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Cash-based assistance offers support to vulnerable people in north-east Nigeria

29 May 2020

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Sabatu John back at work on her tailoring business. Upon receiving a cash grant, she was able purchase a new sewing machine and reopen her shop. Credit: Danish Refugee Council

In north-east Nigeria, where 7.9 million people are in need of life-saving humanitarian aid, providing support through cash-based assistance has increasingly become a way to not only ensure that essential needs are met, but also to empower the most vulnerable to become self-reliant and participate in economic activities that boost local markets.

More than one third of all humanitarian assistance in 2019 in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states was through cash and voucher assistance, reaching more than 1.5 million people throughout the year. Cash and voucher assistance has a direct and lasting impact in the lives of each of these people.

Kaka Ali Modu, an internally displaced woman and widow of seven children, is one of them. Like many women in north-east Nigeria, Kaka’s village in Goniri town, Yobe State, was attacked by non-State armed groups, and her husband was killed. Kaka was forced to flee from her home along with her seven children. When she finally arrived at safety, she did not have enough food to feed her family, and one of her sons tragically died from malnourishment.

Day after day, she begged on the streets so that her family could survive. Then, a humanitarian organization stepped in and started giving her 18,000 Naira (US$50) on a regular basis. She was able to feed her family and even managed to save a bit of money to start her own business making and selling groundnuts. 

“[Cash assistance] has really taken me out of the dire situation I was in. Now I feel like a human again and my children are able to eat. The proceeds from my business along with the cash amount I still receive is my source of joy,” Kaka said.

Kaka said that the intervention changed her life and made her feel reborn again. She was even able to rent two rooms where she lives with her children, sheltered from the harsh weather conditions in north-east Nigeria.

Meanwhile, in Adamawa State, Sabatu John was also able to get back on her feet thanks to a business cash grant. Sabatu, a mother of five young children, fled after a violent attack by non-State armed groups on her community of Michika, where she had been working as a tailor. Once the area became secure again, she was able to safely return to Michika with her family. However, the home she had once known had been burned to the ground during the clashes, along with all of her belongings. The sewing machine that had long been her source of income was damaged.

With no roof over her head and no means of working to provide for her family, Sabatu had to start all over again. She worked long hours on a small family farm alongside her husband, trying to scrape together enough food for her children to survive. The days were gruelling and long, yet the food they were able to harvest was not enough to feed their entire family. 


Sabatu John shows her damaged sewing machine before receiving a business grant to purchase a new machine. Credit: Danish Refugee Council

Sabatu was desperate to start sewing again and make her own living. When a humanitarian organization offered her a business cash grant of 129,990 Naira (US$335), she could hardly believe her fortune. She immediately bought a brand-new sewing machine, generator, fabric, needles and thread to get her tailoring business up and running once again. She even had enough money left over to purchase some sandals, slippers and shoes that go along with the clothes, handbags and purses she sews to diversify her business.

Now Sabatu makes between 4,000 and 12,000 Naira (US$10-$30) per week and rejoices that her livelihood has been restored, as she now has a steady source of income to support her family.

Kaka’s and Sabatu’s stories are a testament to the role that cash assistance can play in uplifting the most vulnerable people in conflict-ridden areas in north-east Nigeria, creating an avenue for their self-determination and recovery. Cash assistance gives autonomy for crisis-affected people to make independent decisions, thereby enabling them to pursue livelihoods and stimulate the local economy, ultimately shifting away from a reliance on life-saving aid and towards a path of resilience and development. 

To find out more about how cash and voucher assistance is supporting the most vulnerable people in north-east Nigeria, read the Cash Working Group annual report 2019.