There is the general belief that most people who are in rural areas live in extreme poverty. This may not be totally correct. But the social conditions in the rural areas could make one think so. Despite its natural resources and oil wealth, poverty is widespread in Nigeria. The situation has worsened since the late 1990’s to the extent that the country is now considered as one of the twenty poorest countries in the world. Over 70 per cent of the population is classified poor, with 35 per cent living in absolute poverty.
The people in rural areas are most affected. Most of them are day labourers, subsistence farmers, herdsmen and migrant workers. They struggle to meet their basic needs everyday. The rural dwellers suffer from hunger, ill-health, illiteracy, instability and low self-esteem as well as marginalization from government.
Poverty is especially severe in rural areas where social services and infrastructure are limited or non-existent. The great majority of those who live in rural areas depend on agriculture for food and income. They cultivate tiny plots of land for survival, and depend on rainfall rather than irrigation system.
A high proportion of rural people suffer from malnutrition and other diseases that are related to poor nutrition. The HIV / AIDs pandemic has also taken a heavy toll on the rural population.
Rural poverty is a global phenomenon. It is however, rampant in developing countries than in developed countries. Rural poverty is often associated with poor infrastructures that hinder development and mobility. Rural areas tend to lack sufficient roads that would increase access to agricultural inputs and markets. Without roads, the rural poor are cut off from all forms of development- social, economic and technological development.
Poor infrastructure hinders communication, resulting in social isolation of the rural poor, many of whom have limited access to media and news outlets. Such isolation hinders integration within urban society.
Moreover, poor or non-existent irrigation system threatens agricultural yields because of uncertainty in the supply of water from crop production.
Rural development has long been neglected in Nigeria. This is because investments in health, education, roads, water supply and other social amenities have largely been concentrated in the cities. As a result, the rural population has limited access to safe drinking water, good roads, good health system, and quality education among others.
Even though most of the consumable items come from the rural areas, lack of good roads constitutes problem to free flow of food from the rural areas to the urban centres. This usually forces the prices of foodstuffs upward.
As the population swells up and puts pressure on diminishing resources, escalating environmental problems further threaten food production. Land degradation as a result of extensive agriculture, deforestation and overgrazing, is already at an alarming level in many parts of the country, most especially in the North.
It is obvious that the rural dwellers suffer a lot and government should see to their needs by providing the necessary social amenities that would improve their standard of living.
I believe strongly that if poverty is reduced to its barest minimum, civil unrest, ethnic tensions that continue to brew in different parts of Nigeria, leading to state of insecurity will abate.
It should be noted that the move towards political liberalisation has made militants from religious and ethnic groups to express frustrations more freely and with increasing violence that claims thousands of lives.
In Niger Delta, which is the hub of oil industry, oil theft and bunkering, vandalisation of oil pipelines and other dastardly acts have become the order of the day. A number of acts of sabotage have been carried out against the multinational oil companies by groups seeking a greater share of the oil resources. All these menace usually arise out of frustration and poverty.
Prisca is a student of Mass Communication, Rivers State University of Science & Technology, Port Harcourt.