Enhancing empowerment

President Muhammadu Buhari

If there is one area of governance that continues to keep hope alive In today’s Nigeria where blood-letting and violent crimes overshadow the lives of citizens and the relevance of government, it is the frequency and variety of ameliorative interventions delivered diligently as government investment in the quality of lives of its poor and vulnerable citizens.

The interventions which offer a range of relief-bearing packages, including cash grants and entrepreneurial opportunities, constitute a tangible translation of the elusive “dividend of democracy” into a practical manifestation of benefit of citizenship and inspiration of confidence in a brighter future.

As an innovative policy initiative of the Muhammadu Buhari administration that earned priority transformation with the creation of a first-time ministry exclusively dedicated to humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, where the rural peasant, the urban poor and other vulnerable citizens, commonly face the greatest hazards, the National Social Investment Programme(NSIP)marks a giant leap in the quest for people-oriented government. At last, there are millions of Nigerians who can now testify to direct federal government contribution to their livelihoods, vindicating the administration’s declared objective of ensuring “a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth, and women”.

One of the most impactful and promising of these interventions is the NPOWER programme that kicked off in 2016 and has now benefitted over one million youths. The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development under the indefatigable Sa’adiya Umar Farouk has been enhancing implementation strategies while boosting the intake to one million in two C batches, currently being processed, as approved by President Buhari.

Among the enhancements to make the programme more effective, the National Social Investment Management System (NASIMS) will enable beneficiaries to access a range of content for industry learning experiences and also interact with industry experts for hands on experience. NASIMS also enables them to communicate concerns and promptly receive feedback and experience seamless beneficiary verification process.

The continuing impactful implementation of NPOWER has drawn increasing enthusiastic interest of its target age group of between 18 and 35, eager “to acquire and develop life-long skills for becoming change makers in their communities” as the NPOWER policy declares. Additionally, a steady outflow of enviable experiences and life-changing impact from a growing number of successful beneficiaries across Nigeria has greatly lent credence to the feasibility of the lofty goals embedded into the implementation strategies of various branches of NPOWER. No wonder, five million applications for Batch C have been received in a rising trend.

For many beneficiaries, the monthly stipend of 30,000 naira is often least attractive compared to opportunities for life-changing acquisition of professional and entrepreneurial skills. These include the N-Power Volunteer Corps, a paid, two-year program for young graduates of tertiary education, N-Power Teach program which helps improve basic education in Nigerian communities, N-Power Health Program where volunteers provide care with a focus on preventative measures and the most vulnerable, including pregnant women and children and N-Power Agro program designed to provide services to farmers across the country.

Another highly rated component of the intervention programmes under Hajia Sa’adiya Umar Farouk’s ministerial supervision is the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) which involves financing safety net transfers to targeted poor and vulnerable households included in the National Social Register (NSR) through regular and reliable transfers under which over one million households with over six million beneficiaries have been registered in 34 states and 425 local government areas. Available statistics indicate that a total of 748,684 beneficiaries in 24 states received payments as at April/May 2020. Remarkably, over 600,000 beneficiaries were trained on maintaining savings and group mobilization leading to the formation of about 29,000 savings groups and over ten thousand registered cooperative groups having savings of over one million naira !

The minister’s oft-repeated pledge to roll out policies and strategies for strengthening, sustaining and scaling up social investment programs has also been awesomely actualized most recently with the commencement of distribution of 15,750 utensils comprising stainless plates and cutlery sets and 1,000 aprons at LEA Primary School, Jabi, Abuja, completing the 73,060 utensils and 1555 aprons for the acclaimed National Home Grown School Feeding initiative in the North Central Zone. This definitely represents an upgrade of the school feeding programme which started with plastic plates! It achieved sustainability during the COVID lock down when the deployment of take home rations of un-cooked food items brought succour to over 127,000 households of pupils whose school feeding was interrupted by the pandemic in Lagos, FCT and Ogun State.

Again, the figures convey the scale and impact of the initiative which is part of the Buhari Administration’s policy thrust to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in ten years, as the Minister confidently revealed that nearly ten million pupils had been fed and over 100,000 farmers and cooks engaged across 54,619 schools nationwide in implementing the school-feeding initiative. The Program aims to improve the enrolment of primary school children and reduce the drop-out rate due to poverty by addressing the most important basic need of schoolchildren -nutrition needed to engage successfully with their education.

In fact the ministry has since gone further in this direction by commencing the process for implementing an Alternate School Programme(ASP), a hybrid education and social protection programme aimed at children who need both in order to gain a benefit from education programmes that many children are not able to access due to socio-economic factors. At the inauguration of a National Steering Committee for the programme recently, Minister Sa’adiya Umar Farouk explained that it was aimed at rapidly reducing the number of out-of-school children by providing them with quality basic education and skills in special settings not addressed in conventional school systems, in line with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) on Qualitative and Inclusive Education for all.

The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development’s unwavering progressive focus on virtually every dimension of the neglected plight of our poverty stricken population, our teeming army of unemployed graduates, idle and unskilled youth and school drop outs, swarms of begging, homeless and hopeless children of the poor, disabled and other vulnerable citizens coupled with the formulation of intelligent, innovative and impactful policies and diligent implementation of dynamic intervention programmes is truly inspirational. It not only proves that there is ongoing national renaissance powered by forward-looking, committed and patriotic leaders like Sa’adiya Umar Farouk. It empowers multitudes of hitherto hopeless Nigerians to become confident stakeholders in the assured viable capacity of the fatherland to overcome today’s challenges by investing in tomorrow’s capable citizens. So help us God !

Goga writes from Kano