Saturday, June 12, 2021

N-Power: A clash of policy, politics and poverty, by Murtala Adogi Mohammed


Jaafar Jaafar
Jaafar Jaafar is a graduate of Mass Communication from Bayero University, Kano. He was a reporter at Daily Trust, an assistant editor at Premium Times and now the editor-in-chief of Daily Nigerian.
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One of the Key Performance Indicator, KPI, Nigerians would use in assessing the current administration is how many Nigerians Buhari and Osinbajo were able to lift out of poverty.

President Muhammadu Buhari has budgeted N500 billion, approximately 9% of the total budget to lift poor Nigerians out of poverty. While details of the implementation of the scheme are being worked out and would be rolled out once the budget is approved by the National Assembly, the poverty reduction strategy would center on six key social protection programmes to be coordinated by the Office of the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo with an effective inter ministerial involvement.

Recently, Vice President Osinbajo emphasized that “The collective wealth will be invested in phased social programmes that will lift majority of Nigerians from poverty”.

Social Protection refers to the set of policies and programs aimed at preventing or protecting all people against poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion throughout their life cycles, with a particular emphasis on vulnerable groups. Social protection can be provided in cash or in kind, through non-contributory schemes, or poverty-targeted benefits such as social assistance or social safety nets, contributory schemes with social insurance being the most common form, and by building human capital, productive assets, and access to productive jobs.

Today, the need for social safety nets as a poverty reduction strategy is a critical concern for governments across the globe and for the billions of men, women, and children striving to improve their livelihoods. As interest in and the use of social safety nets keeps growing, countries struggle to make social safety net interventions more effective. Nigeria cannot afford to be left behind. There is strong evidence that in other countries “the scheme ensures poor families can invest in the health and education of their children, improve their productivity, and cope with shocks,” said Arup Banerji, the World Bank Group’s Senior Director for Social Protection and Labour.

In Nigeria – Office of the Vice President would be coordinating the following six schemes that aimed at lifting Nigerians out of poverty. They are: 1. The Teach Nigeria Scheme (TNS): Where the federal government plans to directly hire 500,000 graduates as teachers. Under the scheme government will hire, train and deploy the graduates to help raise the quality of teachers in public schools across the nation. 2. The Youth Employment Agency (YEA): Where between 300,000 to 500,000 non-graduate youths would be taken through skill acquisition programme and vocational training for which they would be paid stipends during the training. Government expects that they would then become self-sustaining members of their communities. The selection of the youths for this scheme would also be per states and FCT. 3. Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT): Where government would pay directly N5000 per month to one million extremely poor Nigerians this year on the condition that they have children enrolled in school and are immunized. 4. Homegrown School Feeding (HSF): Where the federal government would serve one meal a day to students of primary schools. Those familiar with the scheme said it would be implemented in collaboration with state governments.5. Free Education Scheme For Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM): Where tuition payment would be paid for about 100,000 STEM students in tertiary institutions in the country. The government is also proposing, in the 2016 budget, to spend about N5billion on this particular scheme. 6. Micro Credit Scheme (MCS): Under the MCS, the Federal Government would give N60bn loan to one million artisans and market women and men. I refer to the above listed six items, as Buhari’s poverty reduction strategy. I have some pockets of worries, observation, and recommendation that center on the design, implementation and the evaluation mechanism of the Social Protection Programmes. The politics side of the programme is that we politicize everything in Nigeria, and if not handled with caution this might not be exceptional. Most of the Nigerian politicians have no sense of social protection; so they cannot even think of designing, and much less, implementing programmes aimed at attacking poverty frontally.

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Some of my concerns are Nigerian factors such as the politicization of the beneficiaries’ selection process, weak public-civil servant capacity, weak institutions at the state and local level to coordinate the scheme, all these are something worth noting – more needs to be done in the areas of strengthening the institutions and capacity of personnel, especially from the project coordinating unit at central level down to the grassroots communities.

Another huge challenge the scheme might likely face is paucity of data. For Nigeria to find its way into the global centralized database, of social protection scheme called ASPIRE we need to locally develop a robust database system. ASPIRE (Atlas of Social Protection Indicators of Resilience and Equity) data- base, includes key country- and program-level indicators for social protection and labor programs. SPP as a new policy of the Buhari’s administration is welcome development, but the one million-naira question is, is it possible to separate the policy from politics? Nevertheless, the crux of the matter is that a working guideline of each of the scheme is needed; it would help in understanding the relative merits of a number of factors before making decisions. There is need to also have Nigeria Social Protection Strategy, Social protection national strategies and policies are in place in 77 countries and developing in another 31(according to World Bank Report 2015). Given the multi-sectoral nature of social protection programme, Nigerian government should institutionalize mechanisms that would enhance and strengthen coordination of social protection strategies across different ministries, agencies, and regional and local bodies. The design and implementation of the policy demand institutional arrangements and joint actions with other public sectors, often including social development, health, education, and employment.

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When I was working with British Department for International Development DFID as Education Adviser, northern Nigeria office in 2011, I was involved in the design, implementation and evaluation of education-based Conditional Cash Transfer CCT project funded by World Bank, DFID with counterpart funds from Kano State government. I came to realize that, from experience, three main mechanisms supported the administration and management of social protection programme. The registration of potentially eligible individuals or households for the allocation of social benefits (social registry); the registration of beneficiaries of social protection interventions (beneficiary registry) statistical software is required here for sieving the most realistic vulnerable target population; and monitoring and evaluation systems. These instruments would ease the functioning of social protection systems and increase the levels of management efficiency and effectiveness. These tools are information systems to track budgets, the number of beneficiaries, and key performance indicators that facilitate process of evaluations to identify implementation issues and propose strategies to address key bottlenecks; and systematic, periodic impact evaluations to assess whether programs are achieving their intended outcomes. At this stage of SPP design, I think Nigeria needs to carefully study the success stories of other nations that succeeded in implementations of social protection programmes. For instance, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger are building social safety net systems comprising public works and cash transfers, coordinated at the central and local level. The Productive Social protection program in Ethiopia has inspired all. At a different level of development, the Arab Republic of Egypt is building a system of coordinated programs that will cover the poorest households with conditional and unconditional cash transfers and public works, using its own experience of creating a registry of beneficiaries using smart cards, and learning from the lessons of implementing nationwide coordinated approaches in Mexico and Pakistan.

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The ultimate goal of social protection programmes is to help individuals and societies manage risk and volatility by increasing their resilience to shocks such as the current decline in global oil price; making societies more equitable by sharing resources to help the poor and vulnerable avoid destitution; and improving access to opportunities generated by economic growth.

SPP interventions contribute to achieving all three goals: resilience, equity, and opportunity if suitably implemented.

*Mohammed, a development expert, can be reached through [email protected]

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