Nigerian cash-transfer programme uses machine learning, big data analysis


A welfare benefit being rolled out in Nigerian in response to Covid-19 reportedly relies on highly data-intensive techniques.

The Rapid Response Registration Cash Transfer Project was set up by the Nigerian government to provide support to poor Nigerians located in urban and semi-urban areas that were not receiving any other form of welfare support.

According to statements by the Nigerian vice-president, the Rapid Response Register uses "scientifically validated methods of satellite remote sensing technology, machine learning algorithm and big data analysis". The Rapid Response Register "uses a wholly technology-based approach", and is therefore "primed to achieve an end-to-end digital foot-print in cash transfers for the urban poor". These statements raise concerns about the nature and quantity of data being processed to determine eligibility, as well as the quality of eligibility determinations, as it would appear that recipients of welfare support are identified solely based on automated decision-making without any human intervention or assessment.

The wealth of data potentially involved in choosing beneficiaries, together with the nature of decision-making, raises legitimate questions about compliance with data protection frameworks and privacy obligations. Further, to the extent that the technology deployed remains vague and imprecise, it is difficult to assess its effectiveness in identifying eligible claimants.  

Writer: News Agency of Nigeria
Publication: The Guardian