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Poor Nigerians deserve better

We welcome plans to pay poor Nigerians 5,000 naira a month

The Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has stated that plans are in place to fulfil the ruling party’s campaign promise to pay 5000 naira monthly to the “poorest Nigerians”.

This is a great idea. Nigeria should have a safety net for the unemployed. It is a no-brainer to argue otherwise.

We can afford to do it. We already have a “welfare system” that creates billionaires out of (s)elected officials from looting the public purse. A little less looting frees up the money to pay the unemployed.

In fact, such payments already happen in many Northern states. Every month hundreds/thousands of people usually descend on government houses in the north and cash is handed out to them. We need to find a way to regulate this properly.

Some commentators have argued that we can’t afford to be a “welfare state”, but this ignores our history. Many of us were educated for free. I remember when I could walk into Park Lane Hospital in Enugu, be seen by a doctor for my malaria, collect a prescription and go over to the pharmacy and collect my medication for free. That was a welfare state. Several of us got bursaries at university, were paid during the summer vacation to teach secondary school students, etc. Even the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme is a form of “welfare”.

There are economic arguments for handing over the money to those that don’t have it. They will spend it in Nigeria – fuelling further economic growth, creating more jobs, etc.

Others have argued that we shouldn’t do this because public sector workers are being owed salaries in several states. This is not a valid argument. We should pay workers, pensioners, and the unemployed. Governments should be able to do many different things at the same time.

We should be paying the unemployed, providing free school meals for their children, etc. That is what “development” means and not the mindless blather about “biggest economy in Africa”, “rebasing the GDP” and all that nonsense.

Our efforts should not be concentrated on whether it is a good idea, but how we can make it work to avoid fraud, how records will be kept, regulating the payments both in statute and processes, etc

It would not be easy to administer, with typical Nigeria challenges like poor record keeping, no reliable census figures, corruption, etc. But that is no argument against it. You just need competent people to devise the programme. If companies like Jumia can provide online shopping services and delivery on the basis of cash – to take account of the Nigerian terrain, we can find ways to deliver payments to poor people if we put our minds to it. It just needs the political will and the right administrators. We should be able to come up with a workable, but perhaps not perfect fix.

Support for the poor is part of fairness in society. It means no one should go to bed hungry. It gives their kids a chance of going to school. A fair society is one in which everyone in challenging circumstances is catered for – the unemployed, the sick, the elderly, children, etc.

We need to address chronic poverty in the short, medium and long term. We should pay people out of work, we should also put in place policies that enable them and their children climb out of poverty – education, healthcare, housing, job opportunities, etc.

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