Experts have called for the deepening of social protection to improve welfare for Nigerian workers.

They argued that deepening social protection would allow the government to provide a safety net for vulnerable individuals and communities within the country.

The International Labour Organisation said despite the importance given to social protection policies at both national and state levels, social protection coverage remained limited in Nigeria.

In an exclusive interview with The PUNCH, the General Secretary of the Federation of Informal Workers Organisation of Nigeria, Mr Gbenga Komolafe, stressed the need to improve social protection in the country, because more Nigerians were falling extreme deprivation and vulnerability.

According to him, government policies in the past two years have bordered on just compounding the survival of poor working people.

“Right from the COVID-19 era, we have seen how trillions of naira even with the money the previous administration borrowed from the International Monetary Fund. $3.4bn borrowed in the name of support for the fallout of COVID-19 to assist people in the form of palliatives. Nobody has accounted for that money till tomorrow. Trillions of naira gone down the drain,” Komolafe stated.

He pointed out that government policies had only worsened the multiple crises that were already intensified by the COVID-19 lockdown.

He asserted, “Small businesses closed and still closing. A lot of young people are now jobless, particularly since the beginning of this year, especially with the currency re-design, which only succeeded in pushing people into desperation because their livelihoods are wiped out.

“Also, regarding the fuel price increase, it is silly to talk about subsidies in an oil-producing country. Nigeria is the only OPEC country that imports refined petroleum products. Nobody is addressing the issue.”

According to him, about 133 million Nigerians are in multidimensional poverty, according to NBS.

He noted that the government had yet to assess the impact of an over 300 per cent increase in fuel price and 100 per cent devaluation of the naira.

Komolafe added that informal labour union’s demand for social protection coverage in the informal sector remained valid, noting that there must be old age care support systems for people working in the informal sector.

According to him, the government should provide universal health coverage or a scheme that at least covers pregnant women.

Also speaking, the National Assistant Secretary of Nigeria Labour Union, Mr Chris Onyeka, said the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights that was signed last year by the African Heads of Government.

“The right of citizens to social protection and social security is guaranteed. Nigeria is part of the African Union and also part of that particular charter,” he explained.

According to him, the Federal Government has to ratify that protocol to ensure that the recommendations of that protocol are implemented in Nigeria.

He noted that is a business opportunity in implementing social protection and social security. According to Onyeka, if the government sees social protection and social security as a business, it would not handle it as charity or money being thrown down the drain.

He said, “The government can strengthen social protection by looking at Convention 102 and 202 on social protection. The government has been told how to implement it and what to do to ensure that all citizens are protected, especially in terms of crisis.

Anything that must be done must be done through an inclusive process and social partners must be involved in negotiating the outcomes.”

He noted that the proposed cash transfer palliatives by the Federal Government should not be informed of charity, but it should be guided by laws.

“There should be legislation to institutionalise cash transfers to children, the weak and disabled people. So, the government must put all those things in place, especially cash transfers during an economic crisis such as this,” he advocated.

He advised the government to subside transport for all citizens to alleviate the impact of the economic downturn.

The Chief Executive Director of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, Muda Yusuf, urged the government to reduce the cost of living of Nigerians, primarily because that was the biggest major social problem that the citizens were facing.

He said, “The government needs to look at all the factors driving the cost of living – the cost of food, transportation, energy, etc. The government needs to come up with policies to ensure reduction in those areas.”

According to Yusuf, the government may need to take a cue from advanced economies where the government heavily subsidises agriculture and by extension subsidises food.

He added that the government may need to subsidise transportation, and to some extent, energy, particularly electricity to the vulnerable.

Yusuf advocated that the government should come up with strategic interventions by way of subsidies that can impact directly the lives of these ordinary citizens.

He mentioned that it should be the type of subsidy that would not be prone to abuse or corruption.

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