Nigerian poverty rising despite economic growth

ABUJA Mon Feb 13, 2012 5:15am EST

Residents of the Makoko fishing community in Lagos stand outside their house, November 21, 2009.  REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Residents of the Makoko fishing community in Lagos stand outside their house, November 21, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

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ABUJA (Reuters) - Poverty in Nigeria is rising with almost 100 million people living on less than $1 a day, despite strong growth in Africa's second largest economy, data showed on Monday.

The percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty - those who can afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter and clothing - rose to 60.9 percent in 2010, compared with 54.7 percent in 2004, the national bureau of statistics said.

Although Nigeria's economy is projected to continue growing, poverty is likely to get worse as the gap between rich and poor in Africa's largest oil producer continues to widen.

"It remains a paradox ... that despite the fact that the Nigerian economy is growing, the proportion of Nigerians living in poverty is increasing every year," Statistician General Yemi Kale told reporters in the capital Abuja.

"NBS estimates that this trend may have increased further in 2011 if the potential positive impacts of several anti-poverty and employment generation intervention programs are not taken into account," Kale said.

Corruption is rife in Nigeria and for decades politicians have focused on milking cash from crude oil exports, which average more than 2 million barrels per day, rather than developing infrastructure and creating jobs for locals.

Despite holding the world's seventh largest gas reserves, which could be used to generate power, Nigeria only produces enough electricity to power a medium-sized European city.

More than half of the country's 160 million inhabitants live without electricity, while the rest have to rely on expensive generators run on diesel supplies controlled by a small and powerful cartel of importers.

Tens of thousands of Nigerians protested for over a week in January against the government's decision to end subsidies on petrol imports, a decision welcomed by economists.

What started as a protest against fuel prices, quickly developed into anger over government corruption and poor governance and pressure has been building on President Goodluck Jonathan to tackle graft, particularly in the oil sector.

Jonathan has set up several committees and an audit report is being carried out on the national oil company NNPC. Many such reports have been ignored in the past and industry experts say it is unlikely endemic corruption will be reined in.

The protests came at a bad time for Jonathan who has been criticized for not getting a grip on increasingly deadly attacks by radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in the north.

Boko Haram, which wants Islamic law more widely applied in Nigeria, killed more than 250 people in January in a series of bomb and gun attacks in northern cities. It mostly focuses its violence on the police and other authority figures.

Poverty feeds the unrest because the sect is able to coax into its campaign disillusioned youths angry with a government which offers them little.

Data on Monday showed that the northeast and northwest, where Boko Haram originated, are the poorest regions in Nigeria. The southwest, which includes the thriving commercial hub Lagos, had the lowest levels of poverty.

(Reporting by Joe Brock; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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