YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – To tackle poverty in Nigeria, the country must overcome institutions that are “weak, dysfunctional and are skewed in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor.”
Christian Aid, a leading development charity, has pledged to “tackle the power imbalance that perpetuates poverty in Nigeria” in its 2019-2026 strategy program.
“People are unconsciously integrated into the social relations of production and the systems that exacerbate power imbalances and inequality,” said Charles Usie, the country director for Christian Aid Nigeria.
“The poor are not poor by accident, rather their ability to strive for better life is constrained by power imbalances in the existing social relations of production. And the structures that perpetuate inequality,” he told Crux.
Usie said he knew it was a “tall order” to eradicate poverty for more than 200 million Nigerians, but said he had “faith that [Christian Aid] will achieve our mission.”
Our approach is both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, we work hard to provide succor and meet the needs of people most at risk through our programs,” he said. “Our long-term approach is focused on changing institutions, shaping policies, building movements, and addressing the root causes of power imbalance and inequality which perpetuate poverty.”
What follows is Crux’s conversation with Usie.
Crux: In your strategy program for 2019-2026, you pledge to “tackle the power imbalance that perpetuates poverty in Nigeria.” How does this power imbalance play out and how is it perpetuating poverty in the country?
Usie: At Christian Aid, we believe that poverty is structural and political in nature. Every human society is a complex interaction of social relations of production and the structures and institutions which preserve the status quo. The relations of production (i.e. property relations, ownership of factors of production vs. laborers) is the means through which all necessities of life are produced, while institutions and structures reinforce the imbalance in relations of production.
People are unconsciously integrated into the social relations of production and the systems that exacerbate power imbalances and inequality. The poor are not poor by accident, rather their ability to strive for better life is constrained by power imbalances in the existing social relations of production. And the structures that perpetuate inequality.
In Nigeria, like most developing countries, institutions for the achievement of societal aspirations are weak, dysfunctional and are skewed in favor of the rich at the expense of the poor. Existing policies and structures reinforce power imbalances and deprive the masses of socio-economic and political capital to grow and thrive. The situation is worsened by poor policy implementation, endemic corruption, patronage system, lack of accountability and transparency, among others. These combine to deprive the masses of economic opportunities to improve their lives.
Christian Aid is working to dismantle the structures and systems that perpetuate power imbalances, inequality and poverty in Nigeria. Our essential purpose is to end poverty in the world, and by extension in Nigeria, and we are committed to address it from the root.
How does Christian Aid intend to tackle that imbalance?
We are deploying innovative strategies, building personal agency and partnering with stakeholders to challenge systems and structures that perpetuate inequality through Christian Aid Nigeria program areas – health and human development, democracy and good governance and humanitarian and sustainable livelihood. Our cross-cutting themes – strategic behavior change communication, advocacy and campaign, gender and social inclusion, program quality and learning, research and development and partnership and capacity strengthening – are the strategic approaches to deliver the program areas.
Our health work uses a holistic, adaptable and inclusive programming approach to increase access of poor and marginalized communities to quality health and nutrition services.
Our health intervention is contributing to the reduction in disease burden for children under-five among poor and marginalized populations. Our intervention has provided life-saving treatment to over 400,000 children under-five in Benue State. We are working with stakeholders to expand access to health services through universal health coverage (UHC). We have successfully partnered with other stakeholders for the passage of Benue State Health Insurance bill to facilitate expanded universal health coverage. We facilitated the passage of HIV anti-discrimination act and development and implementation of the national stigma reduction strategy for HIV positive people. Christian Aid’s integrated approach to health program delivery empowers communities to improve their resilience, livelihoods, and quality of life.
Our governance program is improving government accountability and responsiveness to the needs of poor and marginalized people. We are providing support and building capacity for individuals, communities, and civil society groups to achieve demand-driven governance that is participatory and inclusive of all groups especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.
Our approach is making lasting change on institutions, policies and practices. We have strengthened local communities and institutions and change the balance of power between citizen and state by influencing government plans and budgets and holding government to account for provision of services and inclusive governance. We are amplifying community voices in governance, increasing participation and building local capacity of communities through citizen engagement to hold duty bearers accountable for the provision of services using social accountability tools (for example, Charter of Demands, citizens’ report cards, budget analysis etc.). We have established interfaith platforms and have recently launched the Side by Side Movement for Gender Justice in Nigeria to address inequalities and discrimination against women in Nigeria.
Our humanitarian response provides immediate relief while leveraging opportunities to rebuild communities and establish sustainable livelihoods and improved practices. We are improving the conditions of people affected by conflict and disaster by providing timely life-saving interventions that ensure quality of life in the long term, while building livelihoods and peaceful communities in Nigeria. Christian Aid has distributed more than 10 metric tons of food in IDP (internally displaced people) camps and in communities in Northeast Nigeria.
We prioritize three critical elements including emergency life-saving food assistance to communities affected by conflict, promoting livelihood recovery and health in emergencies with a focus on nutrition. We have provided nutrition services to severely malnourished under-fives, pregnant and lactating mothers in Northeast Nigeria.
Nearly 48 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. How realistic is your 6-year program to eradicate poverty in Nigeria?
We acknowledge that eradicating poverty in Nigeria or anywhere in the world is not an easy task, but we believe it is possible.
Our approach is both short-term and long-term. In the short-term, we work hard to provide succor and meet the needs of people most at risk through our programs. For instance, the C19 NALPER project provided life-saving and livelihood assistance to around 10,000 households in Benue, Kaduna and Borno in the form of cash transfers, provision of WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) services and other non-food items to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 among under-served communities.
Our long-term approach is focused on changing institutions, shaping policies, building movements and addressing the root causes of power imbalance and inequality which perpetuate poverty. We know eradicating poverty for more than 200 million Nigerians is a tall order, but we are working in line with our country result framework to measure the progress of our work and we have faith that we will achieve our mission.
We recognize that eradicating poverty in Nigeria will take much more than what only Christian Aid is able to do, hence we are deliberate about building alliances and strategic partnerships with others into a movement that could bring an end to poverty in Nigeria.
Recently, thousands of Nigerians took to the streets to protest police brutality. Would you agree with the assessment of the country’s Catholic bishops that the protests were just symptomatic of a deeper problem of governance afflicting Nigerian society?
We quite agree that #ENDSARS protest is a protest against decades of misgovernance, oppression and suppression of Nigerians. Police brutality is just a tip of the icebag. The protest was a statement by Nigerian youth against pervasive poverty, inequality and injustice, endemic and institutionalized corruption, youth unemployment, misgovernance, patronage and nepotism in government appointment, institutional and infrastructural decay, high cost of governance, impunity and harassment of the masses by security agencies and government officials.
It is also a protest against systems that alienate, disempower and fail to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people. Christian Aid Nigeria recently launched a youth engagement strategy as part of the movement and coalition building against poverty and structural imbalances that perpetuate injustice. We believe Nigerian youth can be a catalyst for action and change.
Christian Aid has been working in Nigeria for the past 16 years. Amongst your achievements you talk of “reducing conflict in communities.” Yet there is still a lot of conflict between grazers and farmers…
We believe it is accurate information about our work. We are very specific in our assertion, “reduced violence and conflicts in 15 project communities and enhanced peaceful co-existence between herdsmen and their host communities.”
The above quote was taken from the result of our intervention in Plateau State. The Early Warning and Early Response (EWER) Project successfully reconciled farmers/herders in 15 communities in Plateau State. Plateau is one of the 36 states and almost the same size of Belgium in landmass. It doesn’t mean there are no more farmers/herders conflicts in Plateau or anywhere else in Nigeria, but that Christian Aid was able to broker peace between these group in 15 communities is an achievement we are proud of.
Nigeria has 36 states and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and farmers and herders are present in almost all the 36 states and the FCT. It is not out of place therefore to have farmers/herders’ conflict in other locations.
What challenges have you faced?
The rising insecurity has posed serious challenges to our work and has not allowed us to access certain locations to reach communities in need. But perhaps, the greatest challenge facing Christian Aid, like many other agencies, is funding. There is a decline in aid budget globally which makes for a very challenging environment for all organizations working in development and humanitarian assistance.
Christian Aid is navigating this tough terrain, devising more innovative and creative strategies to increase both restricted and unrestricted funds. This will help us to maximize the impact of our work and to achieve a just, equitable and peaceful Nigerian society where poverty is eradicated, and everyone is empowered to live life in all its fullness.