.Nigerians paid more on transportation in March - NBS

By  Kenechukwu Obiezu

THAT out of a population of over 200 million citizens, about 91 million remain poor underlines the imperative of social protection. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, social protection is a set of interventions whose objective is to reduce social and economic risk and vulnerability, and alleviate extreme poverty and deprivation.

According to the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, social protection is concerned with preventing, managing and overcoming situations that adversely affect people‘s well-being. It encompasses policies and programmes designed to eliminate poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labour markets,diminishing people‘s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to manage economic and social risks such as unemployment, exclusion, sickness, disability and old age.

It is one of the targets of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 10 aimed at promoting greater equality.  The most common types of social protection include labour market interventions, social insurance and social assistance.

COVID-19 and the crises of social protection: It was a pandemic-hit world that was jarred awake to the biting questions posed by a world where many were left out of social safety nets and as a result fell into desperate times as a novel virus raged.

The pandemic went a long way to unequivocally confirm the value of social protection. In responding to the novel challenges posed by the pandemic, countries were forced to dig deep and come up with answers in very little time and under immense pressure. This unprecedented pressure from the pandemic and its devastating effects, however, generated the largest mobilisation of social protection measures ever seen, to protect not just people‘s health but the jobs and incomes on which human well-being equally depends.

As efforts continue to be channelled towards recovering from the pandemic, it has become imperative for countries to deploy their social protection systems as a core element of their rebuilding strategies.

Socially-protected Nigerians: The COVID-19 pandemic has had some infinitely hard lessons for Nigerians. Firstly, it showed that Nigerians are only as safe as the most vulnerable among them as their well-being and destinies remain intimately entwined regardless of location, background and work.

Historically, rights-based social protection systems, anchored on the principles of solidarity, are at the core of decent work and social justice. The capacity of social protection to contain and reduce inequality and poverty has been critical for bostering social cohesion and renewing social contracts even in Nigeria.

National Social Investment Programmes, NSIP: Nigeria has a Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development which was established by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari to coordinate the administration‘s response to humanitarian challenges in the country.

In 2016,the Federal Government established the National Social Investment Programmes, NSIP, to tackle poverty and hunger across the country. The programmes have largely focused on ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable Nigerians, including children, youth and women and since inception, these programmes have combined to support more than four million beneficiaries country-wide.

The programmes include the N-power programme, the Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT; Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, GEEP; and the Home Grown School Feeding Programme, HGSF.

These critical interventions have proven to be lifelines for many of the poorest Nigerians. But there is no doubt that the interventions could have done more for vulnerable Nigerians but for corruption that was a hindering factor.

High road or low road? COVID-19 hit the world at a time when many countries had not yet recovered from the 2008 global financial crises. After nearly a decade of austerity, most countries were struggling to address a range of challenges that have been further exacerbated by the pandemic and its socio-economic repercussions. This combination of circumstances has further raised the stakes for social protection.

Despite positive trends in some parts of the world, many countries still face significant challenges in closing social protection gaps to make the human right to social security a reality for all. Social protection systems operate in a context of high, and sometimes growing levels of informality and inequality, marked by limited fiscal space, institutional fragmentation, and competing priorities, as well as climate change,digital transformation, and demographic shifts.

Changing work and employment relationships, alongside weakened labour market institutions, have contributed to growing levels of inequality and insecurity, and stagnation in labour incomes in many parts of the world. In fact, 46.9 percent of the global population are effectively covered by at least one social protection benefit. But that is certainly not enough.

Social protection is at critical crossroads and Nigeria, like every other country of the world, must shun the social protection low road which embraces underinvestment, austerity and undue fiscal consolidation, minimal benefits insufficient to ensure a dignified life, weak coordination with labour market, employment and other relevant policies and persistent large coverage gaps in social protection.

It must chose the high road which strives to achieve universal coverage, adequate benefit levels,a comprehensive range of benefits, sustainably financed systems, rights-based provisions and inclusive adaptation to developments in the world of work.

Obiezu, a public affairs commentator, wrote via: [email protected]

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