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Is Nigeria’s Social Protection on the cusp of transformation?


Will the design of a direct cash transfer in Nigeria ensure its ongoing popularity and sustainability? Guest blogger Gbenga Shadare considers Nigeria’s social protection issues.

Will community-based targeting of those in poverty provide a necessary safety net?

In the course of the last presidential campaign in Nigeria, which saw the People’s Democratic Party overthrown for the first time since the return to democracy in 1999,  the candidate for the All Progressive Congress promised a direct cash transfer to the poorest citizens. While pundits and critics generally viewed it as an unrealisable promise designed to win votes, it seems that, following Buhari’s election, Nigeria could be on the cusp of a social protection transformation.

A few months into office, the new administration created the National Social Safety Net Coordination Office (NASSCO), placed under the department of the Vice President.  NASSCO has the responsibility of coordinating all social assistance programmes in Nigeria. The administration also organised several summits in collaboration with the World Bank and DFID to share social protection practices and experiences from other countries, to support the design of a scheme appropriate for Nigeria.  Unsurprisingly, given the lack of consensus on the benefits of universal welfare schemes, a conditional cash transfer (CCT) was found to be the most appropriate mechanism. The first budget released by the Buhari administration contained earmarked funds for a CCT. Last year, the World Bank loaned half a billion dollars (US$500million) to support the CCT.

The CCT – part of the administration’s Social Investment Programmes – has now taken form: it will provide a cash transfer to households living in poverty throughout Nigeria, identified through a combination of geographical and community-based targeting. Each household will receive a base transfer of NGN 5,000 ($16 per month), while the most vulnerable households will be eligible for an additional monthly benefit of NGN 5,000 ($16) on condition that they attend skills training, attend medical appointments and ensure that their children remain in school. The entire project is national in coverage and federal in funding, but the registry holding beneficiary information is state-based, with communities choosing the beneficiaries.

By December 2016, the government had begun payment, initially in nine states with existing registries identifying the most vulnerable citizens: Borno, Oyo, Kogi, Cross-River, Bauchi, Kwara, Ekiti, Kwara and Ogun. The Office of the Vice President announced, in January of 2017, that other states had begun to develop their own registries and would be included in subsequent phases of the CCT implementation.

It is evident that the administration has the determination to follow through with its promise: the question is the wisdom of the policy and the methods used. The World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, Rachid Benmessaoud, once observed that it is commendable that Nigeria is dedicating a significant part of its budget to social protection at a particularly challenging economic time, given that the country is in a dire economic state given the sharp drop of oil prices which has affected everything from the value of the national currency – and, in turn, the price of goods and services– to government revenue collection.

Some critics argue that it is not the right time to pursue social protection because the resources earmarked for cash transfers could be used for investments such as upgrading public infrastructure. This argument places investment in social protection and other spending as mutually exclusive and, furthermore, it is during challenging economic times that we find the strongest rationale for investing in social protection. In reality, the spending on social protection does not preclude the administration from undertaking other tasks and, anyway, it is a small budget at only roughly about NGN500 billion in 2016 or 0.33 per cent of GDP (or less than a third by proportion of the investment in social protection by the much poorer country of Nepal). It remains to be seen, though, whether the budget will be sustainable in coming years.

We can ask: why has the Nigerian government decided to pursue what some observers consider a flawed social protection trajectory and a programme design – targeting the poor – that has been proven to be unpopular across the world, since it excludes the majority of the population (Kidd, 2015)? In many developing countries, social protection programmes are being introduced as inclusive schemes for citizens rather than targeting the poor (which is an impossible task, anyway). Does the non-inclusive programme design demonstrate that the government does not fully appreciate the principle that investment in social protection is an essential component of a successful market economy and a right for all citizens?

In conclusion, while superficially, Nigeria’s social protection programme, as pledged by the current administration, appears to be a popular agenda with the Nigerian masses although, when the majority realise that they are excluded, this may not last. Nonetheless, given this current political leverage, there is a chance of continuity and possible programme expansion by subsequent administrations, as long as more popular and inclusive designs are adopted. There is a growing space for research to capture shortcomings and proffer solutions. The place to begin is to analyse the current system and propose an alternative vision of social protection for the Nigerian government.



  • The problem with Nigeria’s social protection trajectory is that it is driven to a very large extent by political motives rather than the will to truly provide for the welfare of citizens and ensure and inclusive development trajectory in the country. Inclusive development has been one of the fundamental barriers to achieving significant development in the country, not just now but since after the civil war that ended in 1970. Social protection in country remains more a political instrument deployed by politicians for attracting political support and votes during elections. A look at the development of social protection in the country reveals this line of argument, social protection in its current form in Nigeria began in 2004, 14years ago yet, it has been unable to acquire the desired momentum that should driven it. Each government since 2004 has voiced the need to have social protection programmes in the country but what has happen is that most programmmes end up just located in a small community of political supporters and when sure government leaves office, such programmes die out and so there has been no continuity interns of social protection policy and programmes in the country. The current government will be launching a National Social Protection Policy between the 22-24 of January, 2019. The question remains does it have the will to implement such a policy or is it timed to confused with the general elections to elicit support and votes during the election. What happens then to such a policy if the current regime loses the election. Will the new government adopt such policy. Because there has been two previous draftbsocial protection policies and a national social protection strategy plan before this one. Maybe the launching of this new National Social Protection Policy in 2019 is a sign of seriousness with developing and implementing a social protection. But, by and large social protection in Nigeria can only go further when it is institutionalised through a constitutional approach. I think the country’s development partners should consider pushing the government to take a constitutional approach to social protection if it is really desireous of making social protection a critical component of the country’s development. Especially within the context of developing a sustainable development pathway for Nigeria.

  • Interesting read and salient points. I am glad you have taken the time to write on Social Protection in Nigeria. Not a lot of people appreciate the importance of social protection in protecting the poor and the vulnerable in the society. It will interest you to know that CDGP is the largest non-government social protection programme and the largest cash transfer programme (soon to be overtaken by the national programme once it is fully rolled out) in the Nigeria at the moment.

    The CDG programme is also one of the key partners supporting the Nigerian Government’s National Social Protection Programme. We are happy to share our experience in implementing a flagship nutrition-sensitive social protection programme in Northern Nigeria, our approach to targeting, the results achieved so far and the support to the social protection programme in Nigeria, including NASSCO.

    See a short brief about CDGP below.

    The Child Development Grant Programme (CDGP) is a flagship, 49 million GBP, United Kingdom’s Agency for International Development (UKAID) funded programme that provides a monthly unconditional cash transfer of 4,000NGN (approximately 10 GBP) to pregnant women till their children reach the age of two (2) in Zamfara and Jigawa states; thereby focusing on the critical first 1,000 days of life. The programme is aimed at reducing the prevalence of stunting and improving food security in beneficiaries household. The unconditional cash transfer is complemented by behavioural change communication on maternal, infant and young child nutrition to the beneficiaries. Save the Children is delivering the programme in partnership with Action Against Hunger (AAH) and in close collaboration with the state governments and will run from 2013 to 2019.

    So far, the programme has reached 65,606 beneficiaries as at June 2017 and aims to reach a final target of 90,000 in April 2018. In targeting beneficiaries, CDGP deploys geographical followed by universal targeting instead of poverty targeting – all pregnant women in implementing communities are eligible beneficiaries and they benefit from the cash transfer until their children reach the age of 2. The choice of universal targeting is because there is very little difference between the poor and the very poor in the implementing communities, the cost of poverty ranking across the communities is high and the evidences that show that malnutrition affects all wealth quintiles.

    Also, CDGP is proving to be very popular with beneficiaries, communities and the government. A beneficiary’s husband has this to say about the programme – ‘Another aspect that we have experience[d] change as a community is people[’s] attitude towards exclusive breastfeeding, the programme has reoriented and created awareness among household about the significance of good diet in the lives of children and women’ (OPML independent evaluation, 2016). Key government stakeholders from the state governments and the national social investment programme have visited the programme and have appreciated the way the programme is improving nutritional outcomes by preventing malnutrition. The programme utilises some existing structures at the community level and a crop of passionate and trained community volunteers to implement key aspects of the behavioural change communication on nutrition.

    Thank you.


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