By Cross Udo, Abuja
The federal and state governments have been advised not to discard the national social register used by Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, but rather review and revise its methodology to ensure that it is objective, transparent, and participatory.
The advice was given by research experts from Nextier which was contained in this week’s Nextier Policy Weekly analyses on the contentious National Social Register and its consequences for the poor and vulnerable.
Recall that in July 2023, the National Economic Council (NEC), comprising State Governors and the Vice President of Nigeria, opted to replace the present National Social Register with a new one. NEC cited a lack of credibility as the reason for discarding it.
The council also claimed that the register is riddled with inconsistencies, and the process of its compilation is unclear. Other claims included that it was impossible to transfer money to the poorest of the poor digitally, the vast majority of whom are unbankable.
Some governors noted that the cash transfer beneficiaries could not be identified in the villages. As a result, state governments were charged with creating new social registers in their respective states.
But Nextier in the report authored by Charles Asiegbu, Senior Policy and Research Analyst, Nextier, Bridge Fellow, Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG), and Uchenna Ossai, an International Development Professional and Social Development Consultant, posited that Various methods, such as self-targeting and categorical targeting, can capture different dimensions of poverty and vulnerability.
The research work was aimed at exploring the Social Register concept, its evolution, its purpose in Nigeria, and its usefulness in poverty reduction interventions.
According to the report, “Rather than discarding the existing register, efforts should be made to review and revise the NSR methodology to ensure it is objective, transparent, inclusive and participatory. Various methods, such as self-targeting and categorical targeting, can capture different dimensions of poverty and vulnerability.
“There is a need to put in place system-strengthening mechanisms to boost the National Social Register (NSR). Relevant stakeholders can adapt support activities to strengthen the NSR system with mechanisms for interoperability with humanitarian relief and health insurance.
“Social protection partners’ capacity-building activities could complement this to guarantee the implementation and monitoring of shock-sensitive, gender-transformative, disability-inclusive social protection systems and programmes.
“The NSR data should be updated frequently and thoroughly to reflect the emerging reality and circumstances of poor and vulnerable households and capture the new poor while removing households that may have escaped poverty. Existing Third-Party Monitoring groups should be strengthened and supported to evaluate and upscale efforts.”
They further stated that “The Third-Party Monitoring will ensure that data is continually gathered and analysed to inform routine decision-making by the managers and implementers of social protection programmes. It will also help provide an independent perspective on NSR performance.
“The government and stakeholders should make the NSR data accessible to the public. They can publicise the NSR data in a user-friendly format both online and offline, and if there are data protection concerns, organisations or individuals who require the data should be subjected to ethical procedures to gain access to them.”
*Expand it to capture different dimensions of poverty, vulnerability
In their policy recommendations, they advised that “The Nigerian government should channel efforts into reviewing and revising the NSR methodology to ensure it is objective, transparent, inclusive and participatory.
“There is a need to put in place system-strengthening mechanisms to boost the National Social Register (NSR)
“The NSR data should be updated frequently and thoroughly to reflect the emerging reality and circumstances of poor and vulnerable households and capture the new poor while removing households that may have escaped poverty.
“The government and stakeholders should make the NSR data accessible to the public.”
They said that Nigeria’s contentious social register highlights the complexities of developing a social register while emphasising the necessity for the participation of relevant stakeholders in articulating poverty reduction strategies.
“To have a real impact on the lives of the poor and vulnerable, the Nigerian government and relevant stakeholders must collaborate to address transparency issues, encourage equitable data gathering, and ensure the participation of excluded groups.
“An inclusive and well-governed social register can potentially improve the living conditions of the most disadvantaged,” they submitted.
Recall again that discussions on the social register became prominent following President Bola Tinubu’s decision to use the $800 million World Bank loan to ease the suffering of the poorest households caused by the removal of the petrol subsidy.
The president’s idea, which has been halted, was to provide ₦8,000 per month for six months to 12 million impoverished and vulnerable households.
While some Nigerians oppose the concept for various reasons, others genuinely wonder how people in need will be identified and how monetary transfers will be sent to the designated recipients and not diverted elsewhere.
Contrary to claims by the National Executive Council, the World Bank maintained that the National Social Register was developed by aggregating all State Social Registers from the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
According to them, each state government built its registers through Budget and Planning Ministries. These registers were forwarded to the Federal Government, which adopted them for its National Social Investment Programmes, particularly the Conditional Cash Transfers component.
The World Bank’s position is set against the backdrop of its support for the Federal Government of Nigeria in implementing the National Social Safety Nets Project (NASSP). Their assistance aimed to provide poor and vulnerable households’ access to targeted transfers through two components of the expanded national social safety nets system.
Also, some stakeholders have faulted the government’s move to discard the existing social register. Civil society organisations (CSOs) serving as Third-Party Monitors (TPM) for the National Social Safety Net Programme (NASSP) recently recommended that the Nigerian government at both the federal and state levels jettison the plan to abandon the National Social Register (NSR).
They claim that it will be detrimental to the country’s progress. They noted that the United Nations, World Bank, and other development partners invested huge resources towards creating the register and ensuring it is credible.
A social register aids in outreach, intake, registration, and establishing probable eligibility for one or more social services. They serve a social policy function as inclusion systems and an operational function as information systems. Some social registers function as a platform for dynamic inclusion when registration is open and continuous.