NIGERIA: Addressing the chaotic palliative distribution mechanism in Nigeria

Author: Emmanuel  Okoegwale

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most social programs and anti-poverty interventions were centralized by the Federal Government of Nigeria  in collaboration with states and local governments and were mainly cash based. During Convid-19, the effort  to distribute food items failed woefully with the mass looting of storage warehouses in 2020 across the nation.

Due to the removal of fuel subsidies and the floating of the Nigerian national currency, the responsibility to deliver social intervention palliatives fell on the state governments in 2024. Many states without a proven and established framework for social intervention and public distribution systems are saddled with the duty of targeting and onboarding beneficiaries and managing, storing, and distributing food palliatives across their states.

Despite the existence of a credible state-managed social register that feeds into the national social register, many state governments choose to be random and unorganized in their delivery approach, which is fueling distrust and agitation among the citizens.

With some citizens double-dipping on palliatives while others don't have any, it sets the template for social unrest and insecurity, which is evident with citizens self helping themselves to storage warehouses and food trucks in transit attacks, recently.

How can the government get the right palliatives to the right person at the right volume, value, and time? The Nigerian Customs Service attempted to sell confiscated rice at a subsidized price  leveraging the use of a national identification number (NIN), which can only establish identity as a citizen of Nigeria but not necessarily the right targeted beneficiary as qualification to buy the subsidized rice. The effort was suspended due to the tragic outcome of the pilot.

In some states, some semblance of order is in place, with beneficiaries lined up in public space, though in an undignified manner. There are mismatches in what beneficiaries need. The rural farmer wants rice seedlings for planting and not rice for eating. Some citizens receive double rations of food, and some get nothing. A tire vulcanizer technician got tailor sewing machines complete with kits. Wrong targeting will result in poor outcomes.

India addressed this challenge with the establishment of the Food Corporation of India, with operational responsibility including allocation within the state, identification of eligible families, issue of ration cards, supervision of the functioning of fair price shops (FPSs) and leveraging the national identification systems and others to build a platform ecosystem with multiple services of  identity, data, payments, and subsidy at scale.

Sharing of palliatives with citizens is not widely accepted in some quarters and seen as unsustainable and undignified, but in reality, governments in some form or another will always be in the business of social interventions, agricultural subsidies, and the delivery of humanitarian materials due to many causes such as natural disasters, famine, high inflation, unrest, etc. Inflation is man-made, whereas famine is natural in most cases, and it can be much more severe than man-made inflation. Both are clear and present dangers in Africa, Nigeria, inclusive.

By digitizing the process, the cost of delivery and ease of delivery will reduce burdens for the government and citizens. It will improve process transparency, impact and sustainability.

Digitization will help the government address the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of the social delivery systems throughout the lifecycle, which will then empower the government with the ability to measure outcomes and improvements.

Nigeria and the sub nationals should prioritize building resilient public distribution systems to mitigate climate change, famine, high inflation, etc. We  should be like the Biblical Joseph, who built food systems during seven years of surplus and had excess to distribute and export during seven years of famine!

Author: Emmanuel Okoegwale