This is the seventh in the Graduation and Social Protection blog series
In recent weeks, Nigeria has occupied global headlines due to a number of good, bad and ugly events. Arguably, the ‘good’ event was the announcement that Nigeria is now Africa’s largest economy. Among the ‘bad’ and ‘ugly’ events, the continued attacks by ‘Boko Haram’ insurgents in the Northern part of the country, not least the unfortunate abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state, by suspected members of the Islamic fundamentalist sect.
Yet, underneath these good, bad and ugly headlines, there lies extreme poverty and underdevelopment. With rates of extreme poverty estimated to be as high as 60%, the vulnerabilities experienced amongst extremely poor households continue to rise. This is despite attempts by state and non-state actors to address these vulnerabilities through social protection programmes (SPP), such as the ‘In Care of the People’ (COPE) Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme. While several factors contribute to this unfortunate reality, the practice of prematurely ‘graduating’ participants out of programmes like COPE that is a major factor that keeps extremely poor people in their vulnerable conditions.
Where did COPE come from?
Nigeria’s debt relief agreement with the Paris Club and World Bank in 2005 came with concerns about what the country would do with the ‘gains’ from the debt relief. The creditors were adamant that Nigeria should make ‘pro-poor investments’ towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Thus, following the ‘success’ of Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America, the Nigerian government established the COPE CCT programme in 2007, aiming to reduce vulnerabilities and intergenerational poverty in extremely poor households in Nigeria by targeting mostly female-headed households with children of school age.
The COPE CCT programme pays a monthly Basic Income Transfer (BIG) of approximately $10 per child with a cap of $33 for four or more children for 12 months to a designated family member. This transfer is based on the condition that participating households ensure their children maintain at least 80% attendance in school and take part in routine health immunization programmes provided by the government. Participating households are only enrolled in the programme for one year and are expected to ‘graduate’ afterwards – that is, exit the programme and live (above their vulnerabilities) happily ever after. A Poverty Reduction Accelerator Investment (PRAI) fund of approximately $560 is given to each household at the end of their one-year participation. The PRAI fund is for establishing a business or trade with the intention that it will generate income for households and subsequently sustain them upon their graduation from the programme.
COPE’s ‘premature’ graduation strategy and human capital (under)development
Based on findings from fieldwork conducted in Nigeria on COPE’s implementation in three communities in Ibadan, Oyo state, Southwest Nigeria, between May and October 2013, one can argue the programme assists households in purchasing basic household items in the short-term. However, with respect to long-term development of the human capital of children in particular, COPE is unlikely to make any significant contributions. This is because the programme only lasts for one year and the structural problems of poor education and health infrastructure exists in many parts of Nigeria. The PRAI fund is also too low to effectively establish and operate an income generating trade in Nigeria owing to the high cost of production and challenging macroeconomic environment in the country. Some of the households who participated in the programme therefore remain exposed to the same, or even worse, vulnerabilities regardless of their participation in the programme.
I suggest that by extending the participation period and providing better support to households over and above the payment of the PRAI, COPE can hope to provide better human capital development outcomes. As it stands, the design and implementation of the programme has predominantly negative implications for the long-term human capital development of participating households whose vulnerabilities to various shocks remain high within the Nigerian context. Therefore, the government and its development partners need to urgently rethink COPE’s graduation strategy.
Olabanji Akinola is a Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science and International Development Studies, Department of Political Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.
This blog post is part of a series for the international conference on ‘Graduation and Social Protection’ which is co-hosted by the Government and Rwanda and the Centre for Social Protection from the UK Institute of Development Studies, with financial support from Irish Aid, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF. The content of this blog series reflects the opinions of each individual author, and not necessarily those of IDS, UNICEF, DFID, IRISHAID or the Government of Rwanda.