While Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) may be an idea whose time has come, particularly for countries in South America, is now the time for countrywide CCT in Nigeria? The idea of CCT was introduced into Nigeria as a response to redirecting the hitherto annual budget allocation for fuel subsidy. This led to the introduction of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) in 2012, which at its inception, targeted empowerment of young people through direct payment of cash for funding establishment and growth of business ventures. The program later extended to accommodate maternal and child health care through the direct transfer of funds to pregnant women in rural locations on the condition of receiving pre-natal care and immunizations for their babies. CCT is top of the agenda when talking about ways to spend the windfall generated from the recovery of the looted fund of the past military dictator, General Sani Abacha, who ruled Nigeria between 1993 and 1998, and died unceremoniously while in office. Here we will look at three major reasons as to why the time for a nationwide conditional cash transfer in Nigeria is near, but has not yet arrived:
- is based on the historical institutional foundation upon which CCT is intended to function.
- is related to the resources, capabilities and disposition of the street-level bureaucracy that would be responsible for implementing the idea.
- is focused on the reliability and quality of the social services to be stipulated as conditions for cash transfers.
Firstly from an institutional perspective, the historical underpinnings of politics and policymaking process in the country makes for a case to withhold proceeding to upscale CCT in Nigeria to a nationwide level. The dominant influence of personal and economic interest of elites in decision-making processes belies the rationale for supporting the poor and poorest of the poor en masse. Also, the limited dedication to ideologies, be they neoliberal or socialist, plus the commitment to tribal or individual gains rather than a collective advancement of the nation, and the neglect to attack nepotism, are signals for foundational challenges that will likely beguile a nationwide CCT in Nigeria. Of themselves, the source of the budgeted funds for the CCT programs that are currently being implemented point to these institutional challenges. How was the fuel subsidy regime managed and how transparent was it? Also, how was General Sani Abacha able to loot and stow away trillions of Naira meant for the nation’s development? With limited activity in respect to enforcing institutional infrastructure to regulate and guarantee impartial universal gains amongst all the populace, often government spending does not touch all of the 185million persons living in the country, with low spending on salient issues such as education and agriculture. Nigeria needs to improve the attitude to and culture of transparency in government, particularly amongst the highest echelon. By instituting a consistent culture of accountability and transparency across all the cadres of governance, the cost of external verification of CCT beneficiaries selected by local government representatives, would be reduced or eliminated. Also, delivering consistent legal ramifications for nepotism, money laundering, fraud, and corruption, would ensure public confidence in the program is not eroded but upheld.
"By instituting a consistent culture of accountability and transparency across all the cadres of governance, the cost of external verification of CCT beneficiaries selected by local government representatives, would be reduced or eliminated"
Secondly street-level bureaucrats, primarily comprising those charged with delivering what is promised in public policies, including civil servants at the federal, state, and local government levels, would be responsible for the implementation of a nationwide CCT program, if such a program is approved and announced by the federal government. Many Nigerians are aware that accessing public services can sometimes be plagued with intimidation from the service delivery officers, incessant unavailability in person and digitally, and demands for bribes. The trend of preferring and depending on private offering of services that are provided publicly also go to show the level of satisfaction that government services generate.
It is likely that a low level of confidence in dealing with public officials may partly explain why there is low patronage of public services and high demand for private services, particularly in the education, security, and power sectors. If therefore, many of the street-level bureaucrats are not dependable, would this change with the introduction of CCT? Also, would receiving cash be enough as an incentive for CCT beneficiaries to interact with street-level bureaucrats and their operations? One should also not shy away from confronting the possible challenge of the beneficiaries receiving discounted funds, after likely pilfering by corrupt officials. Should this be the case, it needs to be considered if indeed the CCT programs would deliver the intended result of poverty reduction, or present a perverse outcome of magnifying avenues for direct money collection from some corrupt officials.
Finally, there are several reports on the poor quality of public primary education in Nigeria and shortage of public primary schools. Indeed, these schools appear to be the preserve of the poor, since others opt for private education for their wards. In Lagos state for example, there are 1,600 public primary schools as opposed to 18,000 private schools1. The private sector is holding the reins at 16,400 more schools than the government does- a ‘market share’ of less than 1%. The point being made here is what would the conditions of CCT deliver for the beneficiaries and to what extent would it benefit them and their families? In meeting with the conditions, if the children access public education service at the primary level, there is a low likelihood that they would acquire the required knowledge and skills that is expected to eventually allow the family or the child escape poverty. Without a doubt, CCT hinged on maternal and child care is highly commendable and is expected to be more valuable than those linked to primary education. This is because the primary health sector in Nigeria is in a better shape than that of primary education. Although much of the progress in the health sector can be linked to external interventions from international governmental organisations, international philanthropists, and international non-governmental organisations, this progress is laying the appropriate foundation for a health service-inclined CCT. The same needs to be done across all relevant public services.
"Without a doubt, CCT hinged on maternal and child care is highly commendable and is expected to be more valuable than those linked to primary education".
Cash transfer is not entirely new to Nigeria and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is as an example of this. The NYSC program was designed to pay money directly to young people upon completion of a higher education equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, on the condition of relocating to and living in a state different from the state of origin for a year, in order to experience and appreciate the culture and geography inherent in other parts of the country. Despite having the objective of unifying the country, the incorporation of direct cash payments to a target population and the specification of a condition is similar to the design of prevalent CCT programs. There are lessons to be drawn from the NYSC program to know what to do and what not to do in CCT programs.
In conclusion, in order to overcome the challenges to introducing CCT in Nigeria across its 774 local governments in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) it will be important to draw on lessons learned in the NYSC program and address the reasons discussed in the three points above. In other words, it will be important to incorporate elements that can promote supporting institutions, improve the capacity and disposition of street-level bureaucrats, and ensure high standards of public services. This can include consistent and prompt penalties for fraudulent default by program stakeholder, training and development for public officials, and directing aid towards improving quality of specific public services.
 Foreign & Commonwealth Office (2017) A decent education for Nigeria's young people is important. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/a-decent-education-for-nigerias-young-people-is-important Accessed 26/07/2018