ONE of the greatest challenges facing humanity is eradicating poverty in all its forms. Globally, the gap between the rich and poor is widening by the day. According to the World Bank, nearly 800 million people still live below the internationally accepted extreme poverty line of less than $1.90 a day, and hundreds of millions more are at risk of falling back into it.
The situation is worse in African countries, where growth rates continue to surge while poverty and inequality remain persistently high. A recent UN Report on Nigeria's Common Country Analysis (CCA) described the country as one of the poorest and most unequal countries in the world with over 80 million or 64% of her population living below poverty line.
Worried by global poverty, world leaders have been passionate about mobilising the entire international community to achieve the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity. Consequently, on September 25, 2015, the United Nations adopted the 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with goal number one as ending poverty in all its forms everywhere in the world by 2030.
Since January 2016 when the implementation of the SDGs commenced, the Nigerian government has demonstrated its commitment towards lifting millions of its citizens out of poverty through massive social interventions.
However, given the scope of SDG-1, national and sub-national governments cannot achieve this ambitious poverty eradication goal alone. Collective and individual efforts at the local, national and international levels are necessary. They must also facilitate participation of all sectors of society, including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the private sector and the public at the local level.
The inclusion of CSOs in these processes is imperative, for these actors play crucial roles in society as agents of accountability and service delivery. CSOs play a critical role in advancing the poverty eradication goal by effectively articulating the needs and aspirations of the poor, fulfilling critical service-delivery gaps and promoting good governance practices.Civil Society Partnership
The Nigerian government has pledged partnership with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) on the implementation of the SDGs in the country because it recognizes the strategic importance of such relationship for Nigerians. Princess Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, (SSAP-SDGs), stated this position in New York, USA while speaking at the side event on achieving the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development during the recent 55th Session of the United Nations Commission for Social Development, CSocD55.
In her presentation titled: The Strategies for innovative partnership between Government and Civil Society Organizations in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Nigeria, the presidential aide noted that government recognises the multiple functions that civil society organizations play in governance at all levels. Some of these include addressing the challenges of poverty and environmental degradation, conflict and disaster prevention and mitigation as well as the prevention of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Princess Orelope-Adefulire explained that OSSAP-SDGs would continue to build and forge strategic partnerships with all critical stakeholders, inclusive of the CSOs:
"The growing strength and sophistication of CSOs as actors in the development arena presents us with new challenges in building multi-faceted and creative alliances with the CSOs. To design and sustain genuine partnerships with CSOs, it is essential to understand the civil society sector, assess its capacities and weaknesses, and develop appropriate and effective tools and instruments to engage with."
Orelope-Adefulire made the presentation at a side-event organised by Women in Development & Environment World-wide Network Nigeria. The event was aimed at seeking effective strategies and promoting multi-stakeholders' partnership, if the implementation of the SDGs must leave no one behind.
Edward Kallon, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria also said that partnership with private and civil society organizations is at the very centre of the sustainable development agenda, as it would help to tackle the pervasive poverty and deprivation in the country. Speaking at the International Sustainability Conference 2017 organized by the Lagos Business School in November 2017, Kallon affirmed that governments, acting alone, will not deliver on the SDGs. He emphasised, "Progress, or the lack of it, towards the SDGs, will depend heavily on the extent to which public, private and civil society partnership can serve as the driver for sustainable development."
He recalled the active engagement of the CSOs during the entire consultative process leading to the adoption of 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs. According to him, the 2030 Agenda is "an Agenda of the people, by the people and for the people." He added:
"Civil society organisations are the voice of the poor and marginalized. Just like during the consultative process, they will be critical in capturing the voices and aspiration of local communities and bringing these to bear in development discourse; and policy and decision making at national and international levels."
Kallon added that it is gratifying to note that the Nigerian government has taken steps to provide the necessary platforms for engagement with the private sector and civil society organisations, through the establishment of the SDGs Private Sector Advisory Group and CSOs Coordination Board. "We should seize the opportunity provided by these platforms to elevate and properly position the private sector and CSOs as key drivers of the SDGs process in Nigeria," he said.Critical roles of CSOs as drivers of SDG-1
"Leaving no one behind" is an underlying principle of the SDGs. Its aim is to ensure that development throughout the world has positive impact on the poorest and most marginalised members of society.
To represent the interests of the poorest and most marginalised members of society at the local level, CSOs in Nigeria have taken on some critical roles as follows:
• Listening to people and being aware of what is happening in their respective areas of operation: The CSOs have been proactive in gathering information and interacting with communities. Therefore, they create opportunities, spaces and platforms for engaging with these groups in order to promote genuine dialogues, build community awareness and develop strong relationships. They listen to, and consider the solutions to problems identified by these groups.
• Translating the voices of the poorest and most marginalised citizens into rational arguments that are acknowledged and addressed by the government: The CSOs in Nigeria have often identified integrated improvements or interventions that could make a significant difference for vulnerable people.
• Developing relationships or partnerships with the local government, and in particular, identify the government departments, actors or institutions that need to respond in order to remedy problems: The CSOs ensure that action is taken by government at all levels by following up with the relevant government officials or departments. The goal is to ensure that local resources are mobilised for those who are most vulnerable and that their needs are reflected in local development plans and national public policies.
• Using human rights as a lens of analysis: The CSOs adopt a human rights approach which will enable the identification of groups of people whose rights have been violated, neglected or overlooked in development processes. They do this by understanding why these particular groups of people have had their rights infringed – for example, as a result of discriminatory laws or social practices that perpetuate poverty and inequality.
• CSOs in Nigeria engage in systematic monitoring and reporting of advocacy activities.
• CSOs drive the campaign against corruption to the grassroots level: Given the enormous resources of Nigeria, it is puzzling that a huge portion of the populace lives in poverty. This vast incidence of poverty in the midst of plenty has severally been linked to the endemic corruption in the country, as it involves the massive stealing of resources that would have otherwise been invested in providing wealth-creating infrastructure for the citizens. CSOs therefore assist the anti-corruption agencies to drive the campaign against corruption to ensure that the critical mass needed to achieve traction in the campaign is possible.Nigeria's recent poverty index
Before delving into the efforts of the CSOs to assist the Nigerian government in the implementation of SDG1, it is imperative to highlight the recent poverty index of Nigeria.
Based on some of Nigeria's SDGs indicators Baseline reports produced by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a large proportion of Nigerians still live below poverty line and are exposed to various vulnerabilities. According to the poverty index report published by the NBS in October 2016, about 112 million Nigerians (representing 67.1 percent of the country's total population of 167million) live below the poverty line.
Similarly, a recent United Nations report on Nigeria's Common Country Analysis, (CCA), made public in September 2016 shows that the most populous black nation is one of the poorest and most unequal in the world, with over 80 million or 64 percent of her population living below the poverty line. The report added that the over 80 million Nigerians who live in poverty are affected in one way or the other by the current humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, available reports indicate that there are over 3.3 million Internally Displaced Persons, (IDPs), the largest number in any African country and only ranking behind Syria and Columbia on a global scale. The report states inter alia:
"Poverty and hunger have remained high in rural areas, remote communities and among female-headed households and these cut across the six geo-political zones, with prevalence ranging from approximately 46.9 percent in the South-west to 74.3 percent in North-west and North-east.
In Nigeria, 37 percent of children under five years old were stunted, 18 percent wasted, 29 per cent underweight and overall, only 10 percent of children aged 6-23 months are fed appropriately based on recommended infant and young children feeding practices. Youth unemployment which is 42 per cent in 2016 is very high, creating poverty, helplessness, despair and an easy target for crime and terrorism."Buhari administration's poverty alleviation initiatives
For more than two years, the Buhari administration has been unwavering in its commitment to the smooth implementation of policies targeted at SDG-1. It has embarked on initiatives that tackle poverty from a multi-sectored perspective in order to create opportunities for good and decent jobs and secure livelihoods. This involves targeting those living in vulnerable situations and increasing access to basic resources and services.
To fast-track his administration's poverty eradication initiative, President Buhari launched a N500 billion Social Protection Programme on May 29, 2016 to cater for a larger number of the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians. Launching the programme, Buhari lamented that for too long Nigeria has been:
"...a society that neglects the poor and victimizes the weak, a society that promotes profit and growth over development and freedom. A society that fails to recognize that 'poverty is not just lack of money; it is not having the capability to realize one's full potential as a human being."
Following the launching of the programme, the Nigerian leader established a Social Investment Office with an annual budget of N500 billion to ensure that government's efforts reach the people in a timely manner. The social investment programme is designed to ensure social protection for the core poor and reduce inequality among the Nigerian populace. The scheme is already being implemented with particular focus at the sub-national levels.
A National Social Safety Net Coordination office coordinates and ensures a uniform reporting platform, monitoring and evaluation as well as a suitable payment system for the cash transfers. In order to reach those who are actually in need, a community-based targeting approach has been adopted in building up a National Social Register that will identify the poor and vulnerable population groups.
There are five schemes under the Social Investment Programme, namely:
• N-power for job creation initiatives for teachers, artisans which targets 500,000 graduates and 100,000 non-graduates.
• The Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) which is a free school feeding scheme for primary school pupils across the country.
• The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) which ensures the transfer of
N 5,000 monthly directly to one million caregivers in targeted poor and vulnerable households.
• An Enterprise & Empowerment Programme for financial inclusion and access to credit for market women cooperatives, traders, farmers, and the youths which targets 1.66 million beneficiaries.
• The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)Bursary Programme, which is a form of financial support for students of tertiary institutions studying Education, Science and Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
• The Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) is one of the major responses of Government not only to poverty but several other challenges facing the North East. PINE has been well designed to improve the lives of citizens who have been devastated in the region.
At the Civil Society Information Dissemination on Monitoring Federal Government Social Protection Programme (SPP) on SDGs held in Abuja in September 2016, Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, said that despite the paucity of funding occasioned by the prevailing economic crunch, government would ensure that vulnerable people benefit from the scheme:
"We are developing a comprehensive register of vulnerable people in the society so we want to engage the CSOs to ensure that the register is authentic and realisable. Nigerians are difficult. We were worried about our programme being politicised, so we want to make sure that our programmes reach every Nigerian irrespective of political affiliation, and irrespective of ethnicity or culture."Poverty eradication drives of CSOs
Since the adoption of the SDGs as a definitive plan to save the planet and its people, CSOs in Nigeria have been supporting national and sub-national governments in the country as they strive to achieve the target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.
CSOs have been effectively articulating the needs and aspirations of the poor, fulfilling critical service-delivery gaps and promoting good governance practices. On September 25, 2017 when Nigeria joined the rest of the world to commemorate the second year of the adoption of the SDGs, CSOs in Nigeria organised events in different parts of the country to mark the anniversary. They used the opportunity to renew their call on the Federal, State and Local Governments to act on the SDGs.
Mr. Oyebisi B. Oluseyi, Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs, emphasised the need for the Nigerian governments at all levels to act in time by implementing SDG-1:
"If our governments (at all levels) don't act in time, we stand the chance of not meeting the goals and our growing pains — disparities in the incomes of the poor and the wealthy, limited access to education, health and basic social services, increasing vulnerabilities of the poorest to human-induced climate change and disasters, and the growing repression of human rights and civic participation would have exacerbated."
Oluseyi said that it is disheartening that more than two years after the adoption of the global goals, 112 million Nigerians still live below the poverty line. "This is unacceptable and it calls for urgent action on the part of our government. Now is the time to break the cycle of poverty in our land," he said.
One of the most formidable CSO which has been working round the clock to "further human rights and defeat poverty for all" in the country is ActionAid Nigeria. ActionAid Nigeria commenced programmatic operations in January 2000 after a country appraisal, which found that Nigerians were wallowing in poverty in the midst of plenty. The organisation has a geographically based integrated Partnerships Against Poverty (PAP), which is being implemented in many sub-national governments and communities in Nigeria. The coordination and administrative processes of PAP allows for effective engagement of the thematic leads in the community-based programmes and facilitates linkages from local to national and international policy work. PAP has increased citizens' participation in local governance, which is gradually leading to improved service delivery.
As part of its response to the deepening inequality of power and wealth in the country, ActionAid Nigeria recently launched a £60 million Country Strategy Paper to end poverty within six years. The strategy tagged Social Justice to End Poverty (SJEP) 2018-2023 is aimed at ensuring social justice for all, gender equality and poverty eradication in Nigeria.
Speaking at the launching of SJEP in Abuja, in January 2018, Ms. Funmilayo Oyefusi, Interim Country Director of ActionAid, said that during the strategy period, the organisation would implement a theory of change premised on empowering citizens especially the youths, women and girls, and building accountability mechanisms. She lamented that the economic and political systems in Nigeria fostered the capture of power and resources by the elite; a non-inclusive growth that promotes social inequality and poverty-triggering situations:
"We feel that there is so much injustice in the country and that is what is leading to inadequate redistribution of wealth within the country. This strategy is looking at how we can ensure that the resources are distributed equally. Then, equity between men and women and also ensure that the female headed households and those who are affected in conflicts and emergencies are able to have a voice and economic empowerment that will help them to live a dignified life."
Oyefusi said that the £60 million for the project would be raised through institutional donors, local fund raising and high value net worth individuals. "The money is going to be used in specific areas where we work, we are working in over 26 states and 222 communities," she added.
Oyefusi explained further that the community sponsorship was an initiative by ActionAid to ensure that everyone donates in support of the extremely poor communities across Nigeria, adding that it is a platform to help the vulnerable and excluded communities to overcome poverty in the areas of food, education, governance, health and emergencies. "We want to be able to reach more communities and what we are saying is that we are distributing resources that will end poverty," Oyefusi said.
The Initiative for Peace and Comfort (IPC) is another CSO which has tailored its relief services towards assisting government to implement SDG-1. Dr. Comfort Onifade, Executive Director of IPC said that in line with the organization's vision which is to achieve a world where people can be free from hunger and poverty, IPC has initiated empowerment programmes for identified indigent individuals in the society. For instance, IPC recently organized an empowerment training programme for female students and staff of Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB).
In addition, officials of IPC regularly visit the less privileged in the society with relief materials. The IPC has made regular and annual visits to orphanages and special needs centres within Abeokuta and environs such as Gideon's Orphanage, Old People's Home Asero, Abeokuta and Toluwani Special Needs Centre, Olokuta, Kemta, Abeokuta. Onifade said that the initiatives are geared towards empowering the poor to conquer hunger and poverty.
Forward Africa is another CSO that is working closely with ministries, departments and agencies in some states in the South East geo-political zone to mobilize local human and material resources to improve the lives of Nigerians. Elder Kenneth Amogu, Executive Director, Forward Africa said that the organization has through its agricultural and economic development programmes been supporting national and sub-national governments in Nigeria to alleviate poverty. According to him, the organization established the Rural Development and Economic Center (RUDEC), located in Umuokanne in Ohaji/Egbemma Local Government Area of Imo State, where it organizes training on mechanized system of agriculture for women and youths.
To increase food production and ensure food security, Forward Africa, has within the last six years in partnership with Harvestplus Nigeria promoted the planting and consumption of Biofortified Crops (Vitamin A) in 12 councils and 74 communities in Imo State, through the provision of improved planting materials, training on agronomy practices and linkage to the markets.
The Centre for Peace, Education & Community Development based in Jalingo, Taraba State is also providing unflinching support to national and sub-national governments in Nigeria as they strive to achieve the target of eradicating poverty by 2030.
Gimba Joseph, Executive Director of the organization said that in order to alleviate poverty among the people, it runs two programmes on agro-based enterprises for over 2,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Taraba State. The organization enlightens them on how to improve their yield and also provides them with farm inputs. "We are also involved in monitoring other programmes and projects of government aimed at alleviating poverty," Joseph said.
The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has equally served as a platform for promoting poverty reduction. The organization considers poverty reduction strategies as a tool for social justice. It has therefore been canvassing for pro-poor and rights-based approaches to budgeting.
Eze Onyekpere, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) has over the years, worked on Nigeria's economic policy and legal issues for poverty reduction such as the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS), State Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (SEEDS) and the Local Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (LEEDS).
Onyekpere said recently that poverty and inequality persist in Nigeria because non-state actors are not given opportunities to be part of policy implementation process. He believes that it has become imperative to capacitate the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to reduce poverty and inequality through pro-poor policies and budgeting.Last word
Certainly, CSOs are increasingly playing an important role in poverty alleviation in Nigeria. However, there is a need to strengthen the partnership between the CSOs and government in all spheres in the country. This will further improve the participation of CSOs in various mechanisms and processes including integrated development plans to ensure effective implementation of poverty alleviation programmes. Experts contend that unless this partnership is nurtured and maintained, poverty will continue to be a challenge in Nigeria and the most populous black could miss the target of eradicating poverty by 2030.