Over the years, Nigeria has witnessed huge and seemingly growing insecurity problems, rapid increase in poverty rate, high inequality and concurrent threats of instability. The recent report by National Bureau of Statistics affirmed that forty percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line and more than two million are internally displaced.

These and many more challenges posed serious threats to national development. In a bid to address various problems facing Nigeria and other developing countries, social protection is increasingly being seen by the international community, regional bodies and national governments as a policy tool to address such development challenges. It is generally conceived as a set of interventions which aim to address poverty, vulnerability and risk. As a result, various government regimes since the fourth republic have implemented various social protection interventions with the aim of lessening poverty, economic shocks and vulnerability in both rural and urban areas in Nigeria.

The 2004 National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) marked the beginning of social intervention programs since the inception of fourth republic in Nigeria with emphasis on employment opportunities and poverty reduction. However, NEEDS did not achieve the desired result due to weak statistics on poverty, particularly on income poverty. The Yar'Adua led administration in 2007 also introduced another set of social protection programs such as universal primary education, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health care. These programs were designed to run concurrently with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of reducing chronic poverty and hunger by 2015. These interventions were also disrupted as a result of the demise of the then president of Nigeria in 2010. The Goodluck Jonathan administration also recognized the importance of social protection intervention by introducing Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) and Community Service Schemes with human capital development in mind. 

The ineffectiveness of the aforementioned programs led the Muhammadu Buhari administration to implement new set of intervention programs such as Youth Employment and Empowerment, Conditional Cash Transfers, Homegrown School Feeding and Micro-Credit Scheme for one million market women. However, various social protection programs implemented over the years have failed to buffer the vulnerability and poverty level in the country as there were no significant decrease in poverty and vulnerability levels in the country. This could be attributed to poor design and uncoordinated manner of the interventions with no clear cut policy framework driving the social protection agenda. Consequently, their life spans came to an end when the administrations that initiated them left power. In other words, social protection programs in Nigeria are basically ad hoc and uncoordinated. Another major problem facing the social protection programs in Nigeria is lack of data to indicate those that are vulnerable. Poor data system have hindered various intervention programs in the country resulting in coverage that is estimated at a tiny fraction of the poor leading to the question whether it is social protection or social exclusion. One could argue that the reasons for low coverage is as a result of many factors including political, financial and capacity limitations, which restrict the potential effectiveness of the social protection interventions to lessening poverty and vulnerability in the country.

In light of the aforementioned challenges of social protection programs in Nigeria, the following are strongly suggested towards mitigating vulnerability and buffering poverty level in the country.

Create comprehensive database for proper identification of the vulnerable

Social protection without appropriate database is synonymous to fetching water with basket. It is extremely essential to create appropriate database at local government level to enable it identify the needy and vulnerable. This would accentuate proper evaluation and monitoring of the social protection programs in Nigeria.     

Develop a comprehensive social protection framework

A comprehensive social protection policy framework in Nigeria would clarify institutional roles and responsibilities which will guide social protection design and implementation at the state and federal level. This would give room for proper implementation and continuity of the programs when the administrations that initiated them had left power.     

Foster political commitment to social protection programs at the national and state levels

Political commitment for social protection at the national and state levels is a pre-requisite for stronger commitment for social protection at local level. Encouraging broad-based political commitment to social protection needs to be built at both the federal and the state levels, given the relationship between the two in terms of designing, funding and implementing programs.

Allocate resources to strengthen social protection programs

While government awareness of the need and importance of social protection programs is rising, there is an urgent need to significantly increase fiscal resources available for social protection programs to address increasing poverty and vulnerability levels. Given the strong global evidence suggesting that social protection can play a vital role in the fight against poverty and vulnerability, and more generally in building human capital, empowering women, and protecting households against shocks and natural disasters, there is a need to expand social protection programs with smart technical, political, and institutional features.

Monitoring and evaluation

Given the relative newness of social protection programs in Nigeria, there is currently little empirical evidence on their impacts and effectiveness at a local or aggregate level. Continuous monitoring of the performance of social protection programs would provide an evidence-based framework to see if progress is being made, and where amendments or modifications are needed to improve system performance. It is when these factors are taken into consideration that social protection programs can effectively meet their aims and objectives, and improve and protect the lives of beneficiaries.

Olasunkanmi Habeeb Okunola is a scholar in disaster risk reduction and community resilience with cross-cutting research and program experiences on climate change adaptation and inclusive education in the Sub-Saharan Africa. He tweets @sunkiehabeeb

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