APERA IORWA: NAPEP, SURE-P, Others Failed for Lack of Social Security Database

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Business Interview

Mr. Apera Iorwa is the National Coordinator, National Social Safetynets Coordinating Office (NASSCO), an agency of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development Coordinating the National Safetynets Programme. In this interview with Ndubuisi Francis, he provides perspectives on sundry nagging issues

What in essence does your office entail?

The federal government in 2016 (of course at the coming of the current administration in 2015) prioritised social protection as a strategy to poverty alleviation or an approach to dealing with the poverty question in Nigeria and so that then gave rise to them approaching the World Bank and in partnership with the World Bank, established the national safetynets programme.

This programme in itself, as the loan or the credit facility is known, created the National Social Safetynets Coordinating Office (NASSCO) and the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO). NASSCO, being the umbrella body that oversees the activities of NCTO.

NASSCO was therefore created primarily to build structures and systems for the implementation of social protection programmes in the country, including the development of the National Social Registrar.

The second part of NASSCO’s work is to co-ordinate the implementation of the social safety nets programme at the time that the federal government had three social safety nets programmes, all with the support of the World Bank.

One is the National Cash Transfer Office. This is the office responsible for paying out N5,000 cash transfer to poor and vulnerable Nigerians every month, but they pay in two month cycles of N10, 000.

The second social safety net programmes that is under the supervision of NASSCO is the Youth Employment and Social Support Operations. They are responsible for supporting state governments who have signed up to the agreement to do skills for jobs to provide business and employment opportunities for youths and to provide opportunities for others on the social register without jobs to also have daily jobs to support their families.

The third social safety nets programme that is under the purview of NASSCO is the Community and Social Development Programme (CSDP). Now, the CSDP is a community-based programme wherein the community will sit to decide among themselves what their needs are and what gaps are. Once they establish those, then the project comes in to help them provide their needs such as schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, clean water in terms of boreholes. So, these three programmes are under the purview of NASSCO.

The Youth Employment and Social Support Operations loan was tenored and so the loan came to an end in September 2020, but the CSDP and NCTO are still in existence. So, on the one hand we coordinate the national safety nets and on the other we develop social nets including the building of the social register.

I would presume that NASSCO is an equivalent of what we used to have under a previous administration, known as NAPEP. Is that correct?

Not nationally, in the sense that NAPEP was an implementing programme. They were implementing an intervention for government. NASSCO, on the other hand, does not do implementation; we coordinate implementation. But we do not do implementation ourselves. This time around, it is also different because the government is looking more to institutionalising in a very structured manner, our approaches to tackling poverty and this institutionalisation stems from establishing who are the poor, where do they reside, how do you bring them on a platform where we can target help to them easily? So, government started the building of the National Social Register.

The social register is an information gateway of potential beneficiaries into any social intervention programme and these beneficiaries must be poor, and once government identifies these poor people, it then registers them into the social register. This is where everybody that will enjoy social support from government is taken from.

So, the National Cash Transfer programme mines from this social register to impact on people and give them cash. The Youth Employment and Social Support Operation programme that I mentioned earlier used to mine from the social register for youth from poor and vulnerable homes and place them in vocation, skills acquisition, train them and then give them starter packs to start up a business of their own. The CSDP uses the mapping for the social register to identify the poor and vulnerable communities. It is in these vulnerable communities that they will try to provide roads, schools, clinics etc.

So the social register then becomes a rallying point for social intervention wherein from the social register you then build up programmes that will affect and impact the poor and vulnerable which will lead them out of poverty.

The Community and Social Development Programme uses the mapping for the social register to identify the poor and vulnerable communities. It is in these vulnerable communities that they will try to provide road, school, clinics etc.

So the social register then becomes a rallying point for social intervention wherein from the social register you then build up programmes that will affect and impact the poor and vulnerable which will lead them out of poverty.

At the launch of the Rapid Response Register for COVID-19 Cash Transfer recently, the Vice President said the federal government was targeting to lift 20 million out of poverty through the disbursement of N5,000 per month. People see this as laughable. How realistic is that?

Okay, here is what the vice president said at the launch of the Rapid Response Register for COVID-19 Cash Transfer. The vice president said for the first time in our country, we have a digitalised system of identifying the poor or vulnerable and registering them in electronic end-to-end system. So, it is an electronic end-to-end system. We use satellite imagery and sensory technology to map the urban areas where the poor live. Now, when you take a satellite of say an environment here, you will see that the houses are well structured with good streets and when you then take a satellite of somewhere like Kugbo you will see more closely packed together structures with very narrow streets or no streets at all, with very tight buildings done out of wood or zinc or anything like that. We identify the poor. So with that satellite imagery technology that is being used, we have identified and isolated those communities, marking them clearly that this is where our urban poor live and so through that means, we would then reach out to them through electronic means probably SMS to register them into the platform.

Now, this registration and this register has the capacity and the potential to register 20 million people, but what the federal government is doing is that in the Economic Sustainability Plan it approved a cash transfer for one million people. So, out of this huge data base of 20 million, the government is going to pay one million people N5000 for six months. But the vice president was saying now we have a database, we can only increase. So, if the budget moves from the amount we are paying one million people they will not go and re-invent the wheel to look for the people; we already have a database. So, the vice president was saying now we have a database we can do a social security system for the country. You know globally in other countries of the world like UK and US, there is a social security system where welfare is given to citizens. Here, one of the most challenging issues like you mentioned NAPEP, SURE-P and other programmes in the past is that we didn’t have that kind of database and so when government wants to do a programme like that, it will depend on people giving names of people. May be this person knows this person or persons, and vice versa. But in this system, it’s not like that. We already have a database that at any time government can rely on.

Sorry to interject….The social register is also subject to manipulation, because somebody has to recommend somebody even if you are doing it state by state. If he is the one, for instance, who is to recommend those who benefit is subjective….?

Nobody is recommending on this one. I was explaining to you the system of the social register. System of the social register is different from the Rapid Response Register and I will differentiate the two.

For the process of the rapid response register, government has used technology to identify the poor areas. Then, government will send SMS. The email I told you I was going to write here was to the Nigeria Communications Communication (NCC). We have applied to NCC to give us access to the short code to use. Now, say you or me living in Kugbo, they will send a text message ton you. You know every locality has a telephone mast attached to it. The text message is going only to those telephone numbers that are around that telephone mast, not in the other community.

So, when the text message gets to them, it will tell them that the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development is doing the rapid response register for COVID-19 cash transfer. ‘If you are an artisan, an informal worker, somebody on daily income earning that has been affected by the pandemic, please follow this link ‘ and the link will only ask for your name, telephone number, area you reside, street number.

And wherein you don’t have a street like mostly that place doesn’t have street name, then give us a landmark. Like when we did a pilot in Lagos and in the FCT, people were giving opposite ECWA Church Karshi or opposite emir’s palace in Karshi. So, you give us where we can trace you. So, once we have this information, we clean the data up. Then, the enumerators will take this data. These enumerators are not here. The data is coming to our office here.

We are doing everything here and we will get the list then we will send the list to every state of the federation which has a state operations and coordinating unit domiciled in the ministry of planning. These are the people responsible for validating the data. So, they will take this data we have given them, they will go back to Kugbo. ‘You said you are Mr. Friday staying in Kugbo opposite the Emir’s palace? In that same Kugbo, opposite the Emir’s palace in Kugbo. They will ask for Mr. Friday; they will call your number, you will answer them and direct them to where you are and then you will meet them. They will take further information: your name, date of birth, your NIN or driver’s licence or any birth certificate or any means of identification. Then, they will take the geo-coordinate of your house wherein you will see that everybody identified by that process will have a geo-coordinate that we can use to identify such individual.

This information is not taken verbally. There is an app on the tablet. As soon as they are clicking enter we are having the information here because it is electronic end-to-end. It’s digitalised. When we get that information, we then clean the data.

We have set up systems to validate. Like you said, it’s subject to manipulation. We have anticipated some of the issues and one major way to get that is through the civil society organisations, who will monitor this process plus we have an internal system we call the back-up check. So, the state teams are the ones that will go and validate this information right and bring them unto the register.

Our team here will do what we call the back-up check electronically. There is also a form we will drop unannounced at Kugbo using the geo-coordinate. ‘I want to see Mr. Friday such that if Mr. Friday is a fictitious person, they will identify. They will use the geo-coordinate you have taken so they will go back to validate the information as backup check. We also satisfy ourselves that this person is now in the rapid response register and they will be paid N5,000 cash transfer for six months.

Now the second part of your question that it is laughable that we are paying N5,000, I will give some simple examples to buttress the fact that N5,000 is a large sum of money. Those whom we are targeting are those who have been affected–the daily income earners. Let’s take, for example, the man that was a gardener or a man who was in a launderer in a hotel or a cleaner. Because the hotel locked down for three months, they were not having business you now laid them off. The man has been out of that job for eight months. Now that they have reopened, they don’t even have business yet. His salary even before now was N10,000 a month or N15,000 except you show me or see these menial jobs people that collect N20,000 or N30,000 a whole month. Now for eight months he has not collected any amount of money. Then government issues N5,000. It’s almost like manner from heaven. Now, this N5,000, what can it do for you? Let’s bring it closer home. The akara sellers or suya sellers, I am very sure you have missed seeing them outside because they don’t have money to come out and sell. So he/she takes the N5,000 and go and buy beans with N2,000 and comes back and reopen her small business that will be giving her daily income like before.

You see now in every crisis, pandemic or the great recessions of this world, global best practices depict three stages of interventions. The first one is relief. Relief usually comes in cash and food stamps where you then queue up and collect goods for free and all of that.

The second one comes in small grants for small businesses which the government is doing thought CBN and giving grants, loans, survival funds, etc. And then the third one is recovery where you put them in livelihood programmes like skills for job that gives them good job.

So, we are in that first stage of relief which is the cash. You did hear that the American president, as soon as he was sworn in announced a cash package that would be given to Americans. This cash comes into the economy, it also stimulates and boosts the economy.

Now government through this one million pays N5,000 to one million people; that is N5 billion into the economy at once. Now, everybody that collects this money is not going to put it in esusu. They are going to buy food. All of them are going to buy food. Suddenly, there is demand for food and as they are buying the food, what will happen?

The suppliers will have to bring more food and as the suppliers want to bring more food, the manufacturers will have to manufacture, and as the manufacturer has huge demand now that every month now they are selling 1000 of bags of rice instead of 100 bags, they will want to go and manufacture more and as they want to manufacture more, they will need to open these companies and employ those same people they sacked because there was a closure and then the demand shrank and then they could produce only little. You see the logic in the economy!

Now these producers will then go back and employ the people they laid off because they need to produce more rice into the market. These people now get their jobs back and help to reduce unemployment. Meanwhile, the manufacturer that is producing more rice he will have to pay tax that the government will pick.

Government has invested in the lower pyramid of the poor, the poor has stimulated demand by buying in the market, the demand will stimulate supply and manufacturing and wheels of the economy starts turning back gradually.

Now to the extent of the capacity of the government at the moment and the funds that we have, we are doing one million but what the vice president was saying was that we now have a platform. You don’t have to be afraid of Mr. A going to recommend Mr. B or anything. This is a transferring process that government has put in place to the register. You can easily come and mine from this register and also give cash benefits to Nigerians. The funds we’re using are properly budgeted for. The fund we are using is approved by the Economic Sustainability Plan and the World Bank credit that the government partnered with the bank to receive the facility to float my office (NASSCO).

So we are using the ESP budget funds and also the World Bank credit funds to drive this whole programme and process.

How much is the World Bank trade credit?

The World Bank trade credit is $500 million over five and five the five years will end in year 2022 The outbreak of the pandemic and the closure have turned almost everything we are doing into an emergency and the government quickly discussed with the bank and said how do you then support us further to develop this database and the bank has been working with us closely to develop this database using high level technology. Like the vice president said, Nigeria will be the very first country to an end-to-end targeting system electronically.

From your explanation, the $500 million World Bank credit facility is ending next year, 2022. So far, you have run it for four years. What has been the impact?

Yes, the impact has been huge such that the social register which is the register of the poor and vulnerable identified by their community that they are poor and brought into the register has now grown to six million households made up of 25 million individuals. We have the record of the 25 million individuals, we know their names, so it’s very easy for government to get any social intervention to them. This is the first time we have a database as rich as that and we have a database at this moment of 25 million people. Total estimated poor people In Nigeria is 82 million so if you have 25 million that is about 30 per cent of total estimated people in Nigeria.

The Rapid Response Register targeted 20 million, we added into that number. So, we have a database of close to 60 per cent of the estimated poor people in Nigeria. Effectively, government has the database of the people we targeted this cash transfer and effectively lead them out of poverty.

Now I give you the example of the N5,000 for the Rapid Reponse Register and the impact it will have on consumption which will reduce poverty. That’s a multiplying effect to every individual we would give the money to 2-3 or 5 people that are staying in his house. By him buying rice from this wholesaler, the wholesaler also has a family, right? His profit increased, he can train his children in federal schools and give them better living condition.