Social welfare in Nigeria: Hit or miss?

Apr 28, 2020|Akinkunmi Akingbade


One month, 111 cases, and one death after the COVID-19 pandemic hit Nigeria's shores, President Buhari gave a directive. He ordered the lockdown of the three most affected states and a distribution of ₦20,000 each to the poor.

"For the most vulnerable in our society, I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months paid immediately. Our internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks," the President said.

Shortly after his announcement, the distribution commenced, and Nigerians began to wonder who the "vulnerable" receiving these distributions were. 

At the time of the announcement, the National Society Safety Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO), had identified 11 million Nigerians and 2.6 million households as those who qualify under the poor and vulnerable category. They had been captured on the National Social Register (NSR).

The office builds its database with Community Based Targeting (CBT), by contracting religious or community leaders to identify recipients for cash or in-kind benefits. 

Having satisfied the initial curiosity of who the vulnerable were, the government had another question to answer. What was the basis for capturing, and how will this category of people benefit from the funds?


Top-down approach


Well, for now, the plan is that an extra one million households get added to the conditional cash transfer (CCT) initiative. But considering that it took Nigeria more than five years to capture the first 2.6 million households, it will be fair to know how efficiently the current capturing system is.

With an estimated 98 million citizens living in multidimensional poverty, only 11% of these Nigerians seem to be registered by the government for its CCT program

So clearly, the Federal Government is unable to reach everyone that needs support. Some State Governments like Lagos, Kaduna and Ekiti have stepped in and started a random distribution of food items to its citizens. 

The outcome, as seen in many cases, reveals a lack of coordination. In Lagos, the distribution of foodstuffs to over 200,000 households was not a pretty sight. A video released by Channels TV showed Lagosians ambush officials at food banks. Social distancing rules and civility got dumped, as people scampered for more portions of the food items, short-rationing the welfare packages intended for beneficiaries.


Did the food go to who needed it most?


In developed economies, their system encourages the use of social security numbers. People are categorised by how much they earn, their entire life income, and the number of years worked. The system goes a long way into clarifying who gets what and how to attain efficient welfare distribution.

As a result of the Covid pandemic, Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion stimulus relief bill. The relief will see that every American earning $75,000 or less in adjusted gross income receive direct payments of $1,200. Married couples with children earn an additional $500 per child. They have the data to make this happen. 

In our case, however, while our stimulus packages will reach a portion of the vulnerable; ensuring that exactly those who need it most receive it is less clear. For that, we need a much more effective database capturing and distribution system.


Rwanda's success with the people


There are more salient points to learn from Rwanda. Reaching the poor is traced to a communal culture, similar to Nigeria's. The community members often rally round to cater for the needs of one another.

But the Rwandan government leveraged this unique trait and developed the Ubudehe program. The program categorises community members into different levels to better understand levels of wealth.

The first level captures people with no means to own or rent homes of their own and can hardly put food on the table. While level two entails people who have small part-time jobs, own cheap houses, or can pay rent. The third level captures farmers, professionals, and business owners - from here government support is not needed for survival. There is also a fourth level comprising the rich, especially public servants and large business owners.

The beauty of this system is that it is built from the community up and also clearly defined. Members of the society can readily attest to what strata of the social leader each person falls. In a time like now, when the government needs to reach its people, identification and distribution can flow smoother.


A case for our Local Governments


Rwanda also leverages on the nearness of the local government authorities to its people. The Rwandan government is split in two - National and Local. This Local Government is then split into four tiers - districts, sectors, cells and villages. Each with elected officials with the power to make policy actions on behalf of the National Government. 

In times like this, these Local governments are tasked with executing the national orders.   

In Nigeria, the power of the government closest to the people is arguable. Who is your Local Government chairperson? We once asked.  

In Nigeria, Local government officials are perceived as rubberstamp workers. They are better known to perform duties, such as collecting fines and levies, tenement rates, and motor park receipts, without much physical evidence to boast of the use of such funds. Whereas, emphasis on responsibilities and actions is stressed from the Federal and State level.

Like Rwanda, Local Government participation should be increased. They are vital for building institutional capacity. The inclusion of the Local Government will foster ownership of development initiatives that can drive social service delivery within communities.

Seeing Local Governments are the grassroots government and are the closest institutions to the people. Having them take up more direct roles can help Nigerians benefit from the government. A government which is genuinely of the people, by (near) the people and for the people.  


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