The social welfare programmes of the government at all levels have, in the past, been fraught with so much opacity and fraud which were all rooted in the lack of a genuine and reliable database of the rightful beneficiaries for which the social welfare programs were intended. Consequently, the funds distributed by the past governments ended up in the pockets of political jobbers and cronies of those in government while the real poor people continued to languish in abject penury.
The administration of former President Mohammadu Buhari introduced some social welfare initiatives such as the Federal Government School Feeding Programme, the Trader Money Initiative, and the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, to mention a few. These programmes, as good as they appeared to alleviate poverty, did not make the required impact because the ultimate beneficiaries were not fairly and transparently selected for the purpose. Most of the time, the names on the supposed list were those of party members, relations or friends of those in government.
Clearly, the new government appears to be going the same route. The government of President Bola Tinubu, in a bid to cushion the effect of its policy changes, came up with the idea of palliative programmes for the impoverished population. Just recently, the Federal Executive Council and the National Economic Council approved the disbursement of N5bn for each of the 36 states in the federation, and disbursement of some trailer-load of grains from the government strategic grains reserve for distribution. It was observed that the Federal Government chose to go the way of the states, having realised it was unable to determine who the true beneficiaries of the palliative measures should be, thereby pushing that task to the state government. Even at the state level, there is currently no reliable database from which we can profile Nigerians and stratify them into economic classes based on their income levels.
The whole world has advanced in technology. Governments in developed countries usually distribute financial aid and support in the form of bank credit to the accounts of eligible citizens. It is not the best approach to distribute rice to people in this present age because the distribution process can never be objective.
Palliative measures or government support should always be monetised and credited into people’s accounts. The task now will be how to compile the register of the truly poor Nigerians. I will itemise the steps we need to follow as a nation to achieve this. It may take between 6 and 12 months to achieve a full result from the project.
First, the President should direct the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to mandate all banks and mobile money/wallet operators to adopt the use of National Identity Number as a compulsory requirement for all bank accounts or wallets in Nigeria. The CBN can give a period of 6 months for all bank customers to do this, and any account or wallet not linked to NIN after the deadline will be frozen and not accessible by the owner. For the effectiveness of NIN validation and linkage to customers’ accounts or wallets, a strong partnership and cooperation is required among the CBN, National Identity Management Commission, and Nigerian Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc. The NIBSS can be made a gateway through which all banks connect to the NIMC for NIN validation.
Moving forward, with the support from NIBSS, the CBN can harvest the data of all accounts linked to NINs and then liaise with the NIMC to determine those enrollees with NIN records but without any bank account. These people will represent those financially excluded in society and for them, the CBN will then open eNaira wallets each for every one of the masking banks to use their NIN biometric (fingerprints, eye retina etc.) already with NIN as the only means to access the wallet. Where the CBN and NIMC cannot achieve this through their joint efforts, banks are much more willing, able and ready if assigned the NIN database of those enrollees without bank accounts to open wallets for all of them.
Some people may wonder why the NIN should be the basis for the compilation of a social register, and serve as a replacement for the BVN. Well, the number of NIMC enrollment is almost half the Nigerian population, standing at 101 million as of June 2023. NIN enrollees almost doubled that of BVN enrollees which stood at 57 million in the same period.
The Ministry of Communications will need to embark on public mass education and awareness creation to encourage those without NIN to register in order to participate in the government’s social support programme in future. This will practically drive up the enrollees’ number to almost 150 million in six months. If this can be achieved Nigeria will have a usable database of about 75 per cent of its population and this will be a huge success.
The task then becomes simplified to determine the truly poor whose names should appear in the social welfare register. All the government needs to do each time cash transfers are to be made is to determine the minimum income benchmark set for a period say six or 12 months while those earning above that income level will be excluded from the list of the vulnerable. How do we screen and profile for eligibility? The NIBSS and Interswitch can be given the task to run a screening against inflows into all accounts or wallets linked to each NIN, and Nigerians having total inflows within the minimum benchmark set by the government shall be included on the eligible list, while those earning beyond the limit shall be automatically excluded from the social welfare programme. And having compiled the list, electronic funds transfer can be pushed to all the beneficiaries’ accounts or wallets by the responsible government department or the CBN and people can access the funds through their accounts.
This automated process will not only bring transparency into the government’s humanitarian and social welfare programmes, but it will also guarantee a strong audit trail and accountability. Above all, it will leave in its trail a robust database of Nigerians, available for several other government programmes and economic planning.
Having brought most Nigerians into the NIMC database with this feat, the NIN can then become a compulsory requirement in our daily lives. It can be useful in accessing certain services like the registration of vehicles, approval of survey or house plan, issuance of Certificate of Occupancy, incorporation of business with the Corporate Affairs Commission, application for passport, driver’s licence and voter card, issuance of tax identification number to mention a few.
The success of any social welfare programme in any nation will depend on the availability of a valid and robust database with which to determine the list of eligible nationals. This feat remains a problem in our nation today. The time has come for a change in approach to a digital way.
Kehinde writes via [email protected]