The current lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for some palliatives for poor Nigerians. It has also exposed the underbelly of our National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). The allegations and counter-allegations trailing the scheme are such that it will not be out of place to rename it, National Social Investment Paradox.
Last May, for instance, the President’s wife, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, laid a strong foundation for the vilification of this programme. Mrs. Buhari told a group of women at an interactive session in Abuja that the programme had failed woefully to achieve its aim in Kano and most parts of northern Nigeria.
“In my state (Adamawa), one local government benefitted from it, out of 22 local governments. I didn’t ask what happened and I don’t want to know, but it failed woefully in Kano; it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good thing,” she lamented. She also regretted that the National Social Investment Office spent $16 million, which was “enough to fumigate Nigeria,” in buying mosquito nets, which did not even get to her village.
Last Wednesday, the National Assembly continued from where Mrs. Buhari stopped. It queried the N12 billion purportedly spent monthly on the scheme and another N100 million paid to an unnamed consultant. It called the entire exercise a scam. At a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk, both the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, did not mince words to call for the suspension of the scheme.
Lawan reportedly frowned on some alleged tough conditions given to the beneficiaries. He wondered, for instance, why they were expected to go online whereas most of them didn’t have access to power not to talk of Internet or even bank accounts. As Gbajabiamila asked, how do they come about their list of beneficiaries? What are the parameters and what is the geographical spread?
The whole thing looks fishy. In his nationwide broadcast on March 29, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari made it look more suspicious. He said the COVID-19 lockdown would not affect the school feeding programme. Many Nigerians are at a loss on how the government intends to implement this feeding policy during lockdown. They see it as a scam.
But Umar Farouk sees it differently. According to her, “We have adopted a modality that will ensure that even though children are at home, they will get the food. We shall adopt a door-to-door modality in the distribution, using a voucher system.” She said the programme would commence in Imo in the next few weeks, after Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory. Truth appears to be on sale here!
However, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Maryam Uwais, disagrees. She actually supervised the programme between November 2015 and September 2019 when it was under the office of the Vice President. Faulting Lawan and Gbajabiamila over their criticisms, Uwais denied that the NSIP had gulped N2 trillion since 2016 when the fund was created.
According to her, although the total appropriation by the National Assembly from inception is N1.7 trillion, the actual funds released for the NSIPs between January 2016 and October 2019 (when the NSIPs were handed over to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development) amounted to N619.1 billion, constituting 36.4 per cent of the total appropriation from the National Assembly.
She noted that the release of funds covered operational activities and payments to 13,363,680 beneficiaries across all the four NSIPs. All of them, she said, could be verified either through their bank verification number or their unique numbers generated by the National Social Register. She denied that beneficiaries were made to apply online through the Internet and that they required a BVN for payment.
As at last month, the NSR reportedly comprised 11,045,537 individuals from 2,644,495 households, collated from 35 states, 453 LGAs, and 47,698 communities. I was tempted to believe Uwais, but Mrs. Buhari’s allegation that the woman did not keep her words four years after she informed her that 30,000 women would be beneficiaries in Adamawa State, enveloped my mind with doubts.
Last week, the Federal Government tried to further demonstrate its seriousness when it said it had commenced giving N20,000 each to conditional cash transfer beneficiaries from Anambra and Imo states. In Kaduna and Kogi states, N1.135 billion was reportedly disbursed to poor households. The amount covered stipends due for the month of January to April at N5,000 per month. The bit we saw on national television was embarrassing, as the government tried to impress with stacks of cash being shared to the crowd. This was in total disregard to the current social distancing rule.
Also embarrassing was President Buhari’s claim last year that his administration’s plan was to lay the foundation to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty. The target, he said, would be achieved by 2023. The President had earlier claimed, in August 2019, that his administration had lifted five million Nigerians out of poverty in three years through the NSIP. This claim flies in the face of the rating of Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world by the World Poverty Clock in 2018.
While the government continues to dish out claim after claim, some communities in Anambra State have decided to take their destinies in their own hands. Isuofia community in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State is a typical example. Last week, philanthropists from the town came together and raised some millions of naira to support their indigent citizens suffering the pangs of COVID-19 lockdown. Many people got N5,000 and a bag of rice each. This was transparently done through the six village chairmen who submitted equal number of beneficiaries to a board of administrators set up by the town union. The town has embarked on a second phase of donations, after which more people will be reached with some palliatives.
The government can learn one or two lessons from this initiative. The first is to come up with credible, faultless data of vulnerable people across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Secondly, no state or community should be left out. It is not enough to claim that local governments and communities are involved. They must be manifestly seen to be involved because they are closer to the people and know those who actually need the palliatives. Thirdly, the programme must always be open to public enquiry and scrutiny.
It is either we seriously reform the NSIP to make it more relevant, or scrap it entirely.
Re: Ikpeazu’s egusi soup, Keyamo’s repentance and Mbaka’s magical hair
Well done, Casmir. What we are in now is an eye-opener. Henceforth, welfarism should be made constitutional. Nigeria should launch the ‘emergency fund for citizens’ (efund). This will be raised from corporate philanthropy and active participation by companies, which will determine their chances of getting loans and rebates from financial houses and government. For the peddlers of fake rumours, they are warned never to re-invite the “hate speech bill.”
– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +2349095385215
Casmir, it is bad enough that the mistake of one unhygienic man/group of people in Wuhan, China, has led to catastrophic consequences for the global community. SARS Covi 2 (a zoonotic virus) transferable only from animals to man would have remained in its natural habitats (bats, cats, camels) were it not for man’s insatiable lust and inquisitive quest to eat or relate with the unthinkable/unimaginable. To the best of my knowledge, no man of God saw this coming, hence none should try to play god. They should not exploit the present circumstances to their advantage. None should play to the gallery like Keyamo. The Covid-19 we see today, we shall see no more in no distant future.
– Mike, Mushin, +2348161114572
Any politician who is in power and refuses to provide palliatives for their people at this hard time of coronavirus is a wicked politician. Those politicians do not deserve to be in the corridors of power in future.
– Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535
Dear Casy, the fake news being circulated by some Nigerians is tied to the present leadership that came in through lies, deceit and propaganda; a government that hasn’t shown transparency, accountability, honesty, responsiveness to the masses, no respect and regard for human life. Since 90 per cent of Nigerians lost their jobs under this government’s watch, the only business that thrives in this clime is fake news and fake prophesy. The 15 Chinese magicians have come into the country. Let’s hope that they haven’t brought Wuhan tsunami here. Let good rich Nigerians send some food and cash to poor people in rural areas because the ones they sent earlier have entered the python and gorilla’s belly. May God bless our health teams and Nigerians! Coronavirus can’t kill us.
– Eze Chima C, Lagos, +2347036225495
It’s only the dead that are safe in their grave while the living remain in a frightening mother of all lockdowns, and need we exclaim, ‘Oh, America your glory lies slain on the battle turf of corona!’
How are the mighty fallen! Say it not in the streets of Wuhan. Proclaim it not in Italy. Lest, the people like rain-soaked fowls be forced to scamper for safety. I am in deep love with this coronavirus. Blame me not, or haven’t we observed the remarkable discipline the corona scourge has injected into our generally undisciplined society? The scenario is reminiscent of the war against indiscipline era of the erstwhile Buhari/Idiagbon military dictatorship. I’ve never known that Nigerians love life this much. The fear of coronavirus appears to be more daring than the virus itself. Yes, China, America and Italy the originating countries of the almighty virus where lives are wiped out with ease have not been entertained with needless drama as it is in Nigeria. This ravaging virus should be the gatekeeper of our political space wherein only those politicians and voters who respect the tenets of parties’ primaries and avoid election rigging are allowed in.
– Edet Essien Esq, +2348037952470
- First published in the Daily Sun of Monday, April 13, 2020