By Akinlayo James
AT the start of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, oil prices had plunged from the Olympian height of $140 per barrel to less than $50. The administration also inherited the backlog effects of years of economic policies that had not taken adequate account of the social safety of the poor.
To make matters even worse, it was also erroneously accused of causing a recession that would later make many people lose their means of livelihood. Any economist worth his onions knows that recession is the aggregation of several years, or even decade, of misplaced or wrong macroeconomic policies. Recession cannot be cooked up in eight months which was about the time frame into the administration when it started.
Indeed this administration was seemingly dealt a bad hand. It came to inherit the culminating effects of several years of macroeconomic policies that created growth but failed to alleviate unemployment and poverty. Statistics from a scientific journal report published by the Faculty of Economic Sciences of the Danubius University, Romania, on Nigerian macro economic policies prove this.
The Nigerian economy averaged a good growth rate of 6.5 per cent between 2001 and 2010, largely fuelled by the favourable price of crude oil in the global market. Yet between this time period it also averaged alarming unemployment and poverty growth rate of 14.7 per cent and 63.99 per cent, respectively.
This pointed to a growing economy that did not reduce poverty and unemployment even at good times. It showed an oil-led growth that had not percolated into other areas of the economy that would have real impact on the poor.
This, however, meant that the rich got richer, either through hook or crook, while the caste of the poor swelled alarmingly. It was the archetype of income inequality that no nation would be proud of. Evidenced by the fact that more rich Nigerians owned properties in Dubai and bought private jets than at any time before, while almost half of the population was struggling to get by with a decent meal a day.
This was the type of socio-economic ground zero situation that the new administration found itself in. It was almost similar to the predicament former President Barack Obama of the US faced at the onset of his first administration when he inherited an economy on the cusp of recession. The recession had thus set in and many Nigerians were facing an increasingly falling standard of living. What could alleviate the people’s suffering was a bold socio-economic programme; the type that was different from the ones initiated in the past that were broadly ineffective. It had to be the type of socio-economic programme that would increase the access of the poor to basic necessities such as food, credit, healthcare, sanitation and education. The root of poverty lies in the deprivation of people’s access to these basic necessities.
Hence, the administration came up with National Social Investments Programmes, NSIP, a revolutionary approach to tackle extreme poverty. It was the kind of programme that was a radical departure from those initiated in the past and were poorly implemented or abandoned. It was contemplated to not only give fish to the poor, but to also teach them how to catch fish, clearly designed with the lessons of the past in mind.
The NSIP was quite unprecedented in the nation’s history and it was initiated to address the challenges around human capital development, with the aim of reducing poverty and creating wealth in order to tackle the socio-economic vulnerability in the country. “We are launching the most ambitious social protection programme in our history to start the process of lifting many from poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves,” President Buhari had said then. The programme would later prove to do so.
The NSIP, domiciled in the Office of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, its supervisor, is an all encompassing programme built in with checks and balances to prevent abuses. It does so by bringing in a broad spectrum of development partners on board in its execution. The partners include World Bank, UNICEF, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy advisor, Accenture and Save the Children. Others include Lagos Business School, Department for International Development, DFID, Dangote Group, the Partnership for Child Development, International Committee of Red Cross, ICRC, World Food Programme, WFP and NEPC India Ltd. The programme also employs the latest cutting edge technology such as BVN for effectiveness.
Broadly divided into four components, the NSIP ensures that the social safety net is spread wide enough to capture all. The four aspects of the programme include the National Home-grown School Feeding Programme, NHGSF, the N-Power job scheme, the Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme, GEEP, and the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, CCT.
The School Feeding Programme, aside from feeding school pupils with a free nutritious meal a day, is designed to boost primary school enrolment which was abysmally poor in Nigeria. According to UNICEF about 11 million children between the ages of five and 14 years are not in school. One in every five of the out-of-school-children in the world is a Nigerian. About 45 per cent of these are girls. Only 61 per cent of children between six years and 11 years old regularly attend primary school and only 36 per cent of the 31.8 million children under five years receive early childhood education.
NHGSF was designed to correct this anomaly by providing children in public primary schools from class one to three free nutritionally balanced meal as an incentive to drive primary enrolment. The programme uses locally produced food, employs low income fairly unskilled women as cooks and engages local farmers. This unique framework accomplishes several goals at the same time. It boosts primary school enrolment, improves the welfare of women and the income of small scale farmers in its bid to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. One could say that it amounts to killing three birds with a stone.
Already, the impact of the programme has been huge. It has led to increased enrolment of pupils into government schools nationwide, while school absenteeism has reduced considerably since it started about three years ago. Its impact on the rural economy has also been astronomical. The programme employs over a hundred thousand cooks in about 54,000 government schools, feeding 9.5 million pupils. Each week over 94 metric tonnes of fish, seven million eggs, and 800 cattle are used, as well as large quantities of fruits, vegetables and grains sourced from local farms. This has increased the income of rural women and farmers. It has indeed been a grist to the mills of farmers as it has helped mop up post-harvest losses suffered by small scale farmers leading to additional income.
The N-Power is geared towards capacity building amongst unemployed youth. It is largely subdivided into two categories; for graduates and non-graduates. The graduate initiative prepares them to be health workers in primary health centres, agricultural extension advisor to small scale farmers and teachers in public, thus bridging the skill gap in this sector. Participants are also paid a monthly stipend of N30,000 for a period of two years. There are trainings also in various trades, repair of hardware devices, software programming, script writing, voice acting, amongst others.
The N-Power currently has over 500, 000 beneficiaries. It has helped to engage idle youths who otherwise have been tempted to go into criminal enterprise to eke out a livelihood. The Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, GEEP is an initiative designed to give business credit to those who would not ordinarily have had access to such. It provides both collateral and interest-free loans to businesses at the bottom rung of the financial ladder.
The programme is subdivided into FarmerMoni, MarketMoni and TraderMoni. Beneficiaries of the first two have access to interest free loans between of N10,000 and N350,000. For TraderMoni, beneficiaries are, however, eligible for higher loans when they repay the first N10,000 upon repayment of the first loan within the stipulated time frame.
The GEEP initiative creates a virtually endless loan corridor for people who adhere to the rules thus solving one of the biggest challenges for artisan and traders. Over 300, 000 persons and four thousand cooperatives have benefitted from the scheme which has helped alleviate poverty.
The Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT, however, is targeted at the poorest of the poor household in order to take them out of poverty. This is done through a monthly N5,000 stipend to vulnerable households, while beneficiaries are trained and mentored to have sustainable livelihood. The process adopts a community-based targeting structure that ensures only the poorest of the poor are supported, mentored and coached to form savings groups by trained community facilitators in every ward, who visit them weekly to provide capacity building training on life skills and basic financial knowledge, as well as nutrition, hygiene and sanitation information. The scheme has about 400,000 beneficiaries across 20 states, and counting.
On aggregate, NSIP has been quite effective in cushioning the effects of the recession, while bringing hundreds of thousands of households out of extreme poverty. This is perhaps the only social programme that is designed to cater for every member of the household. NHGSF for instance targets children, women and farmers. N-power targets youths and teenagers, while GEEP targets traders, artisans, and self employed. The CCT targets women in poor households. This is the reason why reputable bodies have praised the programme ignoring the uniformed comments of opposition critics. ActionAid Nigeria, for instance acknowledged that the initiative had helped address the problems of out-of-school children and youth unemployment in the country. The Policy Innovation Unit of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group noted that the scheme had delivered the stated Federal Government objectives and outcomes.
About N463 billion expended to drive the programmes so far. With more funding, it would reach more millions of Nigerians across the 36 states. Despite some challenges, NSIP, is one of the largest Social Investment Programmes in sub-Saharan Africa, a pointer to the fact that the country is no longer neglecting its poor citizens.
*James, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja