Nigeria set to launch Social Security package for millions of poor citizens

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

The Nigerian government is set to introduce a social safety net that would allow millions of poor citizens enjoy cash backups to meet their basic socio-economic needs, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced Tuesday.

The minister, who disclosed this in Abuja during her appearance on the Ministerial Platform to brief the media on the programmes of her ministry, said arrangements towards the take-off of the scheme were being finalized.

Unlike several other countries, Nigeria presently runs no social security package for either the poor, unemployed, aged or women. Only a few states, such as Ekiti and Ogun, provide monthly support to the aged.

The outgone Fayemi government paid N5,000 monthly to the elderly.

In South Africa, for instance, social services for the citizens forms a significant part of the country’s annual budget.

Bills pushing for government support to unemployed and aged Nigerians have remained stuck in the National Assembly for years.

Details of the new plans announced by the finance minister are not clear yet.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala merely said the proposed Social Safety Net would be specifically targeted at the rural poor and would serve as a financial support to help beneficiaries send their children to school and access primary health care, amongst others benefits.

The minister said already the scheme has already undergone experimentation in Kano State to see how useful it would be in sending the girl-child to school.

The result so far, she said, has showed remarkable leap in girls’ enrollment in schools in the area.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the government would expand the scope and extend cash access to poor families to enable them to move up from the poverty trap to get their children educated and get their health index right.

“Government has asked an Inter-Ministerial Committee headed by the Ministry of Finance to work on this issue,” she said. “So as we speak, we are looking at what is called a Social Safety Net, which is designed to bring people at the bottom in poverty up. We are looking at various mechanisms, the biggest social safety net is jobs.”

She said the government would also be focusing on sectors that were not creating jobs fast enough, to replace them with other programmes capable of supporting the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) to create jobs for more people to save Nigerians from hand-outs.

The minister, who used the opportunity to review the performance of the economy and the budget, said the government was committed to sustaining the macroeconomic stability achieved so far by adopting appropriate fiscal and other measures to diversify Nigeria’s revenue base and improve the level of prudence in the management of available resources.

According to Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, despite the downturn and serious uncertainties about the growth prospects of many economies globally, the outlook of Nigeria’s economy remained bright.

She cited the rebased Gross Domestic Product, GDP, figures, single inflation rate and a robust foreign reserves profile as well as increasing opening up of the economy for private investments.

She assured that government was ready to do everything to ensure that the economy was not exposed to the current shocks that may be occasioned by the dwindling oil export revenues.

To ensure that declining revenue flows did not affect ongoing programmes targeted, the minister said plans had reached an advanced stage to create mechanisms to protect the economy against likely shocks from the current dwindling oil revenues from crude oil exports.

She identified the Agricultural, Housing, Telecommunications, Entertainment, Water, Health, Works and others as sectors enjoying substantial support of government in terms of funding over the past two years.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala disclosed that about $14.1 billion had been raised from various global multilateral and other financial institutions to support the various sectors.


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