Rising to the challenge of Nigeria instituting a social welfare scheme
By Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi
The decision of the Nigerian Senate to step down the passage of the
National Social Welfare Commission, NSWC Bill again testifies to how our
country has become so accustomed to caring less about the welfare of its
burgeoning mass of underprivileged. We have become so inured to this
undoing of government that we can hardly remember when this rain started
buffeting us. Even when we try, the actual time we started accepting the
culture of our government's insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians
suffering privation keeps escaping our memory. Alas, we have right before
us another landmark in the narrative of a tradition that leaves the poor
to their fate when they should be enjoying a welfare scheme from the
The above submission may have been lost on you since what I'm referring to
is one news item that appears to have been intended not to stay in the
news. Bad news is that this article is poised to exhuming it from oblivion
and putting it where it rightly belongs. The Nigerian Senate last Tuesday
elected to step down the National Social Welfare Commission Bill. The
proposed law is one which seeks to provide allowances for the unemployed,
aged and disabled.
As noble and welfarist as the Bill is, it narrowly escaped being thrown
out by the lawmakers during its clause by clause consideration. Their
reason for wanting to kill it is that they, among other things, fear how
the scheme would be funded. At the end of the day, the senators managed to
step down the bill allowing the sponsors time to fine-tune the details of
its funding with its committee on finance.
While the respected legislators should be commended for not throwing out
the highly needed bill, their stepping it down raises suspicions when one
considers the given that the Bill has been with them since 2012 when it
suffered the same treatment. We shall return to this presently but before
then, let's talk about the seeming conspiracy of silence that shrouded the
near throw-away of the Bill by the Senate.
A similar step down of the news about Senate's ill-treatment of the Bill
by those who should make all the noise about it, smacks of conspiracy or
willful inertia – one that is possibly aimed at deepening our continued
oblivion of how our leaders reflexively underplay issues that better the
lot of the poor. How else can one explain that in the same day where the
major business of the day was the consideration of the proposed NSWC Bill,
what got the banner headlines was the Senate's approval of the appointment
of Dr Chinelo Anohu-Amazu as director-general of the National Pension
Commission, reducing the Senate's treatment of the bill to a mere mention
or outright omission from the report in other instances.
Just as I wouldn't want to believe that our newsmen have lost grasp of
news judgment, I would also not want to believe that an offer of 'fuel
money' warranted their queuing behind the Senate to also step down in the
media the ordeal of a Bill which, when passed, would greatly assist their
parents, siblings and other relatives. Somebody had better drawn their
attention to the fact that while what accrues to an average Nigerian
senator can arguably take care of his entire village, same cannot be said
of the Nigerian journalist, no matter how resourceful.
Please let no one tell me that my grouse with the media, of which I am
proudly a part, is misguided or misplaced since the lawmakers only stepped
down the Bill to allow them better consider it at a later date. That would
make a good story for the marines! In actual fact, their clever use of
that jargon reminds one of the 'tactical maneuvering' that the military
graciously bequeathed to our parlance not too long ago. As far as I know,
their choice of stepping down the Bill is a sheer tactful stunt. Remove
the all-important 2015 from the mix and what we would have heard is a
direct throw-out of the Bill.
I had expected the Senate's resolve to step down the Bill as one that
would have stirred and encouraged the Nigerian media into giving that item
of news all the attention and attraction it could get. Since their
stepping it down yields hope that it can be re-presented, the requisite
puff should have been exerted on the lawmakers to lobby them into passing
it and speedily too. But the media relapsed, allowing themselves to be
taken in by a shrewd choice of words by the Senate.
Meanwhile, since the media could not adequately bring this stepping down
to the notice of Nigerians, one would have expected members of the civil
societies to swoop in as soon as they got whiff of it. But they didn't,
leading to skepticism if the civil liberty organizations we have in this
country actually understand what they professed to be. Should this had
happened in other climes, you can be sure that CLOs would have mobilized
the masses into making sure that the House of Senate does the needful. But
in Nigeria, complacency has come to be an infectious lifestyle.
Let it be known that the civil societies and sundry human rights
organizations we have in this country failed us in this. Come to think of
it, since it is generally accepted and even recognized in our ground norm
that the welfare of its people is the whole essence of government, any
non-governmental organization that claims to be all about the rights of
the people ought to have made an issue out of Senate's stepping down of a
Bill which seeks to promote the welfare of the people. Frankly speaking,
our civil societies or whatever name they appropriate to themselves had
better woken up from their slumber or closed shop.
Enter the institution that should get the most blame, talking about
Nigeria's House of Senate. This body of government is one that has played
a great role in the stabilization of our democracy and by extension the
polity. As such, it is not out of place for us to accord them the respect
they rightfully deserve. It should also enjoy our respect and regard
because it is one legislative house that is filled with old men and sages.
Remember we are Africans and Africans respect the aged. However, when
someone you so much respect relegates your welfare to the background, it
raises questions about how deserving such a person is of your regard.
They have used the wisdom they garnered over the years to deny us that
which our people should rightly enjoy from government with reasons that
are at best laughable and ridiculous. How can they get so close to
throwing out the NSWC Bill just because they have reservations about where
its funding would be sourced from? Like I heard someone ask, do they also
have fears about funding when it comes to allocating to themselves those
mouth-watering allowances they enjoy as well as funds for constituency
projects? We had better told these people who feed fat on our expense that
we are no fools.
Granted that fears of where to get the funding for the proposed scheme
wasn't their only reason for stepping down the Bill. They had other fears
prominent among which is the non-availability of a census of those who are
qualified to benefit. This fear throws up the need for a reliable data of
those in dire need of assistance and how much it would cost government to
cater for their welfare.
The fear of the lawmakers regarding census of those qualified to benefit
is with all due respect unfounded. This is because the Bill is proposing
to set up a commission not as if it seeks to just gather those in the
category and give them hand-outs. As a commission it would, of course,
have a secretariat with staffers who would be tasked with gathering the
data of those in need of help and also collaborating with the National
Populations Commission to get the figures right.
Even if government thinks it can't pay such workers who would get the
census, the disabled, aged and unemployed would gladly come to designated
offices of the proposed commission to register their particulars with
confirmation notes from respected clerics, if need be. With this as the
case, I see no reason why the senators would have fears about getting the
realistic data of those to benefit from the proposed welfare scheme.
In fact, I see no reason why they should step down the Bill in itself. Are
they not aware of countries where the poor and unemployed are entitled to
square meals on a daily? Are they not aware of countries where government
establish, run and maintain old people's homes? Are they telling us that
our country is not buoyant enough to handle this? Are they really
suggesting that disadvantaged Nigerians are lesser humans that are not
qualified to enjoy this privilege? Right is the one who cried, “there's
One thing the senators need to know is that we are blessed with lots of
charitable Nigerians looking for reputable organizations through which to
render help to the less privileged. Since they are having fears about how
the scheme would be funded, they should know that there are people who
would waste no time in donating to such a commission should it be in
place. Thus, the continued stepping down of the National Social Welfare
Commission Bill is tantamount to denying these people an avenue to better
support the course of the needy.
Well, let's believe, like they said, that they only delayed passage of the
Bill for the sponsor to better harmonize with the committee on finance. It
is hoped that every stakeholder would by now have realized why they should
work to have the Bill passed before the 2015 general elections. The Bill
will so much benefit needy Nigerians that instituting
#no-nswc-bill-no-vote wouldn't be a bad idea, I'm just saying!
You can get interactive with me on the topic through my twitter handle
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