The National Assembly leadership apparently spoke the minds of many Nigerians recently when it faulted the multibillion naira National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). The Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, raised issues with the programme and demanded its overhaul.
The lawmakers particularly queried the N12 billion purportedly spent monthly on the school feeding programme and another N100 million paid to an unnamed consultant. The modalities for the conditional cash transfer component also elicited some concerns. “The way the poverty list was generated has raised all types of problems here. No one believes in the social register,” Lawan stated.
Besides, Gbajabiamila wondered how the NSIP Office came about the list of beneficiaries, the parameters they used and the geographical spread. This is a very strong indictment of the programme, considering the calibre of the critics here.
Last year, the wife of the President, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, also had cause to question the modalities of the programme. Mrs. Buhari lamented that it had failed in Kano and most parts of northern Nigeria. For instance, out of the 22 local government areas of Adamawa State, she alleged that only one local government benefitted from it.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Investment, Sadiya Umar Farouk, reportedly admitted before the National Assembly leadership that the programmes had so many inadequacies which her ministry was trying to unravel. She took over the running of the programme from the Office of the Vice President in October last year.
Apparently to show that they are serious now, her ministry made a public show of cash disbursement of N20, 000 to Conditional Cash Transfer beneficiaries in some states recently. The money represented N5, 000 monthly stipends for the months of January to April. The publicised payment was made without due regard to social distancing which is one of the ways of avoiding contracting the ravaging coronavirus.
Amid the cacophony of criticisms trailing the programme, one woman is spiritedly defending it. She is the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais (who supervised the programme between November 2015 and September 2019 when it was directly under the office of the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo). She said it was not true that the programme had gulped N2 trillion since the fund was created in 2016.
According to her, the total appropriation by the National Assembly from inception is N1.7 trillion. Out of this amount, she noted, only N619.1 billion was released for the NSIP between January 2016 and October 2019. This release of funds reportedly covered operational activities and payments to 13, 363, 680 beneficiaries across all the four components of the programme. She denied that the beneficiaries were asked to apply online and that they required a Bank Verification Number for payment.
She explained that all the names of the beneficiaries were available for verification in a National Social Register. This register, as at last month, reportedly comprised 11, 045, 537 individuals from 2, 644, 495 households, collated from 35 states, 453 LGAs and 47,698 communities.
These claims notwithstanding, the hard fact is that most Nigerians don’t feel the impact of this programme. It becomes more suspicious when President Muhammadu Buhari, in a recent nationwide broadcast, said the school feeding programme would continue despite COVID-19 lockdown. Farouk claimed they would adopt a door-to-door modality in distributing the food, using a voucher system. So, how will it account for the number of pupils reached without involving school authorities? Is this really the way to feed the children? Whose interest is the government serving?
Being one of the roadmaps of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the entire programme needs to be rejigged if it is to serve its purpose. Government must come up with a credible verifiable data of the poor and vulnerable people across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Also, the National Assembly leadership should do everything possible to help in transforming the programme especially in the area of enabling legislation to conform to global best practices.
It is also important that government should ensure that the COVID-19 money, which now stands at over N15 billion, is not hijacked. The majority of Nigerians are suffering. COVID-19 has doubled that suffering. The government should ensure that the money meant for the poor and vulnerable citizens gets to them. This is the only way to avert the looming social crisis.
Daily Sun Editorial