Prospects Of Fighting Poverty In Nigeria

by David Ugolor

As you already know, the fight against poverty remains one of our society’s most pressing challenges today, particularly in regions where a substantial portion of the population live in abject poverty. Current data  from the World Poverty Clock, has pegged the number of extremely poor Nigerians at 71 million. Nigeria, with its 213.4 million-strong population, faces this stark reality. Approximately 63% (133 million people) live in multidimensional poverty according to National Bureau of Statistics data, experiencing a range of deprivations that underscore the urgency of robust intervention. Certainly, the sudden removal of fuel subsidy only increases these numbers exponentially as the cost of living is at a very worrisome level, one of the worst since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.

The current economic hardship caused by the impact of COVID-19, the Russian-Ukraine war, and the removal of fuel subsidy that has led to an uncontrollable increase in dollar to naira exchange rate, has continued to put Nigerians in shock over uncertainties on the prices of food, goods, and services due to inflation. This has further pushed more people into poverty as the statistics of such persons are yet to be documented and obviously justifies the need for further action and increased investment in social protection programmes to cushion the effect of poverty on Nigerians, particularly the vulnerable population.

According to a 2021 UN report, about 828 million people will wake up every day having no idea when or where their next meal will come from, and many will go to bed that day without eating anything. The UN further states that of these 828 million people, 25,000 will die today, including more than 10,000 children as a result of poverty.

To address the increasing poverty level in Nigeria, the Federal Government designed several interventions such as the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), an ambitious effort aimed at improving the lives of the most vulnerable citizens.

The National Social Investment Programme, often lauded as one of Africa’s largest social protection programme, is a beacon of hope for millions. With an annual allocation exceeding $1 billion, this programme transcends mere budgetary figures; it symbolizes our shared commitment to uplifting the less fortunate and creating a stronger, more equitable society.

Against this backdrop, the Enhancing Social Protection Policies in Nigeria (ESPPIN) Project emerged as a civil society effort to complement the efforts of both the national and sub-national governments in tackling poverty. ANEEJ, with support from Bread for the World (Germany) and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, embarked on  the three-year project (2020-2023) to enhance the implementation of the Social Investment Programme across Nigeria.

The ESPPIN project is being implemented in 5 states (Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Ekiti,) and the Federal Capital Territory and ANEEJ is working with CSO partners such as, Community Empowerment and Development Initiative (CEDI), International Peace and Civic Responsibility Centre (IPCRC), Awka, Anambra State, Development Initiators, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State and the New Initiative for Social Development (NISD). The final external evaluation of the project has just been completed as part of the project Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning (MERL) processes and will be presented later today.

The report shows that the ESPPIN project which began in 2020 has yielded some remarkable outcomes. Aligned with our goal, we played a key role in advocating for the harmonization of Social Protection Bills at the National Assembly and aligning same with the National Social Protection Policy which we canvassed for a review. The project also contributed to the review and approval of the National Policy on Social Protection by the National Economic Council. Notably, the ESSPIN Project’s efforts contributed to social protection policies and laws being enacted in three out of five project states—Anambra, Edo, and Ekiti, showcasing effective policy implementation at the state level. Additionally, the project’s advocacy efforts contributed to the passage of the National Social Investment Programme Bill which was assented to by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s in May 2023.

The project achieved resounding success in its pursuit of three key objectives. Through ESPPIN, stakeholders in the five target states experienced a 50% increase in engagement, as indicated by a surge in applications. ANEEJ championed a multi-faceted approach, leveraging media engagement, training, learnings, and outcomes of National and subnational discusses to highlight the significance of Social Investment Programmes (SIPs). By providing information and evidence, we were able to make duty bearers to take action appropriately.

Key actors from government, civil society organizations, and the media played an active role in monitoring SIP implementation across five Nigerian states. Trained stakeholders undertook at least 10 monitoring activities annually, fostering transparency, accountability, and meaningful collaboration. Through this inclusive approach, ANEEJ fostered a shared commitment to effective implementation.

Throughout the ESPPIN journey, challenges were met with unwavering resolve. Insecurity, bureaucracy, and conflicting priorities posed obstacles, but our determination to effect change remained. The ESPPIN project unveiled invaluable lessons, particularly in the realm of stakeholder engagement. We learned that repeated advocacy, collaboration with the government, and the utilization of existing platforms are vital strategies that accelerate progress.

Today’s event will give us the opportunity to interrogate the current development paradigm in the face of the current poly crisis and explore ways of improving the implementation of the National Social Investment Programmes at the national and sub-national levels across the country.  At the end of the day, we hope to articulate relevant suggestions flowing from the discussions around innovative approaches to improve the implementation of Social Investment Programmes to better achieve sustainable development goals and poverty alleviation in Nigeria.

The ESPPIN project has demonstrated that when civil society organizations and government join hands, positive change is not only possible but sustainable. As we wrap up the three-year project implementation in the next couple of days, we remain dedicated to building on these achievements, fostering collaboration, and creating a brighter future for those who need it most.

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