President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday said a large proportion of Nigeria’s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few people living in four or five states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The President said this at the opening session of the 25th Nigerian Economic Summit held in Abuja.
Some finance and economic experts, however, said the level of inequality in the country could be addressed through investment in education and the Small and Medium Enterprises sector of the economy.
The President said, “Nigeria is a country with close to 200 million people living in 36 states and the FCT”. A significant proportion of Nigeria’s prosperity today is concentrated in the hands of a few people living primarily in four or five states and the FCT. Some of the most prosperous Nigerians are here in this room.
“This leaves the remaining 31 states with close to 150 million people in a state of expectancy and hope for better opportunities to thrive.”
He said his administration understood the need for Nigerians to have a better lifestyle, adding that this was why measures had been put in place to reduce the level of unemployment and poverty.
He said, “Today, many mistake prosperity for wealth. They are not necessarily the same. Experts and analysts explain economic trends by making references to indicators of wealth.
“Wealth, however, in its simplistic form is money or other assets. In recent years, global events have shown that when a society and its leaders are driven and motivated by these alone, the ultimate outcome is a divided state of severe inequalities.
“But a prosperous society is one where majority of its citizens have an acceptable standard of living and a decent quality of life.”
The President also used the occasion to affirm that to address population growth, security and corruption matters in developing economies, policies and programmes must be focused on promoting inclusivity and collective prosperity.
But the experts who spoke to our correspondent on the sidelines of the summit advocated increase spending in the education sector to reduce the level of poverty in the country.
A former Director-General of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Chijioke Ekechukwu, said that for Nigeria to lift many people out of poverty, there was a need for the government to make funds accessible to small businesses.
He said the stringent conditions usually attached to loans should be waived and the beneficiaries of the funds should get them at a single-digit interest rate of five per cent.
“To bridge the gap between the very rich and very poor, we need to start giving loans to the MSMEs at rates that will make it easier for them to grow their businesses.
“This would help to make sure we revive the middle-income class. The easiest way to create jobs is through the MSMEs. Government should give them long- term loans, grants and ensure the funds actually get to the beneficiaries and not politicians that will use them to do their constituency projects.”
In his comments, an economist, Mr Rislanudeen Mohammed, said that there was a need for increased investments in education to address the income imbalance.
He said, “We need more investments in education, particularly in the area of skills acquisition.
“Education is the key to sustainable growth and development. If we can get it right in that sector, the level of income inequality will reduce.”