The hardship faced by most rural and urban poor and the socially disadvantaged in Nigeria has often gotten to the point of elasticity. Many have been toughened by the challenges of existence and have devised means to hang on to hope. Events, both natural and man-made, have given rise to a situation where there are many people in need of humanitarian assistance.
Fortunately, the current administration which is welfare-oriented, is supporting vulnerable citizens by making critical social interventions in their lives.
But no matter how resilient the people might have become, the onslaught of Covid-19 forced the world economy already on a shaky pedestal into a precarious balance. Lockdowns, restrictions and the resultant contractions in production and circulation of goods and services affected people more incisively than social upheavals. Since the outbreak of Covid, the world has been more or less managing a war economy brought about not by guns but a virus. And manage it must if the situation is not to deteriorate to something more dangerous.
Going into a lockdown in Nigeria was ominous. An economy creeping out of recession with so many shocks in the social system was fraught with negative possibilities even for the most incurable optimists. This further deepened theincidence of poverty and deprivation among the people.
For many years, social exclusion has become so deep that efforts to intervene and reverse it must be intentional and calculated. And this must be why the federal government decided on the establishment of a coordinating ministry that oversees all the departments responsible for disaster management, emergency relief and social welfare.
The security and wellbeing of citizens is the fundamental responsibility of government. Provision of infrastructure, social security and enabling prosperity through enterprise and opportunities are all parts of this responsibility. In reciprocation, citizens are expected to be patriotic, and to fulfil some basic civic responsibilities for the fatherland. Where government is perceived to have reneged on its commitment, the people’s sense of allegiance suffers a reversal.
Indeed, the scenario of social exclusion with many families and individuals scraping off a living by scratching the earth with bare hands is beyond imagination. There had to be some sort of help, and external stimulus or there would be tragedy. And this is the enormous task the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development has been set up to address. Indeed, even the UN and its humanitarian and development partners welcomed the establishment of a ministry for humanitarian affairs and social development in August 2019.
The mix of social crises in the country rangefrom terrorism and banditry –causing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in search of food and shelter; natural disasters like floods and fires; high incidence of poverty and lack of opportunities; to the corona virus pandemic and other challenges.
A decisive, resolute, and pragmatic response to such developments is really what has made the difference.
Rather than lip-service and poorly thought-out poverty alleviation programmes that have only flooded our urban roads with motorcycles, tricycles and rickshaws, this administration has devised strategic social investment programmesto facilitate social inclusion for the poor and vulnerable, through the social development ministry.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs has a plethora of social interventions which are compassionate and provide succor and relief forpoor Nigerians. In terms of funding and size, the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) is the most ambitious and the largest social welfare scheme on the African continent. The programme underscores the determination of the federal government to pull 100 million Nigerians out of poverty – quite a tall order – but every 1000 miles starts with a single step.
The National Emergency Management Agency alongside other agencies including the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the North East Development Commission (NEDC), Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the ministry, have been involved in delivering services and relief to people affected by conflicts or disasters as the case may be.
The four components of the NSIPs which comprise N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), are avenues for extending credit facilities and incentives to encourage the poor to start businesses. The school feeding project is part of the NSIP which is aimed at boosting nutrition in school-going children as well as encourage school attendance.
Staying the course and surviving the odds in Nigeria is summarized in the aphorism: “when the going gets tough…” which epitomizes resilience. Sustaining this resilience with incentivized support has been an important, but by no means an easy task for the social welfare ministry. There is no gainsaying that schemes such as the special grants of N20,000 targeted at 150,000 rural women across the federation gobeyond being mere incentives. They provide a cushion, safety net, moral and financial supportfor whole families – channeled through the trusted hands of women.
The disequilibrium occasioned by long years of neglect created yawning gaps of poverty and neglect. The quantum of both rural and urban poor gives many a justification to accept the derogation of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. But the social welfare ministry has been nursing the poor and vulnerable, the elderly, refugees, IDPs, persons living with disabilities, trafficked persons, petty traders and others persistently and guiding many back to the sure path of social security.
One must restate once again, that against the grain of popular opinion, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has given more attention to creating economic stability and improving the social lives of the poor and vulnerable than any other government since 1999. The idea of a welfare ministry was a good stitch in good time. The effort may be little and far between, but even the great Chinese wall is made of single bricks.
Mohammed writes from Abuja