The recent plan to expand the National Social Investment register to accommodate the urban poor is a move in the right direction. President Muhammadu Buhari had, in a recent broadcast to the nation, expressed the urgent need to expand the social investment register from 2.6 million to 3.6 million households. Similarly, the recent disclosure by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, that the urban poor have become vulnerable in the country also underscored the need to expand the national social investment register.
While we commend the President for the kind gesture, we urge those in charge of the exercise to ensure that the COVID-19 palliatives actually reach the poor and vulnerable Nigerians. There is also the need to ensure that all physically challenged people, the sick and orphans across the country are included in the register. Although increasing the social register to 3.6 million is laudable, the government must ensure that more Nigerians are accommodated in the NSIP. With over 70 million Nigerians living below the poverty line, giving palliatives to just 3.6 million Nigerians cannot serve the needs of millions of impoverished Nigerians who will be in need of palliatives during the COVID-19 lockdown and after. Therefore, there is urgent need to have credible data on the poor and vulnerable Nigerians. Apart from enabling the government to attend to the needs of the moment, the data will assist it in future development plans. We recall that the provision of social security was one of the campaign promises that propelled President Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) to power in the 2015 general election.
That can explain why the government created the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) as a social welfare initiative in 2016. The aim was to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth, and women.
Some of the initiatives under the NSIP are: The N-power programme; The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme; Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme and the Home Grown School Feeding Programme.
The N-power programme is designed to assist young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35 to acquire and develop life-long skills to enable them become change agents in their communities as well as players in the domestic and global markets. Beneficiaries are given a stipend of N30,000 monthly.
The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme directly supports those within the lowest poverty bracket by improving nutrition, increasing household consumption and supporting the development of human capital through cash benefits to various categories of the poor and vulnerable. The support is to enable recipients improve their standard of living.
Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) is a micro-lending intervention that targets traders, artisans, enterprising youth, farmers and women in particular, by providing loans of between N10,000 and N100,000 to beneficiaries.
The Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) aims to deliver school feeding to young children with a specific focus on increasing school enrollment, reducing the incidence of malnutrition (especially among the poor and those ordinarily unable to eat a meal-a-day), empowering community women as cooks and by supporting small farmers that help stimulate economic growth.
There is no doubt that the NSIP is commendable. It has helped some Nigerians in diverse ways, including setting up small businesses and caring for their families. However, the administration of NSIP has recently attracted criticisms from Nigerians. There are allegations by Nigerians that the strategies adopted by the managers of the programme are not transparent enough. They have also questioned the criteria deployed in selecting the beneficiaries.
Nigerians expect that NSIP should be run transparently and beneficiaries must come from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The register of the beneficiaries must be made available to Nigerians. The NSIP should not be politicised in any way. All deserving citizens and households from all parts of the country should be accommodated. Expanding the social investment register, as directed by the President, without addressing the criteria for selecting the beneficiaries will not augur well for the programme. The programme should not be a sectional agenda or a partisan gesture aimed at assuaging some people while excluding others.