Setting Social protection agenda for Nigeria
The new Nigerian government is planning to implement a national social protection scheme for unemployed Youths to reduce effects of poverty which has impacted significant percentage of the population. It is expected that the social protection program will cover monthly fixed stipends to millions of beneficiaries.
In some developing and developed nations, Social protection is a major component of social inclusiveness and it is a key element in the achievement of some of the eight cardinals of the millennium development goals which had eluded Nigeria and many African Nations till date. Social protection is a very important element of improving on national security, social stability, reducing inequality and promote social inclusion. For a security challenged nation like Nigeria, extreme poverty within the youth bracket is probably one of the major reasons for crime, kidnapping and religious extremism as exhibited by the deadly Boko Haram group in North East Nigeria.
In a society like Nigeria where the gap between the rich and the poor is extremely wide. Social protection will improve standard of living and help to redistribute wealth to create a more equitable nation.
Can Nigeria afford the grants program?
Depending on many factors such as but not limited to the reach and coverage of the program, duration and exits, monthly beneficiary stipend rate, cost of implementation etc, Nigeria can prioritize to give indigent and unemployed youths some minimal monthly pay-outs in a sustainable manner .
By cutting cost from many unnecessarily, bogus expenditures and reducing corruption, the country can put some extra money on the table to bring some smiles to the unemployed youths. Though statistics is not available for Nigeria but these countries currently run their National grant program on the following percentage of the GDP: Poland over 1%, Argentina 1.5%, Mauritius at over 7% and Ethiopia at 4.5% and South Africa at 4%.
National alignments and considerations
Nigeria like many other sub-Sahara Africa countries, is still struggling to achieve significant financial inclusion amongst the citizens which means that many millions of adult population, do not have access to formal financial services. Only few countries like Tanzania had surpassed their national financial inclusion goals ahead of targets due to the implementation and effectiveness of mobilemoney services.
The Central Bank of Nigeria is actively pursuing the National financial inclusion strategy to decrease the number of Nigerians that are excluded from financial services from 46.3% to 20.0% by 2020 as committed to in the Maya Declaration, the Cashless Nigeria is also actively on. In Brazil, social grant access was one of the key drivers of financial inclusion. Will Nigeria link its program at some point to its financial inclusion drive or leave it as cash-on-table without any future financial inclusion developmental plan, attached to it?
The lack of nationally acceptable identifications systems has also militated against national development programs such as national security, mass financial access, high cost of remittances, verification of citizens etc. What role will the national identification systems play within the context of social protection in Nigeria? Will it be aligned either as a mandatory enrollment factor or an add-on? The on-going Bank verification number can also be used as process for ‘means testing’ potential enrollees to ensure people of means are not enrolled into the program.
Technology and cashing out
Implementing this program will require significant logistical requirements, effective identification systems, nationwide cash-out points and excellent feedback mechanism.
Typically of governments and many stakeholders when designing such programs, technology component is most considered above other components. The use of technology and applications are really necessary to gain the efficiency required to achieve verifiable results.
Despite new technologies that abound such as mobilemoney, card payments, bio- metric devices, tokens etc, the implementation team must consider many factors in the choice and use of technology in such deployments. Considerations for mobile network availability, ease of use of service, enrollment processes, basic access and plans for disabled and indisposed people, cultural and religious considerations for use of technologies like Biometrics that may require use of finger prints etc
While the focus may be on technology but the real challenge will be, cashing out by the beneficiaries in urban and rural areas across Nigeria. Multiple cash out options must be considered in view of limited Bank branches, Atm and cash point’s, reach and availability in Nigeria. This will ensure timely cash-outs, lower cost of cash-out by beneficiaries and reduce travel time to access cash.
Developing a robust cash-out mechanism will be critical to the overall success of the program.
Political commitment and international assistance
The government must demonstrate that it is serious about the social protection agenda from the President which will give the required commitment to drive this national agenda with a cabinet Minister to ensure support and certainty of the policies and mandate to drive it while a national agency is established with a mandate to implement it nationally, using regional or state structures which can be set-up afresh or using the local governments as leverages and a committee of independent non-governmental organizations constituted to ensure the effectiveness of the funds and that people at the bottom of the pyramid are not sidelined and becoming ,another bogus government project.
International assistance relevant in this area of endeavor abounds with some international NGOs such as mercy corps, USAID and DFID that had successfully managed till date, what might likely be currently, Nigeria’s largest social protection program by SaveTheChildren reaching thousands of pregnant and nursing mothers in Jigawa and Zamfara states.
The government must ensure to come up with a sustainable, efficient and effective government social protection program that is not a desk function at Finance Ministry or a conduit for political patronage like the SURE-P of the last dispensation. The technology to be used has to be well proven, simple and secure with ability for mass access, low cost and many elements such as multiple cash out points and options.
Overall alignment with National strategies and policies such as National Identifications systems, financial inclusion agenda, cashless Nigeria and even the Bank’s biometric database, will add compelling advantages to the program in the long run.
Finally, only a comprehensive and well managed National social protection will be the ideal conduit to achieve the laudable plans of the new government in Nigeria and ensure it does not transform into the basis for future public disaffection and social instability as the party hopes to retain power in future elections.
Principal Associate – MobileMoneyAfrica