By Joseph Jibueze

Rights activists have urged the government to adopt the Universal Social Protection System towards eliminating poverty and enforcing the right to human dignity.

They emphasised that social protection is a right and not a token or favour, noting that such an intervention has remained low in Nigeria, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

No fewer than 55 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) participated in the People’s Assembly, organised as part of the Global Week to Act for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Organised by the Nigeria Network of NGOs in partnership with the Society for Family and Social Protection in Nigeria and the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, they called for more action to accelerate the SDGs attainment.

They noted that a combination of debt burdens, inadequate health systems, largely informal economics, rural-urban migration, pre-existing medical conditions, and gender and socio-cultural disparities have made the pandemic more acute.

Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs, Oyebisi Oluseyi said: “Our vision of equality and inclusion as aspired in the SDGs has become blurred. We have more poor people with more billionaires during the pandemic.

“Our country belongs to the club of nations begging for vaccine supply whereas others have secured theirs.”

Listing their demands, the organisations asked the federal and state governments to “put cash into the hands of people who need it the most, including excluded and marginalised communities, migrants and refugees, older persons, parents on parental leave, people with disabilities, the working poor, those unable to work and individuals who face gender or other forms of discrimination”.

According to them, while the government took numerous health, social and economic measures to cushion the impact of COVlD-19, some of the policy responses have weaknesses and not commensurate with the magnitude of the problem.

They noted that the proposed stimulus bill which aims to provide 50 per cent of tax rebates to businesses that are registered under the Corporate and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020, does not cover many of those in the informal sector who are often supported by microfinance facilities.

They called for the creation of a Universal Social Protection Floor for all, which ensures more rights-based community-centered approach; universality of understanding and access; and universal health coverage that is vigorously pursued to assure access to quality, essential health care.

Such social protection, they said, will ensure pension payment for older persons; income benefits for children to embrace access to quality education and nutrition; and cash transfers for people who are unable to earn sufficient income, including the unemployed.

The rights activists said more effective measures like direct bank transfers need to be strengthened and made easier for Nigerians who are without national identification.

The NGOs called on the United Nations to establish a global fund for social protection to provide the technical, advisory and financial resources that low-income countries need to establish and maintain social protection floors.

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