COVID-19: FG to expand Social Register, targets 20 million vulnerable citizens

By Chimezie Godfrey

The Federal government is set to expand the database of the National Social Register (NSR) to cushion the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on  20 million informal urban workers.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq disclosed this during the Ministerial Dialogue on the National Social Register (NSR) on Tuesday in Abuja.

Farouq noted that fighting poverty has been the biggest challenge faced by every administration in Nigeria, and this is simply because poverty subdues development.

According to her, poverty remains a hard reality, adding that this is the reason why various stakeholders have to reflect on the capability of the National Social Register, as a tool for coordinating the various efforts towards reducing poverty.

The Minister recalled that in 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics estimated that 40.2% (equivalent to 82.9 million) Nigerians live below the poverty line on less than one dollar ninety cents (US$1.9), and another 10 million were expected to fall below the poverty as a result of the socio-economic impact of COVID-19 by the end of the year.

She said that the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN), under the current administration prioritized social protection (SP) interventions as a key strategy towards reducing poverty and addressing the effects of socio-economic vulnerabilities with two key instruments.

According to her, these instruments include the National Social Protection Policy (NSPP), which is currently under review; and, the joint FGN-IDA/World Bank National Social Safety-Nets Project (NASSP) all initiated in 2016.

Farouq stressed that the National Social Safety Net Project (NASSP) aims to invest resources to deliberately improve the lives of all vulnerable Nigerians.

According to her, to implement the NASSP, the Government established the National Social  Safety Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) to develop the building blocks and set the systems for implementing social safety nets in the country, as well as build the National Social Registry (NSR) – a hub for the aggregation of the databases of Poor and Vulnerable Households (PVHHs) across Nigeria.

She said,”Social registries serve both a social policy role, as inclusion systems, and an operational role, as information systems. They provide a “gateway” for potential inclusion of intended populations into social programs while reducing private and public transactions costs by simplifying certain steps, such as identification and registration of people eligible for social assistance.

“They also enable better coordination across programmes, more efficient delivery and better shock response.

“As of 31st January 2021, out of the estimated 82.9 million (40.2 percent) Nigerians living below the poverty line, we have identified and registered 26.8 million poor and vulnerable individuals, equivalent to about 6.3 million households in our country.

“We are expecting another 20 million to be added to the database and held in the Rapid Response Register – a shock responsive intervention register, specifically targeted at urban informal workers impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“This database capacity is unprecedented in the history of our dear country.”

The Minister revealed that the social Register has coverage across the 36 States of the Federation and the FCT. We are in 601 LGAs out of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria.

According to her, the NSR have covered 7,320 wards, and 72,363 communities, adding that this structure automatically provides the biggest database for any social inclusion or social protection intervention.

“Because of the size of the database, Ministries of Health, Women Affairs, Labour and Employment, Education, Agriculture, Youth, and many MDAs would find relevant database for pro-poor interventions.

“Currently, some of the programmes under the European Union funding stream are accessing the NSR database for their intervention.

“The United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), United Nations Women (UN Women) have also mined this database for its interventions, similarly, the National Health Insurance Scheme has mandated all State Contributory Health Management Schemes to mine from the register for social insurance schemes.”

She noted that at the state level, Anambra, Lagos and Kaduna states have mandated all their Ministries to mine the database for their pro-poor interventions.

“The rich database in the NSR provides us the opportunity to easily coordinate the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and achieve more effective coordination, documentary evidence of impact, and begin to bend and flatten the poverty curve in Nigeria.

“I am therefore pleased to announce and reiterate that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development now has the database that could provide evidence for impact tracing for most social development projects in Nigeria.

“We therefore welcome all MDAs and partners, to utilise the database of the poor and vulnerable Nigerians to support any effort that contributes to lifting people out of poverty,” she said.

Also speaking, the Minister of Youths and Sports, Sunday Dare said  noted that there is no country without the poor, without the vulnerable, without those that suffered disaster and without its youth and women.

Dare who commended the Humanitarian Affairs Minister stressed that the greatest beneficiaries of NSR are the poor and vulnerable Nigerians.

“And I think that the work that this ministry is doing and has done so far is commendable and I want to thank the honorable ministry of Humanitarian affairs for leading the charge to attend.

“The greatest beneficiaries of course are the Nigerian people – the poor and the vulnerable,  and as I sat there and I listened I realized that the youth might be the greatest beneficiaries, because when you look at all the demographics, the poor, the unemployed, those that are internally displaced, you find a large percentage of them.

“I think what you are putting together here will go a very long way to assist the youth ministry to plan, and also to seek for partners and build collaborations, linkages and alignment.

The Minister stressed  that the country needs unemployment benefits for its unemployed youths, adding. that the size of population of unemployed youths in the country is there for all to come to terms with.

“I think with what I’ve seen here that the ministry is doing, I want to suggest that we collaborate together a compelling justification and see how we can create a pathway to have some kind of unemployment benefit for the sake of our youth. And I think that would give our youth a bit of comfort

“I want to speak on skills.One of the greatest challenges I have faced in helping the youth is how to match the skillset that they have with available opportunities in our society and I have seen that part of what we are supposed to talk about today is matching skills with jobs,” the minister stressed.

Other dignitaries who spoke at the event include the  Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Fallen, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isah Pantami represented by the DG NIMC, Minister of State for Education, Chukwuemeks Nwajiuba, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, among others.