Social security is a human right, as well as an economic and political necessity. It is an indispensable part of institutional tissue of an efficient market economy. It is well understood that without social security poverty reduction and development are not possible. Systems of socio-economic security were introduced in Europe in the late 19th century and were slowly implemented in most countries during the early 20th century and consolidated after the Second World War.
In Nigeria piecemeal social security programmes have been in place since 1942 starting with the workmen's compensation. Others are benefits for temporary and permanent disability, unemployment, maternity and sickness. All these have been going on without a unified policy with no clear funding. Following a resolution of 11th International Labour Organisation African Regional Meeting (Addis Ababa, 24-27 April 2007) a tripartite African ILO members committed themselves to develop national action plans to build basic social security to all and Nigeria is an active player in the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) affairs and playing host to the labour watchdog since 1960.
At 48 going to 49 it is better late than never and therefore a move in the right direction for the Honourable Minister for Labour and Productivity to set up a committee in-order to produce a blue print for a comprehensive Social Security policy in Nigeria. This task will by no means be an easy one. However, assigning the task to no less a person than Dr Yakubu Gowon who during his youth as Head of State initiated a very laudable NYSC programme which is one of the best social security instruments that have happened to Nigeria is even a more positive decision. The committee the Minister said is saddled with drafting a holistic national social security policy that will take into cognisance the formal and informal sectors of the economy, recommend robust and sustainable financing options for an integrated system and also recommend an administrative structure for the implementation of an integrated national social security scheme with a view to harmonising the overlapping functions of agencies, departments and ministries.
It is true that adequate social security policies can be an important endogenous factor in the process of socio-political development and economic growth of our dear country. In Nigeria we like to copy what is done in developed world. As such there is the temptation for us to come up with a system that is operating in one of the developed countries. The type of social security programmes implemented in industrialised or developed countries may not be economically or politically feasible in a poor economy like ours. The example of our democracy has shown that we copy badly. We have been struggling with how to carve out our own type of democracy and therefore despite our perceived well meaning attempts we have not been able to convince ourselves that we know where we are going. It may have been easier to put of a policy if we were a homogenous entity. Nigeria however is a heterogeneous nation with differing local perceptions. It is therefore important for the committee to take a step back and consult extensively before deciding for Nigerians based on evidence available within the country and in other developing economies the type of social security policy that will be fit for purpose taking into consideration the heterogeneity of the country.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) social security programmes are defined by "the protection which society provides for its members through a series of public measures against the economic and social distress that otherwise would be caused by the stoppage or substantial reduction of earnings resulting from sickness, maternity, employment injury, invalidity and death; the provision of medical care; and the provision of subsidies for families with children. This definition appears to put emphasis on workers. In a country like ours where the basic needs of personal security, water, housing, education and employment have not been met, it is obvious that we need to look for a different definition of social security for ourselves.
Social security programmes are usually established as a means of improving the well-being of the poor, reduce inequality within society and conciliate different social demands, thus avoiding the social and political conflicts, which necessarily arose as capitalist forms of production evolved. Hands on experience of wanting to help the poor in our society have always been commandeered by the rich. For instance in some states, taxi schemes were set up to ease transportation difficulties but the cars were distributed to the well to dos who increased their capitalist pockets and later abandoned the real idea behind such schemes.
The underlying aim of Social security in any country is protection from fear and want. The extent of insecurity, poverty, destitution and vulnerability in Nigeria reach far beyond the objectives of typical systems of social security implemented in developed countries or even developing countries in the same rank with us. Our social security should be for the young and old as well as the employed and unemployed. We should therefore be aiming for a social security system that will be integrated within the overall development strategy of the country rather than implemented as individual programmes.
Experiences of developing economies such as China, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Chile, Cuba, Sri Lanka and the south Indian state of Kerala have shown that extensive systems of socio-economic protection based on efficiently targeted policies, widespread public participation and careful integration of social and economic policies can perform a central role in the maintenance of living standards and the well-being of the most fragile groups in the population. We should start by gradually building basic social security system before building progressively higher levels of protection.
Our Social security policy should therefore aim at the protection and promotion of both human and physical capital and should include better health support, better access to clinics and hospitals, health insurance policies, better nutrition, improved access to schools, universal primary education, and so forth. Physical capital can be protected by policies aimed at employment creation, promotion of rural development, research and incentives to encourage labour-intensive investments, better access to housing and land, improved infrastructures like roads, provision of water and electricity, reduction of remoteness of some population groups, measures to eliminate biases against women and other vulnerable groups as producers and consumers (minimum wages, measures against discrimination), improved access to capital through financial sector reforms of micro-credit schemes, implementation of employment support schemes, and provision of secure ownership of key assets. It is delighful that some of these have been highlighted by Dr Gowon.
The cost of implementing social security system can be enormous even in the developed world. Even in Britain at the moment this is a problem and it is a front burner and election issue. The cost can however be brought down to a manageable level by public commitment involved in the social development strategies followed by an efficient administration. This is where it will not be business as usual any longer in our country Nigeria. We must have a paradigm shift especially with our attitude to taxation which is usually a major source of funding for social security activities as well as the way we manage state owned organisations. The cost also depends on what type of social security system should be implemented and therefore a careful thought needs to be given to this. We already know that in Nigeria we are bad with implementing anything. This will therefore be a big challenge. A policy not well implemented is a waste and I do hope this will not go the way of other previous policies. We must know how we can measure success right from the begining and incorporate that in the policy. Social security policies are prone to cheatings. There has to be measures to tackle this and appropriate punishments prescribed from the onset for such cheats.
The plan to strengthen the institutions to safeguard social security is a welcome idea. There is need for the actualisation of constitutional provision on social security as contained in Section 71(2) of the Pension Reform Act, 2004 and other Acts relevant to a comprehensive and effective social security system.
I believe it can be done and the time is now and as Dr Gowon said, we have to ensure corruption is not glorified in this venture that is meant to help the poor.