“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the inadequacies and weaknesses in our social protection system further widening the gap between the rich and the poor, leading to increased economic inequality in our society. A combination of debt burdens, inadequate health systems, largely informal economics, rural-urban migration, pre-existing medical conditions, gender and socio-cultural disparities made the crisis especially acute particularly in the developing countries like Nigeria.
These thoughts were echoed by participants at the People’s Assembly organised as part of the Global Week to Act for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the Nigeria Network of NGOs in partnership with the Society for Family and Social Protection in Nigeria and Global Call to Action Against Poverty to call for more action on the part of governments world over including Nigeria to accelerate action on the SDGs.
“We the people of Nigeria who will not be left behind, in order to form a more perfect union of people, one of solidarity and respect for every person’s human rights, to eliminate poverty and inequalities, and emerge from the COVID 19 pandemic into a just, equitable, resilient and sustainable world, ordain and establish this Declaration of the People’s Assembly”.
Oyebisi, B. Oluseyi, Executive Director, Nigeria Network of NGOs pressed home participants’ declaration when he said “The last 18 months have been difficult for families and communities across the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our vision of equality and inclusion as aspired in the Sustainable Development Goals have 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 vaccine supplies”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the weak state of existing social protection systems. Decades of broken promises, policies that prioritise financial obligation over human rights and social and environmental responsibility through austerity programmes that have gutted social protection programmes, emergency safety nets, and essential public services. While emergency programmes provide relief in times of crisis, they are stopgap measures. The Federal, State and Local Government must create a universal social protection system if the Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved”
Listing their demands, the 61 organisations participating in the virtual People’s Assembly asked government at all levels to “put cash into the hands of people who need it the most, including excluded and marginalized 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”.
They 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. The fund will also support capacity building within and between nations so that countries can learn from each other and put in place sustainable systems that are resilient against external shocks” and encouraged Civil Society Organisations to “embark on National debt audits with governments to critically examine existing debt, propose changes to prevent the re-accumulation of unsustainable and illegitimate debt and assess reparations for the damage caused by such debts”.