INVESTIGATION: Poorest Nigerians deprived of federal government’s cash transfer
Living in extreme poverty does not entitle a household to N5, 000 monthly handouts, a social protection initiative by the federal government. It is rather a game of chance, determined by residence and individuals’ luck – investigations by the ICIR in three states reveal.
AS the World Poverty Clock ticks away in the race to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030, Nigeria turns the clock backward by pushing six persons into extreme poverty every minute. Projections already suggest that Nigeria has overtaken India as a country with the highest number of extremely poor people. Surrounded by this growing poverty, the federal government has begun a cash transfer to poor and vulnerable households.
The N5, 000 monthly cash transfer is ultimately to bring the recipients out of poverty. But since December 2016 that the payment started, only 297, 973 caregivers are currently being paid in what appears as a drop in the ocean. Estimations suggest that about 87 million Nigerians – 44 percent of the country’s population of 196 million – live below the International Poverty Line of $1.90 (N684) a day.
Every two months, the federal government disburses nearly N3 billion to the beneficiaries. But with millions of outstretched hands in need of financial assistance, the cash transfer scheme has turned into a lottery.
“They told us that computer didn’t pick their names,” says Alex Nwoye, a recipient of the N5, 000. After an assessment and enumeration of poor and vulnerable households in his community, 79 households were documented but only 33 are currently receiving cash.
About a year ago, Nwoye and others at Otoko, a community in Isuaniocha in Awka North Local Government Area (LGA) in Anambra State, gathered at the village square to listen to government officials who had come to collect the names of poor people. The villagers were asked to identify the poor and vulnerable among them – the aged, widows, persons living with disabilities or chronic diseases and those without jobs. The aged or widows living in elegant houses were skipped.
After the sensitisation, the officials returned another day to visit the poor and vulnerable in their houses and collect their data. “I led them to every house of the poor in this village,” says Nwoye who is surprised that less than a half of the households that enumerators gathered their data made the list of beneficiaries.
Those enumerated households that did not make the successful list had been told that computer did not select them. But the information was hard for them to believe because some of those who were chosen were better off than those dropped. Nwoye was particularly accused of conniving with the government officials to pick the fortunate households.
The exclusion of Nwachukwu Obiakor, the oldest man in the community, reinforces the allegation against Nwoye. The villagers fail to understand how the computer selected the likes of middle-aged and energetic Nwoye but rejected old and frail Obiakor. They had been told of the second batch of beneficiaries but they have waited for too long to realise the list may never come.
Obiakor is saddened that his household was omitted from the beneficiaries. The wall of his two-room house is marked with a fading white chalk to show that his household was captured in the enumeration of poor and vulnerable households.
Most times, he sits at an uncompleted bungalow beside his house where he sees his aged wife frying garri and the children playing at the village square. He had sat down here to hear the sound of ogene by the town crier, calling the lucky ones from the village to go to Central School, Isuaniocha, where they joined others from the neighbouring communities to receive cash from the government.
“Please, the government should help me so that I can use the money to feed,” says Obiakor in Igbo. He still holds a plate that he has emptied the content while interacting with the ICIR reporter. He has five children who are not living with him.
“His children are not doing well,” adds Cletus Okafor, the Vice-President of Isuaniocha Development Union. “It is so unfortunate that our oldest man who deserves this cash isn’t getting it. He depends on what people give to him.”
Okafor, a retired police officer, has been observing the implementation of the cash transfer in Isuaniocha, the only ward on the scheme in Awka North. He does not think that there was a devious selection of the beneficiaries. The only problem, he says, is that the number of recipients is very small. More than 1, 000 poor and vulnerable households were captured during the enumeration but only about 300 are receiving the money in Isuaniocha.
Not many of the villagers agree with Okafor. A woman who sells timber at Ifite Isu, whose husband was among those that mobilised the villagers to participate in the scheme, tells the ICIR that in Umudunu, a village next to Otoko, some of the beneficiaries have jobs. She argues that those that have jobs should not have been selected when there are a lot of poorer people who have been denied the financial assistance.
Although Umudunu is smaller than Otoko, it has more than 50 beneficiaries, yet many poor and vulnerable households in the community were excluded. Jerome Nwankwo was identified and his house marked but he is not a recipient.
“They registered me and my wife but our names did not come out,” Nwankwo says. “We are pained because the names of others that registered came out.” He has two children but one has been sick. His shoulders hunched when he stands, he is not able to cultivate his land because of back pain. His family has been surviving on the goodwill of relatives.
Nwankwo’s neighbour, Samuel Okeke, was in the hospital the day the enumerators came and his household was missed. He has a chronic illness and has not worked for years. His relatives married for him and he has a child.
If there is only one person that deserves the financial assistance in Umudunu, Theresa Okafor appears to be the one. She is a widow and lives alone in a tiny hut, surrounded by clay pots for her water storage. She is not a beneficiary.
When Samuel Obiekwe, a blind man from Otoko, was not enrolled into the scheme after his household was enumerated, he left his village with his wife and child to Orji in Enugu State where he begs for alms, his brother, John, tells the ICIR.
The criteria for selecting the beneficiaries do not really make much sense to Mathew Nwaekeogwu, a smallholder farmer, and trader from Akwa in Dunukofia LGA. He was disappointed when he learned that an able-bodied driver from his village is collecting the money. He believes that the money should be given to only those that cannot work because of age, disability or sickness.
“How can a man who can work claim this money that should have gone to widows and sick people or old people?” asks Nwaekeogwu who believes that the government should not give money to people who should go into farming or do other things to make money because such handouts will make them lazy.
“There is never a time people will be perfect,” says Raphael Obiechina, Anambra State’s focal person for the cash transfer programme. “Actually, we are not the people that generated the social register but if they give us, we pay.” He denies the alleged dishonesty in selecting the beneficiaries, pointing out that many of the enumerated households are not receiving cash because they failed to provide passport photographs and other documents during enrolment.
More than 30, 000 poor and vulnerable households have been captured in Anambra but only 3,253 from six LGAs are being paid. Obiechina says that the commissioner of economic planning in the state had vowed to take it up with Abuja for the state to have more enrolment.
“We cannot pay everyone on the social register,” Maryam Uwais, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection, tells the ICIR. That is why we use the proxy mean test to sort and rank the various households, she says. “We are trying to be scientific to address poverty.”
Uwais explains that the disproportionate numbers of beneficiaries across the states have to do with population and absolute poverty status in those states.
Beneficiaries of the cash transfer are selected from the National Social Register that contains the data of poor and vulnerable households in the country. The social register is generated by the National Social Safety-Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) which supervises the states’ counterparts.
So far, 503,005 poor and vulnerable households have been captured in the social register in 20 states while only 297, 973 are currently receiving the financial assistance.
Apera Iorwa, Head of NASSCO, says three targeting mechanisms are used in identifying poor and vulnerable households. The first is what he calls geographic targeting using poverty data and map. This involves using existing ground classifications on the poverty situation across the states to define poverty incidence and provide the basis for the classification, ranking, and selection of participating local government areas based on their poverty status.
The second approach is community-based targeting which uses community members or leaders to identify the poorest and vulnerable households. Iorwa says one of the principles of the community-based targeting is that “expectations/benefits of the operations shouldn’t be disclosed to community before and during CBT processes.”
After identifying and collecting data of poor and vulnerable households, a proxy mean test is used to select the beneficiaries of the cash transfer. Iorwa explains that “proxy mean tests are generated for actual household welfare through observable household and individual characteristics such as the location and quality of the household’s dwelling, its ownership of durable goods, its demographic structure, and the education and occupations of its adult members.”
He adds: “All these methods are combined in an objective, transparent and reliable manner in identifying and screening poor and vulnerable households for interventions. This combination of targeting methods has the advantage of minimising exclusion and inclusion errors.”
As transparent and reliable as Iorwa thinks his selection process is, Musa Machi, the village head of Selefu in Paikoro LGA of Niger State, does not understand why no single member of his community is a beneficiary while Jimbolo, a nearby community has 20 beneficiaries. He laments that during an election, hundreds of his community members will come out to vote but when it comes to helping them, the government will not remember the community.
“They have not brought anything to us,” Machi says. When he heard that the people in the next village were being paid by the government, he contacted his councilor but did not get a satisfactory answer. He says the exclusion of his community is not fair because his people are as poor as others in the next village that are being paid. At an old age, he still uses a hoe to till the ground to plant root crops.
The reason for the exclusion of Machi’s community pales when Abubakar Dada, the village head of Pyanya, a neighbouring community, is a beneficiary. Dada clutches a smartphone and appears to be more comfortable than most members of neglected Selefu community. But even at Pyanya where 20 households are being paid, Tini Kwaso, an aged woman tells the ICIR she is not among the beneficiaries. She was not at home the day the enumerators came. She relies on peeling melon for livelihood and makes about N200 from selling the melon on certain market days.
“We are all poor here but nobody from our village is being paid by the government” says Mohammed Bello, the village head of Jita. “We are not happy that we are left out.” But in Gudna, a neighbouring community has 20 beneficiaries. In Pyata, a village next to Gudna, Bello Marafa, the village head, complains that his people have been excluded from the scheme.
Paying 20 households in one community and excluding everyone in another community questions the reasons for such selection when the communities appear to be on the same poverty status. There are no observable differences in the standard of living in the included and excluded communities. They live in mud houses and they are mostly subsistent farmers.
Niger State is one of the first eight states that payment started in December 2016 because the state already had certain data on poor and vulnerable households through a World Bank supported Youth Employment and Social Support Operation Project. The project which was approved in 2013 was to increase access of the poor to youth employment opportunities, social services, and strengthened safety net systems in participating states.
One of the four components of the project is to support Nigeria in implementing a conditional cash transfer programme. This will involve a compilation of the list of the most vulnerable people and households in the country. Eight states – Bauchi, Cross River, Ekiti, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Osun, and Oyo – participated in this aspect of the project.
“Only a small fraction of the poor has been identified and registered even in participating states,” says Foluso Okunmadewa, the World Bank’s Nigeria lead social protection specialist at the midterm review policy level meeting of the project in November last year.
The federal government adopted this existing social register in the eight states to start the cash transfer in December 2016. But the social register is discriminatory of communities. In Niger and other pilot states, only 30 communities are selected in each local government for the project. Initially, only 20 households were captured in the social database before it later increased to 40 households per community. Regardless of the size of the community and the number of vulnerable households, the benefitting households are restricted to either 20 or 40. This mode of selection excluded many vulnerable households even in participating communities.
“I know that when they go for identification, they find more than 40 poor and vulnerable households or sometimes less,” says Hadiza Shiru, the focal person for the cash transfer programme in Niger State. She says complaints from the excluded communities and households have been overwhelming but there is nothing she can do about it because the state is not responsible for generating the social register and selecting the beneficiaries.
IRREGULAR PAYMENT AND FORCED DEDUCTIONS
Beneficiaries in the eight pilot states are supposed to have been paid for at least 18 months. But in reality, majority of the beneficiaries in the states started receiving the money from January this year.
In Niger and Oyo states, most of the beneficiaries have received for only six months while few of their community members have been paid for at least 10 months. Silva Isiaka, a widow and orange seller, and Rafat Odula from Amule community in Ibadan South West, tell the ICIR they had received for only six months. Mosunmade Omiyale and Aduke Adeniran from Atere community say that they had received for eight and ten months respectively. But Kehinde Adepoju from Amunigun says she had only been paid for six months.
This discrepancy in paying the beneficiaries also happened in Niger State. Ali Magaji, the village head of Jimbolo community in Paikoro LGA, tells the ICIR that about seven persons were being paid until this year that all the selected 20 households started receiving the cash.
But the discrepant payments were not caused by the cash transfer office, says Ezekiel Oladipo, the Oyo State’ focal person for the cash transfer programme. When the scheme started in the eight pilot states, three banks were contracted to handle the payments. But when the beneficiaries went to the bank to claim their money, some would be paid and others would be denied.
This irregularity in paying the beneficiaries led the cash transfer office to terminate the contract with the banks and started paying beneficiaries every two months by cash. The beneficiaries assemble at their local governments to receive N10, 000. The caregiver or the alternate caregiver must be present to collect the cash. Any household that fails to show up on the day of payment will forgo the entitlement for the period and will not be able to reclaim it in the next payment cycle.
Gathering all the beneficiaries to receive cash on a particular day has become a problem because local politicians come on that day to demand that their supporters should also be paid. In Ibadan South West, APC local leaders query why members of opposition parties are beneficiaries but many members of the ruling party are not. They demand a fresh list of beneficiaries because the data of the current recipients were generated in 2014 before APC came into power.
“We have been having this problem, Oladipo says. “The politicians are accusing us of empowering opposition party members.” The politicians are acting on ignorance, he says, because the financial assistance is targeted at the poor and vulnerable households regardless of party affiliation.
Paying cash also comes with a deduction of beneficiary’s entitlement. Between N1, 000 and N3, 000 are taken from the beneficiaries in Oyo every payment cycle while in Niger, it is between N500 and 1,000. In Anambra, no money is being taken from the beneficiaries yet. The beneficiaries are to use to the deduction to run their mandatory cooperative societies. But not all the beneficiaries want to join a cooperative society.
Beneficiaries in Oyo State have been threatened that they will not be paid again if they do not form cooperative societies and make a certain amount of contribution. “The stipend will not be stopped,” says Oladipo “It is just that some of them are apathy to the cooperative and we are only using that tactics to get them to form cooperative and save money because the money will one day stop coming.”
But Rafiu Ajao and Jaleel Ganiyu, community leaders at Agbokojo and Amunigun believe that a cooperative society is not necessary and forcing the beneficiaries to part with their money for cooperative is unfair. They point out that the beneficiaries from each community will have to register a cooperative society in the local government with the sum of N10, 000.
Ajao argues that many of the beneficiaries are very old or have a chronic illness that they will not be able to do any business if they are given loan from the cooperative. “Cooperative won’t work because if they borrow money from cooperative, they can’t repay it.”
Aduke Adeniran, a recipient from Atere, agrees that a cooperative society will not work. She says the 12 beneficiaries from her community have esusu where they contribute N2, 000 for one of them on each payment cycle until it goes round to each member.
BADLY THOUGHT OUT SOCIAL PROTECTION
A focal person for the cash transfer programme in one of the states tells the ICIR that the federal government started the scheme in a haphazard fashion.
“They responded to pressure because people were castigating them that they promised N5, 000 to the poor but did not pay when they gained power. They were in a hurry to start and that is why we have all these problems.”
This focal person says that the money being wasted on the scheme should have been used to provide basic amenities in the communities instead of a cash transfer that discriminates against communities and exclude the poorest households.
The National Cash Transfer Office shared a success story of a community in Kogi State that saved up the grant to erect a borehole, an indication that providing basic amenities for these communities is better than the cash transfer.
The cash transfer programme currently covers 20 states while the rest of the 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory are yet to be brought on board. States are required to sign an agreement with the federal government as well as provide an office space and staff to run the programme.
But in some of the states, the enumerators use false information to put the names of their relatives and friends in the social register to gain from the cash transfer, says a senior staff of the National Cash Transfer Office.
- This investigation was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, ICIR.