The headlines of two stories in recent editions of two Nigerian newspapers read thus: FG empowers 2,510 women in Abia with N20,000 each (VANGUARD); Dare Commends FG for FG’s Cash Grant for 5,000 Oyo Women (THE NATION). On a daily basis, headlines of Nigerian newspapers, such as the two above, stand side by side with others that talk about the herders-farmers conflicts, kidnappings and fuel queues in Abuja and Lagos. But scarcely do these headlines receive the same prominence as the negative ones. Yet, just as the herders-farmers crisis, cattle rustling and kidnappings could entail life and death scenarios, so also could poverty, the absence of financial inclusion or lack of social safety nets, portend disastrous consequences for individuals and families.
Paraphrasing the adage: “He who wears the shoe knows where it pinches,” the late Reggae maestro, the legendary Robert Nesta Marley, aka Bob Marley, told us: “Who feels it, knows it.” Thus, whether or not the media headlines the life-changing social investment programmes taking place deep into Nigeria’s 774 local governments, it does not erase the joy of thousands of the vulnerable and poor who, hitherto, had been abandoned to a life of abject poverty and forlorn hopes.
These are the beneficiaries of the various empowerment interventions, under the National Social Investment Programme of the Federal Government, a programme that is domiciled with the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, with Hajiya Sadiya Farouq as Minister. There are four categories, namely: Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme and N-Power Programme.
Each time Farouq comes on the scene, whether electronically, personally or by proxy, to effectuate the CCT, her every visit beams a reassuring ray of light, into a dark tunnel of social exclusion, rekindling hope that, despite the country’s problems, ours is still a caring and feeling society. Data from her ministry shows that by December 2020, the programme was fully operational in 33 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja. By the same date, some 1,414,983 beneficiaries had been enrolled in the programme: with 7,068,629 individual household member beneficiaries from 487 local government areas, 4716 wards and 37,628 communities.
The conditional cash transfer segment of the NSIP of the Federal Government is important in many significant respects. First, in the face of the global economic downturn trailing the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCT stands Nigeria out as one of the nations that have rolled out various financial support measures, to support the weak and vulnerable. While some could see the effort as scratching the surface, as Bob Marley would remind us, who feels it, knows it. No one who is familiar with the perennial impecuniosity that is the lot of many people in the rural areas, will fail to appreciate that, properly utilised, a one-off release of N20,000 to the rural poor, can mean the difference between poverty and prosperity, between sadness and joy, between life and death.
It is a well known fact that in many of the rural areas, people are not able to raise N500 for malaria drugs let alone leverage N5000 to either start a small scale retail business or as capital injection into a floundering moin-moin making business. In many of our rural areas, market women go into periodic contributions, to save as little as two thousand naira, to inject into or reactivate their businesses. Even at that, they do not always succeed because one financial obligation or the other could clear the savings before maturity. To such a woman who could hardly raise N2000, to revive her ailing moin-moin making business, an instant cash injection of N20,000, under the Conditional Cash Transfer (of the NSIP) of the Buhari Administration is, at once, an incentive, a catalyst, a life-line and game-changer. Little wonder, at Ibadan, one young beneficiary of the CCT could not hold her joy as she heaped encomiums on the Federal Government.
Remarkably, flagging off the Special Cash Grant for Rural Women programme at Ibadan in Oyo State, Farouq disclosed that since inception till early March, Oyo State had received a total sum of N992,715,000 from the Federal Government and in the process, impacting the lives of 14, 022 poor and vulnerable households (PVHHs) in 28 local government areas of the state.
It is gratifying to note that the ministry is actively engaged in fine-tuning the CCT, to meet changing needs and circumstances. For instance, as Sadiya Farouq disclosed at Ibadan, “It is designed as a one off grant to some of the poorest and vulnerable women in Nigeria…to increase access to financial capital required for economic activities”.
The other good news is that though the initial target is, “over 150, 000 poor rural women across the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory”, the minister’s promise that the social register was being expanded to cater for more vulnerable households”, will be welcome news to hundreds of thousands of really enterprising women who, despite daily strivings, are rendered ineffectual due to acute cash crunch.
The Federal Government deserves to be commended for keeping faith with its promise to broaden social inclusion through the CCT. However, it is one thing to dole out this largesse. It is another thing to ensure that it is appropriately and judiciously applied. To achieve judicious application of the Conditional Cash Transfer requires scrupulous monitoring of the beneficiaries by officials of the FMHDSD and the state governments. This collaboration has to be done in an atmosphere devoid of unnecessary partisan posturing, needless meddlesomeness and political sabotage.
Besides, it is incumbent on the political and other elite in each state, to take greater interest in insisting that their people benefit optimally from this laudable Federal Government programme. To achieve such inclusion would necessarily entail a clear understanding of the parameters used by both the World Bank and the Federal Government in designing the programme and identifying beneficiaries.
One final word: The ambitious programme of lifting Nigerians out of poverty is the responsibility of all Nigerians. Through her personal effort, demeanour, physical exertion and utterances, Sadiya Farouq has shown that even in the midst of a national crisis such as the worrisome security situation, the poor and the vulnerable can rest, assured that human compassion and sincerity have not completely dried up in the land. That is why this piece is titled, Sadiya’s message of compassion and hope.