Calling a spade, a ‘spade’: A peep into the government’s social investment and protection agenda

THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu | (08035892325 sms only)


A few weeks back I was invited –contracted if you will- by the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to provide rapporteuring services for a three-day National Summit of the ‘Social Protection Practitioners and Academics Dialogue’, SPADE-2. It was the second of a two-yearly series of the World Bank-assisted Federal Government’s ‘National Social Protection Reform Agenda’ for the amelioration of poverty among the most vulnerable members of the society. It was, for me, an enriching experience; in fact far more so, I should say, than when I was merely engaged last year, long after the event, to edit and to produce the Report of the 2018 Dialogue session –tagged ‘SPADE-1’. This year, it appears, I am offered the privilege both, of having to write the Report and hopefully soon also, of editing and producing it. To a Journalist, there is no better opportunity for grounding than this, in this new, globally-phenomenal empowerment scheme of Social Investment and Protection, which is targeted solely at the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
By the way, this year’s Summit, as has since been widely advertised, was themed ‘Social Protection: Effective Strategy For Lifting 100m Nigerians Out Of Poverty’, and it was organized under the auspices of three key World Bank-assisted programs of the Government, namely:
1) The ‘Youth Employment and Social Support Operation’ (YESSO) from the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning, which primary aim is the reduction of poverty through access of the poor and particularly the very vulnerable, to increased youth employment opportunities and social service delivery. YESSO alone is a 300 million Dollar-World Bank assisted public welfare program conceived by the Federal Government in collaboration with state governments to support participating states to put in place an effective and efficient mechanism to provide immediate labor intensive activities or work opportunities for registered unskilled youths who are between the ages of 18-35 years. The National Coordinator of YESSO Hajiya Hajara Sami who reported progress on this Program informed the Summit on the result of YESSO’s recovery and peace based assessment in the North-East which she said had given rise to an additional financing of 100 million Dollars to address issues in that troubled geo-political zone.
2) The ‘Community and Social Development Project’ (CSDP) also from the Finance Ministry, and which is a community-driven development project co-financed by the Federal Government and 30 participating states and the FCT, intended primarily to sustainably increase access by the poor, the internally displaced and the vulnerable members of the society to improved social and natural resource-infrastructure services such as water, education, health, rural electrification, transport and community housing. The CSDP is the vehicle by which the ‘social contract’ agreement between people and states, it is hoped, will gradually be executed largely through community-driven development projects; and lastly,
-The ‘National Social Safety Nets Program’ (NASSP) from the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, which aim is to ‘provide access to predictable and targeted transfers to poor and vulnerable households under an expanded national social safety nets system’. The primary objective of this program (NASSP) was what Mrs. Maryam Uwais alluded to in her welcome address when she referred to the twin objective of the social investment program as ‘addressing chronic poverty’ as well as ‘responding to inevitable shocks’. Responding to inevitable shocks in a manner that serves the purpose of a safety net, is what the NASSP is set up to do – especially via the National Social Safety Nets Coordinating Office NASSCO and the National Cash Transfer Office, NCTO.
By the way, these World Bank-assisted programs, although are kindred to, they are not necessarily in the same investment and protection portfolio with the other public-funded Federal Government’s Empowerment Scheme run by the Vice President’s Office, and under which youth, farmers, petty traders and the like are empowered. YESSO, CSDP and NASSP although they are also species of empowerment schemes, they are strictly for the protection of the very poor and in fact the most vulnerably so, of the society.
This last Summit or Dialogue which held at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja between the 15th and 17th January, 2020 was a gathering strictly of academics and practitioners in the area of social protection; hence the title: ‘Social Protection Practitioners and Academics Dialogue, SPADE-2 2020’. And it explains also a part of the title of my piece, ‘Calling A Spade, A Spade’, -because the cream de la cream of Nigeria’s practitioners and academics in this avant-garde institution of social investment had gathered to tell each other the plain truth about the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows so far in the all important task of alleviating or ameliorating poverty among the most vulnerable members of the society; and by so doing therefore the conference was to take a holistic stock of the entire Federal Government’s National Social Protection Reform Agenda with a view to appraising failures and challenges and also evaluating achievements and consolidating gains.
And so being a no-holds-barred conference, and at which all had agreed, to plainly ‘call a spade, a spade’ (rather than euphemistically refer to it as an ‘agricultural implement’), both practitioners and academics were at their intellectual best, telling it all to a capacity audience of 420 participants drawn from representatives of the 36 states and the FCT, from the relevant Federal and State Ministries, the academia, policy makers, representatives of donor communities, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), International Development Partners and the local Media.
Program by program, sector by sector and state by state, statistics were reeled out and experiences were shared, including at continental and intercontinental levels where reports comparing the social investment and protection experiences of select African and Asian countries (including from as far as Washington) were read at the SPADE-2, 2020 Summit –an avenue that is shaping up to be a biennial platform for what the organizers say is the ‘sharing of knowledge and experience… and research, with a view to stimulating more evidence-based field activities’ in addition to serving as a forum ‘set out to deepen public knowledge and awareness on social protection with the sole objective of strengthening in-country social protection community of practice’. Most importantly the 2020 SPADE Summit was to strategize on the dynamics of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty.
While reviewing the history, development stages and the enormous benefits of ‘Social Protection’, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Program, SIP, Mrs. Maryam Uwais admitted that in spite of the global efforts to take this novelty to the grassroots, social protection still remains largely unavailable to 4 billion people, representing 55% of the world’s most vulnerable population; and that whereas the level is as low as 14% for Europe and North Africa, in Sub-Saharan Africa it is as high as 87%. Mrs. Uwais said that although in the last 3 years Nigeria has, with support from development partners, ensured that “more poor and excluded Nigerians are covered, nonetheless the country cannot achieve her Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs and other global commitments, unless more is done “to increase coverage and the quality of delivery”. She challenged the Summit to find a way through the delicate fault lines of Nigeria’s obtrusive federal character structure to recommend how States can be made (in addition to their own priorities and budgets) “to target social protection holistically”.
In her closing remarks the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Zainab Shamsuna, represented by her Special Assistant on National Development, Rabi Bello, identified as key challenge, unawareness (by a great majority of the poor and the vulnerable) of the opportunities offered by the Government’s social protection programs –and which she said can only be overcome by establishing a strong Government-media partnership with a view especially to syndicating appropriate enlightenment programs to reverse the situation.
When I wrote the piece titled ‘Grand Corruption’, chronicling my experience at the 2001 World Anti-Corruption Conference in Prague, Czech Republic, I closed by saying that “in Prague I was privileged to be part of an important movement namely the brave reaction of right-minded citizens of the world to the pernicious threat that corruption poses to democratic governments around the globe”. And I should say also, in all humility, that at the close of the three-day National Summit of the ‘Social Protection Practitioners and Academics Dialogue’, SPADE-2, I felt myself again, being a part of the brave reaction of right-minded citizens of the world concerned about the situation of the world’s poor and most vulnerable. It was a great feeling.

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