As Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari prepares to step down, his supporters in the Buhari Media Organisation are trumpeting his achievements.
Their claim that the Buhari administration’s social protection programme is the “largest” in sub-Saharan Africa is mostly correct. But the region’s data is uneven and the claim based only on raw numbers.
The BMO’s claim that 12 million households have benefitted from this social protection is misleading. And a claim that rice production has increased under Buhari is exaggerated, as it underestimates earlier output.
One is the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), which regularly publicises Buhari’s achievements and has had an audience with the president. In April 2022 the group claimed Buhari’s ruling All Progressives Congress had done more, with less time and money, than the previous administration.
Buhari took office in 2015 after 16 years of Peoples Democratic Party rule.
The BMO’s claims were more specific in a February 2022 statement. We examined three.
The BMO said that even though Nigeria earned less from the global economy under Buhari, his administration had still set up a social protection scheme that was the “largest” in sub-Saharan Africa.
BMO chairperson Niyi Akinsiju confirmed that they had made the claim. He told Africa Check they had specifically meant the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) the Buhari government set up in 2016.
The NSIP has four arms:
- N-Power, which aims to support the youth
- A school-feeding programme
- A programme providing cash to the poor and vulnerable
- A micro-lending programme
The programmes are managed by the humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development ministry.
More than 22 million beneficiaries
At least 22.7 million people have so far benefited from the programmes. That’s according to publicly available data, the most recent from January 2022. It includes ministry statements that say 9.8 million pupils have benefitted from school feeding since 2015.
In January 2022, the National Cash Transfer Office said 1.9 million poor and vulnerable households had registered for conditional cash transfer. The National Bureau of Statistics estimates the average Nigerian household to be five people, which means 9.6 million people were registered. Leo Sanni, a statistical information officer at the bureau, said this way of calculating the total was correct.
The table has more details.
Uneven data on social protection in sub-Saharan Africa
The World Bank funds many social protection programmes in Africa. We asked the bank about their reach.
Its database shows nearly 140 countries have some sort of social protection scheme. It uses several indicators for this, including how much they have reduced poverty and the number of people they cover.
The bank has data for 40 sub-Saharan Africa countries, but the most recent data is not uniform. For example, Benin’s is from 2003.
These factors make comparisons a “bit of a minefield”, Rachel Slater, professor of international development at the UK’s University of Wolverhampton, told Africa Check in an email.
“For example, how does one decide if a programme transferring US$100 a month to 100,000 people is bigger or smaller than a programme transferring $5 a month to 1 million people? Or what share of the GDP or the government budget is given over to social protection?
“Then, a second challenge is that different countries define social protection differently – in some countries, especially North Africa people count consumer subsidies such as on basic foods or fuel as social protection.”
Slater said that a case could be made “at a very simple level” for Nigeria’s programme having more direct recipients. But she advised caution, given the different ways of measuring.
Sheer numbers not enough to determine impact
Orubuloye Olatunji, professor of sociology at the Afe Babalola University in southwest Nigeria’s Ekiti state, said because the country’s population was so huge, it was possible for the BMO to claim its social protection programme was the “largest”.
“If, for instance, the programme captures 1% of the population, that's already 2 million people but it is a very small fraction of the entire population.”
He said the focus should instead be on the social protection programme’s benefits and impact.
The pro-Buhari group might have a case in terms of numbers, but it does leave out a lot of information that experts said matter. We rate the claim as mostly correct. (Note: See how we rate here.)
The figure came from news reports on the humanitarian affairs ministry’s activities, BMO chair Akinsiju told Africa Check.
He added that it included estimated beneficiaries of Covid-19 relief programmes.
We found a news report quoting Bashir Nura Alkali, the ministry’s top civil servant, as saying over 12 million households had benefitted from the NSIP.
But Alkali’s reported breakdown actually worked out to 10.3 million people and a million households, not the over 12 million households given in the headline and claimed by the BMO.
Olasupo Ogunjuyigbe is a professor of demography at the Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife in the southwestern state of Osun. He said it was incorrect to pass off individual beneficiaries as households.
“They have misconstrued this and taken it to mean that if you give an individual something, that individual will take it back to their household but that is wrong. If a household benefits from a programme, you are likely to know how many members are in the household.”
Some civil society organisations also argue that the government’s Covid-19 relief should not be counted as being part of the NSIP.
‘Get microfinance banks involved’
He told Africa Check that while social investment such as microcredit – extremely small loans – has been shown to help the poor, in Nigeria it was not well structured and was “heavily politicised”.
One way to correct this would be to channel the programmes through microfinance banks, and not traditional banks as is currently the case, Nzotta said.
“The programmes should not be limited to one administration. Get microfinance banks involved and set up a monitoring mechanism so that the interventions do not die with the administration or else poverty will never be addressed in Nigeria.”
Nzotta added that there was also a need to properly identify the beneficiaries. “Are they really poor? Can they facilitate production at that meagre level and expand their capacity?"
Nigeria consumes more rice than any African country and is one of the biggest producers and importers of the grain on the continent. That’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. But it does not grow enough.
To reduce its dependence on imports and bridge the gap, the country has attempted to increase local production. In 2015, the central bank launched an anchor borrowers programme to provide cheap loans to farmers.
Akinsiju told Africa Check that the BMO was referring to paddy rice and their data came from news articles about the Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria. Paddy is harvested rice grain that is still inside the husk. The husk is removed during milling.
The FAO estimates that Nigeria produced 6.2 million (not 2 million) metric tonnes of paddy rice in 2015 and 8.1 million tonnes in 2020.
There is evidence that Nigeria currently produces 9 million tonnes of rice, but the BMO underestimated the amount produced in 2015. This exaggerates the improvement under Buhari.
Low rice production leads to smuggling
Because Nigeria does not produce enough rice, smuggling has taken root over the years. To fight this, the federal government shut its borders with neighbouring countries in August 2019. They were reopened in December 2020.
Smuggling has many consequences for Nigeria's economy, Igbatayo Samuel, professor of economics at Afe Babalola University in Ekiti state, told Africa Check.
“Rice smuggling and even legal importation of rice are synonymous with exporting jobs from Nigeria to other countries,” he said.
“There are a lot of people that can be employed within the rice value chain from those who will clear the land, plant, weed, harvest, mill, package and distribute the finished product. But when rice is imported, those jobs have been transferred to the countries exporting to Nigeria."
Including its current COVID Social Relief of Distress Grant, the South African social security system is almost certainly larger than the Nigerian system as described here.