By UGOCHUKWU AMASIKE
Recently, the United Nations, through its special Rappouteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), Professor Beyani Chaloka, called on the Federal Government to put in place a comprehensive and co-ordinated approach in addressing the problems of internally displaced persons in Nigeria.
At the moment, the United Nations puts the number of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria at 2.2 million persons, including women and children. The UN projects that the number could rise to 5.5 million persons.
This situation calls for an urgent re-evaluation of Nigeria’s social protection programmes in order to reposition it to effectively address and confront the potential humanitarian catastrophe looming in the North-East zone.
It is common knowledge that the Nigerian economy remains in the woods in spite of the concerted efforts of the Government, with growing job losses, unemployment, rising hunger and poverty, thus making it all the more crucial for a reappraisal and remodeling of Nigeria’s social protection programmes in order to effectively cater for the IDP’s and the expanding category of vulnerable persons in our society, including the physically-challenged.
The Federal Government has to its credit a number of social protection programmes, but they have remained plagued by a general lack of inter-agency co-ordination, duplicity of functions, low coverage, and the lack of a comprehensive national social protection policy.
The government’s intervention programmes in the North-East typifies some of the problems bedevilling Nigeria’s social protection programmes, with the widely reported diversion of relief materials intended for suffering IDPs by criminal elements within the system and an apparent lack of effective inter-agency co-ordination. Aside the lack of a comprehensive national social protection policy, Nigeria’s social protection programmes have also been held back by the lack of a co-ordinating institutional lead on social protection programmes in the Country; with social protection programmes currently being implemented by at least 7 agencies of government, who report to a varied number of known and sometimes unknown political leadership.
For example, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) office, all social protection platforms of the Federal Government, report to an assorted number of political leadership, with the re-energised NSITF reporting to the Minister of Labour, the NHIS reporting to the Minister of Health, while the SDG office reports to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. This system, does not permit for efficiency in the implementation of social protection in Nigeria.
To remedy the situation, there is need for the development of a national social protection policy, and the selection or establishment of a specific agency of Government empowered with the requisite political and legal authourity to establish and foster synergy and coherence between the various ministries, departments and agencies implementing social protection programmes in Nigeria.
The existence of a co-ordinating agency would bridge the gap between the bodies implementing social protection, and it would promote a synchronised approach to the implementation of the Social Protection Programmes of the Government. Such an agency should be the creation of an Act of parliament, and not an ad-hoc entity, as this would empower it with the requisite authourity to galvanise material and non-material resources required to improve upon the existing social protection framework in the country, whilst ensuring the maintenance of stability in the implementation of social protection in Nigeria by severing the implementation of social protection from the apron strings of political considerations.
The objective of such an agency would be to ensure the effective implementation of a National Social Protection Programme, by overseeing and co-ordinating the activities of the various MDA’s executing social protection programmes in Nigeria. This agency or office could function in a manner similar to the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), by simply being a small, but effective coordinating platform for Nigeria’s social protection programmes.
The establishment of such a social protection co-ordinating office or Agency would be able to confront and address the lingering problems hampering the effective implementation of the social protection in Nigeria. Furthermore such a move would signal the end to the lip service that has hitherto been paid to the plight of the poor, the physically-challenged, and the orphans of war and ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria by past administrations in Nigeria.
The sustainability and future of every society can always be discerned by the way and manner it caters for its poor and vulnerable. It is no coincidence that the world’s most stable and progressive societies are societies that have emphasized the provision of safety nets for their poor and vulnerable. These nations are aware that a society is only as strong as its weakest link. The leadership of Nigeria at all levels of government must awake to this realization.
Amasike writes from Lagos