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A long, windy race to get Nigeria out of poverty clock

As the World Poverty Clock ticks away in the race to end poverty globally by 2030, Nigeria is turning the clock backward by pushing six persons into extreme poverty every minute. Head, Education Desk, IYABO LAWAL examines whether the Federal Government’s social welfare intervention can bring the country in sync with the poverty clock. This formed the fulcrum of a two-day media dialogue for the establishment of Nigeria Council for Social Work (Professionalization Bill), organised by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

• Experts demand holistic measures beyond FG’s N5,000 social welfare intervention
In the 2018 Global Hunger Index, Nigeria ranks 103rd out of 119 qualifying countries and with a score of 31.1, Nigeria suffers from a level of hunger that is ‘serious’. Over the years, the proportion of undernourished in its population has risen beyond 10 per cent with the prevalence of death in children under five rising slightly above 10 per cent.

Over 1.1 million Nigerians have slipped into extreme poverty in just four months, going by the report of the World Poverty Clock, a Vienna-based World Data Lab. The latest report has brought the number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty (or below $1.90 per day) to 88 million.

In June 2018, Brookings Institution named Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world, with 86.9 million extremely poor people. Nigeria overtook India as the world poverty capital, despite being six times smaller in population than the Asian country.

Hitting it home, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations, and major development institutions across the world have forecast that Nigeria will not attain the 2030 target for ending global poverty. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also suggest that West Africa, primarily, Nigeria will host 40 per cent of the world’s poorest people by 2030.

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Multidimensional Poverty Index has indicated that poverty is more endemic in the North-West region of Nigeria, in spite of the fact that the ongoing terror war waged by Boko Haram has largely been restricted to the North-East region. Statistics obtained from the report showed that states in the North-West had lower multi-dimensional poverty indices.

Five states scored least in the MPI – Sokoto, Jigawa, Yobe, Kebbi and Gombe – three are in the North-West. Extending the list to 10 states with the least performance on the poverty indices brings in another two states in the North-West, Kano and Katsina.
This means that out of the 10 states where poverty is more entrenched, five are in the North-West of the country. It is only Kaduna from that region that escaped being listed among the 10 states.

To measure poverty in the country, the UNDP looked at four sectors of health, education, standard of living and unemployment. Under health, the report looked at nutrition and child mortality. Under education, it considered year of schooling and school attendance in the states. For standard of living, the report looked at lighting, use of water, sanitation, type of floor the people live in, type of cooking fuel and assets owned by households, while unemployment was considered as a sector.

This disturbing development formed part of the issues discussed at the media dialogue on the Social Work Professionalization Bill organised recently by the UNICEF in Nigeria. In stating the importance of social welfare workforce to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the organisation noted: “The SDGs outline strategies for countries to end poverty, improve the lives of children and families by addressing health, education, justice, migration and protection from violence. By committing to achieve the SDGs by 2030, the UN member -states affirm the fundamental rights of children to be protected from all forms of violence, abuse or exploitation. These goals cannot be achieved without a strong and locally-based social service workforce.”

In the face of the grim projection, the Federal Government is in a frantic – if not panic – mode to catch in on its cash transfer to poor and vulnerable households. The Household Uplifting Programme (HUP) otherwise known as the Conditional Cash Transfer, the government said is aimed at responding to deficiencies in capacity and lack of investment in human capital of poor and vulnerable households. The Programme focuses on the poor and vulnerable households in Nigeria as identified through a combination of geographic and community-based targeting mechanisms.

This is how it works: Identified household’s socioeconomic data is subjected to Proxy Means Testing (PMT) for ranking the poor and vulnerable in the National Social Register (NSR). One of the major activities of the programme is to facilitate the transfer of N5,000 per month to beneficiaries, which is paid on bi-monthly basis (every two months). The payment is given to all eligible households selected from the NSR. The second type of transfer known as top-up (additional N5,000 also given bi-monthly) is given to a subset of the recipients of the first type of transfer, upon fulfilling certain conditions.

The CCT supports the poor and vulnerable with N5,000 per month, according to the government to improve consumption, with the aim of reducing poverty, preventing the vulnerable households from falling further down the poverty line and building their resilience to withstand shocks.

The social welfare programme is by no means perfect. However, if well implemented, it can stimulate the economy. It is argued that if very poor households are paid N5,000 per month, they are more likely to spend than save the money, thus, supporting the economy. Some poor households may even go into petty trading to add more value to the cash.

In remote areas, grinding poverty is the hallmark. To city dwellers, such an amount each month may be a drop in the sea. In remote rural areas, N5,000 can be lifesaving though it is far below the minimum wage. Even remotely, it can contribute to reduction in infant mortality rate.

One of the major benefits of the programme – besides the monthly N5,000 – is capacity building. Capacity is built at all tiers to enhance empowerment of beneficiaries’ household to be self-reliant. The training is carried out at three tiers: officers at the state level and local councils level are trained who in turn cascade the training to the beneficiaries in their communities.

Beneficiaries are expected to be trained on life skills and Savings Group Mobilization and Micro Business Development (SGMB). The training on SGMB is targeted at enabling the beneficiaries to save, form economic groups, make financial plans and engage in viable business activities within their communities in order to strengthen their livelihood activities by contributing their share to the state and national economy.

The life skill training helps the beneficiaries to develop social and interpersonal skills that will enable them to cope with every day challenges by building and enhancing self-confidence and awareness.

Yet, there have been accusations of fraud levelled against the operators of the programme. The presidency admitted to this when Mrs. Maryam Uwais, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments said in February: “We are pleased to reiterate the fact that despite some limited process breaches recorded in some rural communities, the Social Investment Programmes are recording successes and having the desired impact.

“We are encouraged by the joy we see on the faces of the 297,973 poor and vulnerable beneficiaries of our National Cash Transfer Programme (NCTP) that is currently being implemented in the 217 local governments spread across the 20 states of the federation.”

In spite of government’s good intention, some experts believe that there is more to the scheme than meets the eye. One of them is Steven Okodudu, a professor of Sociology at the University of Port Harcourt. In a vox pop conducted by a national newspaper, he argued: The payment of N5,000 by the federal government to the poor to tackle poverty is a non-starter. What will N5,000 afford anybody in today’s Nigeria? In the village, a basin of garri is N3,000. Paying N5,000 to fight poverty will only mean that the government is playing to the gallery. It is a way of glamourising poverty.”

Rather than engage in giving such handouts to millions of Nigerians facing poverty, the university don suggested that government should target giving a huge sum of money to less number of Nigerians, who have the entrepreneurial acumen to manage funds. This, he believed, will have a positive effect on the country’s economy than giving N5,000 each to selected number of poor people.

“Those facing poverty do not need an amount as low as what the government is giving to move away from the poverty. The truth is that government’s action is nothing but throwing money away. Also the payment of N5,000 to poor Nigerians is not sustainable,” Okodudu added.

To Prof. Abdughafar Ijaiya, the cash transfer will not take anybody out of poverty. “These people understand what cash transfer payments are. They are not meant to eradicate poverty in its entirety. They are just like pocket money. In Brazil or Latin America, there are funds that are given to pupils or students as transport money. It is meant to just take them to school and then get back home. It is just like the federal government’s school feeding programme.

“To get people out of poverty, so many things really have to be done. The most important thing for us to get out of recession and poverty is the provision of infrastructure and basic amenities such as road, railway, water and electricity.”

So far, 503,005 poor and vulnerable households have been captured in the social register in 20 states while only 297,973 are currently receiving the financial assistance.

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