Agba preps Social Protection Policy for inclusion in MTNDPs and Nigeria’s Agenda 2050…By Sufuyan Ojeifo

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▪︎Workshop Report▪︎

Flowing from the Federal Government’s prioritization of social protection intervention as a key anti-poverty reduction programme, it has partnered the World Bank to design the National Social Safety Net Project (NASSP) aimed at dedicating national resources to improve citizens’ lives and strengthen the role of social protection in more equitable resource distribution by integrating it into the Medium-Term National Development Plans (MTNDPs) being developed under the guidance of the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba, who is working round the clock to build capacity for top management staff members to deliver the MTNDPs and Agenda 2050 in concert with the private sector. The Permanent Secretary in the Budget and National Planning Ministry, Mrs Olusola Idowu, declared open the workshop on National Social Protection on behalf of the minister. In this report, Sufuyan Ojeifo, who attended the workshop alongside some top management staff members of the Ministry, captures its essence and reports that it was organised last month in Abuja under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and social Development with very strong collaboration of Save the Children and UNICEF on Social protection

In his notable 1901 tome – “Poverty, A Study of Town Life” – Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree, an English sociological researcher, social reformer and industrialist held that “Poverty is, not having the financial resources necessary to support a person at the subsistence level of food, shelter, clothing and other necessities.”

For James E. Foster and his colleagues in their 2013 sociological intervention, “Multidimensional Poverty Measurement and Analysis,” “…Poverty is the absence of acceptable choices across a broad range of important life decisions – a severe lack of freedom to be or to do what one wants.”

The challenge of poverty is indeed an old human story. Not surprisingly, the need for well-designed, context-sensitive anti-poverty governmental interventions in a milieu in the throes of change essentially undergirds the efforts by the Federal Government in incepting the National Social Protection Policy, which in turn birthed the designing of National Social SafetyNet Project (NASSP). Federal Government’s collaboration with the World Bank, UNICEF and other development partners in designing NASSP simply signals the seriousness with which she views the subject matter.

The National Social Protection Policy is a transformative tool for addressing poverty, unemployment, social and economic vulnerabilities, inequality, exclusion and other threats to sustainable development. While population growth will continue to be a determining factor for the nation’s economic, social and political progress, the Policy is intended to harness available resources into investments in people – the most valuable asset – in order to optimize citizens’ human capital potentialities.

Further, it is a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach that contributes to poverty reduction, articulating policy priorities of government towards sustainable development.

To implement NASSP, the Federal Government established a National Social Safety Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) under the oversight and coordination of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. NASSCO supervises the implementation of the National Cash Transfer Programme, by the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO).

Besides supervising Conditional Cash Transfer, NASSCO also co-ordinates Youth Employment and Social Support Operations and Community and Social Development Project.

Workshop Coordinator, Apera Iorwa, is an accomplished project management professional certified by the globally-acclaimed APMG International Project in Controlled Environment and also National Coordinator at National Social Safety Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) Office of the Vice President.

As it were, deploying painstaking data and statistics gathered in several African countries: Zambia, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi, the workshop, a Social Protection Training for MBNP, in three sessions, looked at the current drivers of poverty and vulnerability in Nigeria, the challenges and how to address them.

Social protection has typically faced a range of challenges. Some of these, as identified by the workshop, include lack of coordinated system of social protection programmes effectively delivering services to the poor and vulnerable; a highly fragmented programmes, often implemented at State-level and social protection programmes oftentimes implemented ad hoc, lacking sustainability and overarching objectives and vision.

While interventions often lack effective targeting and focus on a narrow target group, existing programmes cover only a small fraction of the poor, while providing relatively low benefits.

Still, more challenges were identified by the workshop. Besides challenges to operational management and monitoring and evaluation, there was also lack of clear benchmarks and goals to measure progress and impact and provision of social protection was inhibited by supply-side challenges and accessibility of infrastructure.

Reliance on self-targeting for a range of programmes and exclusion of poorest and most vulnerable which often lack access to delivery agencies were pinpointed.

The workshop further identified that poor service delivery characterizes various sectors that link to social protection by providing supply-side services and infrastructure while financing of social protection programmes remains a key challenge.

Low levels of public expenditure on social protection over the past years were also identified issues. Spending on non-contributory social protection programmes at the federal level ranged from 0.25-0.52% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), or 2-4 per cent of government spending (2009 to 2012).

The objectives of the workshop included familiarisation with the prevailing arguments against social protection and use of relevant evidence to counter these and the ability to use tools and evidence to support social protection as a response to poverty, vulnerability, and deprivation. Here, counter arguments against social protection were explored. Cogent posers were raised. Is social protection intervention a waste of money?

Some of the other puzzles were: “If you provide them a child grant, you will only encourage them to make more babies!”; “I bet these beneficiaries sit on their butt all day. Giving them money will only increase their dependence.”; “Giving them money will not help. They will only spend it on alcohol, cigarettes and women!”; “Social protection is expensive. We cannot afford it!”

Still more posers from the workshop: Does social protection increase fertility? Does social protection increase dependency? Is social protection not affordable? Using statistical data – both tabular and graphed – from Zambia, South Africa, Lesotho, Malawi and Nigeria herself, many of the negative posers were significantly invalidated.

More specifically, the statistical data explored the impact of Child Grant Programme on women’s fertility and related outcomes in Zambia and the labour force participation rates of CGS (Child Support Grant monthly cash transfer to poor households with children) in South Africa.

For Lesotho, programme impacts on labour participation rates and types of labour were examined while the impacts of the Malawi Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) on productivity were x-rayed. For Nigeria, the expected GDP gains and returns on investment of national cash transfer were examined while household expenditure of CGP beneficiaries was interrogated for Zambia.

Key takeaways from these statistical exploration in this session were that common social protection myths can be debunked by referring to widely-available evidence on existing social protection programmes (mainly cash transfers) coming from the African continent and beyond.  Even if no evidence is available yet, policy makers and implementers have tools at their disposal to create evidence – for instance, an investment case for social protection, simulating its returns and showing its affordability over the long-term.

But still, design and implementation of programmes matter! Social protection programmes need to be well-designed and context-sensitive, in order for them to achieve the desired outcomes and impacts.

The workshop’s other sessions looked at poverty & vulnerability in Nigeria, strove to define and measure poverty and identify what drives poverty and vulnerability in the country and what the Social protection responses are.  Enlisting Rowntree and Forester’s definitions of poverty, which have been captured in this report’s opening paragraphs, the session took a closer look at “absolute” and “relative” poverty.

Absolute poverty measures poverty based on the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society.  Example: People living on less than USD 2 per day are considered poor.

On the other hand, relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context. Example: People living on less than 60% of the median income are considered poor.

While establishing the reason for measuring poverty, the workshop also looked at the challenges that often hobble related efforts. To identify the poor, make them visible, inform national policy design and assess impact of poverty reduction strategies were identified reasons for calibrating poverty. On the other hand, counting the poor, agreeing on the concept of poverty, defining an appropriate welfare indicator, determining a cut-off point and interpretation and use of the related findings were identified as the key challenges.

The most common approaches are gauging monetary poverty (income, consumption, expenditure, assets,…); multidimensional poverty/well-being (often non-monetary); basic needs as underlying concept; poverty as social exclusion/inclusion and active participation in social, economic and political life.

According to the workshop, “In Nigeria, 40.1 per cent of total population was classified as poor – meaning that 4 out of 10 Nigerians have real per capita expenditures below 137,430 Naira per year. This translates to over 82.9 million Nigerians who are considered poor by national standards. (NLSS 2019). Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, but it faces key challenges in poverty reduction.

The workshop revealed that “the national poverty line is then calculated by adding food poverty line and cost of non-food basic needs. This results in value of poverty line equal to 137,430 Naira per person per year. The implication of this value is as follows: the individuals living in households whose per capita annual consumption expenditures is below 137,430 Naira are considered poor by national standards.

“Despite overall poverty reduction, number of Nigerians living in poverty has not changed significantly.  Rapid population growth (close to 3%) means steep reduction in poverty is necessary.”

While noting the increase in poverty gap from 10.66 (2013) to 12.9 (2018), it established that growth and poverty reduction concentrated in urban areas, revealing that in rural areas, close to 52% live below poverty line, compared to 18% in urban areas (NBS, 2018). It also noted strong regional variations between North and South and across the six geopolitical zones.

It also came to light that Nigeria ranks 145/157 countries in terms of its Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs’) progress! A major highlight of the workshop was that it clearly established what actions were needed to change the status quo.  It affirmed that inter-linkages between social protection and other services require promotion of improved institutional coordination among a variety of sectors, actors and programmes.

While pitching for legislative framework to protect investments made so far, it recommended the development of common systems for targeting, monitoring and evaluation, payment, and information management. It further identified the enhancement of access to and quality of basic service delivery and infrastructure and urged a clear division of roles and responsibilities among federal, state, and local levels, with sufficient logistical and technical support to the LGA level from the State.

In conclusion, the workshop boldly confirmed that Nigeria still faces major challenges in poverty, vulnerability and inequality reduction, with a majority of its population living close to the poverty line, thus, being highly exposed to shocks.

While establishing that social protection has the ability to address these challenges and protect vulnerable households from shocks, typically, the social protection system in Nigeria has been highly fragmented, with limited coverage of poor and vulnerable households, and limited financing.

Nevertheless, it affirmed that recent developments, particularly driven by the NSPP, indicate the move towards a more coherent system with clear objectives and that further opportunities arise at State-level, with the introduction of IDs and mappings of social protection programmes.

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