Dimensions of Poverty in Nigeria


There is no precise and universally accepted definition of poverty due to its effect on many aspects of human endeavour. It is a multi-dimensional and highly complex phenomenon. Ukeje (2005) identified three aspects of the human condition that poverty affects to include; physical, moral and psychological. As a result, different criteria have been used to measure poverty. Some see poverty as “inadequacy of income to support a minimum standard of living” ‘ABSOLUTE POVERTY MEASURE’ (Edozien, 1975:35). Some view it as a relative concept such that even though they have adequate income for survival, that income falls radically behind that of the community “RELATIVE POVERTY MEASURE” (Srivastava, 1975:63), Brener in Olantan (2005) identified three ways by which poverty can be define measured. These include;

  1. Commodity base notion of poverty which is also referred to as income poverty
  2. Poverty evaluated in terms of achievement of human capability (this include the ability to read and write, health and duration of life, significance participation in the civic life of the community and freedom of movement) and
  3. Social deprivation approach (using some absolute measures to determine the individual poverty status)

According to UNDP Conference Report March 2001,” no precise definition is really needed in Nigeria for us to understand what poverty is, as poverty is indelible on those afflicted by it. Some have used the “Basic Needs” such as food, shelter and clothing; while others favour the use of Daily in-take of Calories. With this, it is not surprising that poverty is regarded by some as a form of oppression”. (Okoh 1984:129)

The proportion of the population with consumption falling below a defined minimum commonly called the poverty line gives an indication of the level of poverty. In addition, indicators of poverty include literacy, health, nutritional status, housing, water, sanitation, lack of access to credit etc. these indicators among others are commonly compressed into a composite index, typically the Human Development Index (HDI) of UNDP and used to measure the level of poverty incidence. Social partition indicators, which view welfare as a function of social integration and commonly accepted set of social functions that are peculiar to each society, such as meal sharing, gift giving and receiving, celebration of special social events, and regularity in the consumption of certain food, freedom and human rights are also indicative of standard of living.

Dimensions of poverty can be broadly classified into three (3) main headings, they include


The social dimensions of poverty include the lack of educational opportunity and the lack of access to good health care.


The political dimension of poverty exists where civil rights are denied and political power rests in the hands of few people (Oligarchy). For example in Nigeria under the military regime where power or sources of powers are concentrated in the hands of few individuals, there was a high level of poverty. Under IBB administration billions of dollars oil windfall were misappropriated because power was only concentrated in the hands of executive due to the fact that in military rule there are no legislature arms of government. In poverty in Nigeria is 54.4 percent. But hitherto i.e. during military rule it is far beyond that percent.


Although economic dimension of poverty is broader than lack of finance, it includes a lack of employment opportunities and uneven distribution of resources (journalofpoverty.org). Meanwhile defining dimensions and measuring poverty are essential to any discussion of poverty reduction. Defining poverty has traditionally focused only on material and specifically monetary measures of well-being. But key concepts behind poverty evolved considerably in recent years.

Today a more holistic multi-dimensional perception of poverty has emerged drawn from interviews with the poor themselves. Definition of poverty has been expanded to include the social and psychological burdens of daily survival on the bottom rungs of society. This broadens conception is described by Amartya Sen as a lack of capabilities that enable a person to live a life he or she values, encompassing such domains as income, health, education, empowerment, and human rights (Sen 1999: 87-98)

In Nigeria, poverty is termed in terms of income community which in subdivision among and kindred, is less than 40% of the norm which manifest more in poor infrastructure, poor health, poor nutrition, poor self esteem, low hygienic standards, low intellectual development and lack of capacity to articulate social, economic and social environment and per capita income. There is also attitudinal reflections and counter social trends as the incidence of poverty, in many cases, such severe limiting social trends as castes in South East, race in the North and group (ethnic) in South West.

Furthermore, in addition to being without financial resources, being poor often means suffering sickness, chronic pain, or exhaustion. It means enduring difficult social relation, sometimes facing exclusion from the community or family. Poverty also translates into insecurity and powerlessness, a lack of access to information and institution, and often a lack of self-confidence and voice. Psychological suffering is also associated in the form of humiliation, anguish, grief, and worry (Marayan et. Al. 2000b: 37-38).

From explanation so far, we deduce that, the recent uprising in the Northern part of Nigeria is as a result of some of these mention dimensions of poverty in the group (Boko Haram Islamic Sect) up arms against the government of Nigeria as a result of poverty which causes grief, anger, anguish, worry and exclusion from the society. Poverty ratio in Nigeria between 1980 to 2009 shows that in 1980 28%, 1985 46%, 1992 42%, 1996 65.6%, 2004 54.4% between 2004 to 2009 poverty ratio in Nigeria is less than 50%. According to Dr Magnus Kpakol coordinator of National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP) however, United Nations 2010 human development report which reflected the countries with the lowest human development index shows that Nigeria is the 28th poorest countries of the world.


Income is not the only measurement of poverty, and economic growth alone will not end poverty, escaping poverty depends on improving personal capacity and increasing access to resources, institutions and support. The overall gap between the rich and the poor, globally and within countries, has been growing. The difference in per capita income between the world’s wealthiest twenty percent (20%) and the poorest twenty percent (20%) grew from thirty to one in 1960, to 78 to 1 in 1994. it fell slightly to 74 to 1 in 1999. Poor health, illiteracy, inadequate schooling, social exclusion, powerlessness and gender discrimination contribute to poverty. Poor health diminishes personal capacity, lowers productivity and reduces earnings. A high prevalence of disease and poor health in the country harms economic performance while higher life expectancy, key indicators of health status stimulates economic growth


Whenever we lift one soul from life poverty, we are defending the human right. And whenever we fail in this mission, we are failing human rights” Kofi Annan former United Nations Secretary-General. report on the importance of social protection measures in achieving the millennium development goals. The report particularly calls on states to devote increased attention to the issue of gender equality while designing, implementing and evaluating social protections programmes within a human right framework. The independent expert will present this report to the general assembly. This report is particularly pertinent given the US summit being held on the MDGs from 20 to 22 Sept. 2010 in New York USA.

Related Research Material

  1. Small Scale Industries And Poverty Alleviation
  2. Reducing Poverty Through Small Scale Industries in Nigeria
  3. Causes of Poverty in developing countries
  4. An appraisal of Poverty Reduction of the MDGs in Nigeria
  5. Effects of poverty in developing countries
  6. Roles of SMEs on Poverty Alleviation

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