zewde of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The Prime Minister of Togo Victoire Tomegah Dogbe represented her country’s President Faure Gnassingbe.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who chaired the 2023 Obafemi Awolowo Prize for Leadership Award ceremony, described Adesina as a dynamic and visionary leader.

In his lecture, Adesina identified five critical areas that Nigerian and African leaders need to focus on to transform their economies and people’s lives: The transformation of the rural economy and food security, health security for all, education for all, affordable housing for all and government accountability and fiscal decentralisation for a true federalism.

Transforming rural economies, ensure food security for all

Adesina said a better Africa must start with transforming rural economies, “that is because some 70% of the population lives there. Rural poverty is extremely high. At the heart of transforming rural economies is agriculture, the main source of livelihoods.”

“When rural economies falter, nations falter,” Adesina warned, “this leads to the spread of anarchy and terrorists who take advantage of the economic misery to entrench themselves.”

He highlighted how the African Development Bank Group is supporting a farm revolution at scale across the continent. “We have invested over $8.5 billion in agriculture in the past seven years which has impacted 250 million people.”

“The African Development Bank and development partners are providing $1.4 billion for the development of 25 Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones in eleven countries,” he said.

In Nigeria alone, the Bank is developing these zones in eight of the country’s 36 states with $518 million. Another $1 billion will go into the second phase of the program which will cover 23 more states.

Health care for all

“Nigeria needs health care for all,” said Adesina, “smart governments provide universal basic health coverage for their citizens.”

He spoke about how sicknesses and diseases cost Africa $2.6 trillion in lost productivity.

Adesina also recounted how the Covid-19 pandemic caught Africa unprepared, unprotected and left at the bottom of the ladder when it came to the distribution of vaccines.

He explained the various initiatives the Bank Group introduced to address Africa’s health needs including a $10 billion facility to support countries to cope with the pandemic; a $3 billion program to revamp Africa’s pharmaceutical industries and the recent launch of the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation to support access to proprietary technologies from global pharmaceutical companies.

Calling on Nigeria to secure the health of all its population, Adesina said, “This will require ensuring that no citizen travels more than a few kilometers to find a health care center. The widespread use of mobile health centres, e-health facilities, the digitalization of health systems, especially in all primary health care centres, health insurance policies for all, including innovative micro-health insurance pay-as-you-go systems, will capture the bulk of the population that is in the informal sector.”

Education for all

Adesina wants Nigeria to provide education for all. According to the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF), Nigeria accounts for 15% of the total population of out-of-school children which includes over 10.2 million at the primary school level and 8.1 million at the Junior Secondary School.

“This is not a gold medal Nigeria should be proud of wearing,” he said and expressed concern about “the poor funding of universities, lack of basic infrastructure, poor incentives for lecturers and incessant strikes due to wage disputes, have almost crippled the university system.”

Adesina gave an example of the Bank Group’s investment of $614 million in Nigeria’s IDICE program to support the development of digital and creative enterprises. The program is expected to create 6.3 million jobs and add an estimated $6.4 billion to the economy of Nigeria.

Housing for all

Adesina told guests that welfarist policies are urgently needed to ensure all Nigerians have access to basic and affordable housing. He noted that according to data by the UN Habitat, 49 percent of Nigeria’s population which is equivalent to 102 million people, live in slums.

He said what people need is decent housing and not upgrading of slums. “There is nothing like a 5-star slum. A slum is a slum.”

Government accountability and fiscal decentralisation for a true federalism

The Bank Group president said, “Citizen’s accountability forums are needed for the people to have a say in how their nation’s resources are being used and how their governments are performing.”

To enhance transparency and accountability of governments to the people, the African Development Bank is developing a public service delivery index, which will rate governments on the quality-of-service delivery for citizens.

“If people pay taxes, governments must deliver services,” said Adesina.

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