Wednesday, 6th December 2023

Poor implementation, corruption allegations, politicisation dog FG’s social safety net scheme

By Chukwuma Muanya and Nkechi-Onyedika Ugoeze
13 June 2019   |   4:00 am
There are growing concerns over the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP), which is a social safety net established by the Federal Government, in 2016, to tackle poverty and hunger across the country.

ED, CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani

There are growing concerns over the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP), which is a social safety net established by the Federal Government, in 2016, to tackle poverty and hunger across the country.

The suite of programmes under the NSIP focuses on ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women.

The components of the administration’s SIP include the N-Power programme, the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme and the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), which consists of the MarketMoni, FarmerMoni and TraderMoni schemes.

World Bank Group Vice President for Human Development, Annette Dixon, said: “In a volatile world there is strong evidence that social safety net programmes can help to build the resilience of poor families and reduce their poverty, making them a vital instrument for the rapid development of countries.

“In the absence of these safety net programmes, poor people facing shocks can fall into deeper poverty, often having to sell their remaining assets or borrow more.”

In Nigeria, proponents of the NSIP claim that millions across the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja can testify of the impact of the programme. But critics insist that the programme has recorded only ultimate failure and scandals.

Presidential aide on NSIP, Maryam Uwais

The proponents say the NSIP has not only provided needed welfare support to Nigerians but has also created jobs and provided more opportunities for Nigerians in the formal and informal economy.

But critics say corruption allegations, poor design, planning, and implementation and politicization dog the Federal Government’s programme.

The proponents of NSIP claim that since it started in 2016, about N450 billion has been implemented, and the NSIPs have impacted over 42 million Nigerians – that is, over 12 million direct beneficiaries and about 30 million indirect beneficiaries, comprising family members, employees of beneficiaries, cooks and farmers.
Growing criticism

But the President’s wife, Aisha Buhari, last month, fiercely criticised the social investment programmes (SIP) of the administration. She said there was little evidence to show that a good chunk of its budget was judiciously utilised.

Buhari said the initiative has failed to reach its intended beneficiaries in at least Adamawa and Kano.

Although the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who has continued to coordinate its implementation, designed the programme, Mrs. Buhari blamed a presidential aide, Maryam Uwais, for its shortcoming.

“I am sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made,” Mrs. Buhari was reported as saying during a State House function with women last month.

She said she learnt from other administration officials that 30,000 women in Adamawa would receive N10,000 each, but only a few people have benefitted despite the programme being in its third year.

Mrs. Buhari said she had long been uncomfortable with the programme’s implementation, but she had been reluctant to speak up about it for fear of being labelled a talkative.

But when she made findings, she discovered that key aspects of the programme were not properly implemented in Adamawa and Kano, she said.

She also criticised ‘government’s claim’ that $16 million and N12 billion had been spent on mosquito nets and trauma equipment, respectively. She asked women in the audience to hold public officials accountable for their handling of developmental funds.

However, Mrs. Uwais pushed back on Mrs. Buhari’s allegation during a TV appearance. She said the president’s wife appeared uninformed about the scheme.

“I believe that if she were to listen to the information they have there, if she were to check on our data, she would be able to track all the beneficiaries,” Mrs. Uwais said.

The presidential aide said Mrs. Buhari’s lack of absolute understanding of the projects could be excused, especially as poor funding had made it difficult for the programme to be implemented.

“I believe we could do so much more if we have sufficient funding,” she said. “We have only scratched the surface in the sense that we do not have the sufficient funding to address.”

The programme has secured N500 billion annually in national budgets over the past three cycles, but releases have consistently fallen well below the allocation, leaving a good chunk of the project unimplemented.

As of April 2018, the administration had spent only N175 billion in three years, an amount significantly shy of the N1.5 trillion that was appropriated within the same period. The vice president’s office said the government would continue to budget N500 billion annually for the project.

Also, there are concerns that the non-implementation of Buhari’s programme in Abuja keeps thousands of children out of school.

Earlier reports claim the school-feeding programme, and other factors are boosting enrolment across Southern and Northern Nigeria. But reports indicate that despite successes, payment hitches, insufficient cooks, and others slow Buhari’s school feeding programme.

Civil societies fault implementation
Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Head, Transparency International Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told The Guardian that the various Social Investment Programmes initiated by successive administrations have recorded nothing but ultimate failure and scandals because poor design, planning and implementation or politicization and poor procurement and due process.

Rafsanjani said in December 2017, a report discloses that the N-Power scheme is fast derailing from its original objective of providing a social safety, and faces imminent collapse.

He said the 2019 general elections marred by violence and disruptions mainly perpetrated by the youth unemployment further exposed the weakness and inefficiency of the N-Power scheme. “There has been concern that the programme design was not consultative, participatory and sustainable to deal with poverty and create real economic empowerment for those Nigerians facing extreme poverty,” Rafsanjani said.

On the School Feed Programme, Rafsanjani said it is true that some poor families have been helped to feed their children and encourage them to allow their children to be in school.

However, he said, there were allegations as usual by some people about poor procurement process and distribution of meals to the pupils, who are the primary beneficiaries. This, Rafsanjani said, includes the low quality of meals that are served the pupils as against the inflated cost appropriated by the government.

Is the NSIP necessary at a time like this?
A new World Bank review of the use of these programmes in 22 African countries showed that safety nets are critical instruments for reducing extreme poverty and increasing shared prosperity.

The review, entitled “Reducing Poverty and Investing in People: The New Role of Safety Nets in Africa”, noted that safety net programmes in Africa are working to reduce poverty in a number of ways. Impact evaluations provide evidence that safety nets help households to meet basic consumption needs, protect assets such as livestock, and invest in their children’s health and education.

Research also suggests that safety nets could potentially boost future well-being and poverty reduction because they help poor households make productive investments today. They can also produce second round economic stimuli in poor areas.

In most African countries reviewed, safety nets tend to be fragmented and too small to effectively protect the poorest. However, in some countries that are leading the way forward, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania, safety nets are beginning to evolve from fragmented standalone programmes into robust safety net systems.

Safety nets in Africa have evolved from emergency food aid programmes that were often used during periods of drought or food insecurity to regular, predictable safety nets such as cash transfers or cash-for-work programmes that are targeted to poor and vulnerable households.

According to the World Bank, an estimated 36 percent of the very poor escaped extreme poverty because of social safety nets, providing clear evidence that social safety net programmes- which include cash, in-kind transfers, social pensions, public works, and school feeding programs targeted to poor and vulnerable households—are making a substantial impact in the global fight against poverty.

Data also shows that these programmes lower inequality, and reduce the poverty gap by about 45 percent. These positive effects of safety net transfers hold true for low and middle-income countries alike.

Yet in low-income countries around one in five of the world’s poor still lack safety net coverage.

New report by the World Bank shows that safety nets benefits as a share of the poor’s income and consumption are lowest in low-income countries, at only 13 percent.

The World Bank noted that Sub-Saharan African countries spend an average of $16 per citizen annually on safety net programmes, whereas countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region spend an average of $158 per citizen annually. Globally, developing and transition countries spend an average of 1.5 percent of Gross Domestic Programme (GDP) on safety net programmes.

Evidence now shows how safety nets cash transfers not only help nations invest in human capital, but also serve as a source of income for the poor, improving their standard of living. Today, some 2.5 billion people are covered by safety net programmes, and some 650 million people or 56 percent of the poorest quintile.

The allegation of corruption
Rafsanjani said if there are credible complaints about some people or vested interest, sabotaging or rendering the programmes ineffective then it is proper to review and correct these concerns to ensure accountability.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) had, in February last year, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “instruct the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Finance to urgently publish more details on the alleged fraud and stealing of some of the N1 trillion budgeted for the Social Investments Programme, including the exact amount of the $321 million of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha recently returned by Switzerland, affected by the fraud.”

The organization also urged Buhari to “instruct appropriate authorities to publish details of how his government plans to spend and monitor the spending of the $85 million returned by the United Kingdom from the controversial Malabu deal involving $1.6 billion, so as to remove the risks of corruption or mismanagement of the money.”

The Special Adviser on SIP, Maryam Uwais, had earlier last year reportedly disclosed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was invited to probe ‘massive fraud’ and other corrupt practices like short-changing, racketeering, harassment of beneficiaries and exploitation of the vulnerable that plagued the scheme in some states.

FG planning to sink more money into the programme
Rafsanjani said: “We cannot continue to support or inject the nation’s capital into a programme without review of its success. We must begin to innovatively devise more effective and sustainable support to revitalise our critical sector for Nigeria to achieve appreciable development. While we are recovering and repatriating looted funds, we must creatively inject such into the economy.”

He said CISLAC has been advocating for the establishment of a truth fund to use our recovered assets to respond to the gaps in health, education and water financing deficits for the poor Nigerians to benefit from the recovered looted assets and money. “Again the failure to have a legal framework to manage the recovered assets is a serious concern for CISLAC and many other CSOs working on anti-corruption and transparent assets recovering from both domestic and international assets,” Rafsanjani said.

He said the existing SIP certainly has a committed person leading the process but she surely needs collective support to succeed from both government and non-state actors.

Rafsanjani said the country needs to have more credible CSOs and media for independent monitoring and evaluation together with responsible legislative oversight report to help government find out the true reflection on this programme and how best to address some of the concerns raised by some Nigerians.

According to a report published by The Economist on February 21, 2019, Tanzania’s main welfare scheme, known as the Productive Social Safety Net (PSSN), has expanded quickly since it was created in 2013.

The report is captioned, “The new alms-giving: How Africa is creating welfare states.”

It noted that richer African countries such as Botswana and South Africa have operated welfare schemes for many years. Poorer ones are now rushing to do the same.

Kenya has created several, including one that sends money to households in drought-stricken areas. Ethiopia’s main welfare programme, which requires recipients to work, used to operate only in the countryside but is spreading to cities.

According to the World Bank, in Senegal, the flagship National Cash Transfer Programme expanded swiftly from three to 16 percent of the population in just four years, while in the Philippines, the Pantawid conditional cash transfer programme has expanded from five to 20 percent of the population since 2010.

Spending as a percentage of GDP by Region are as follows: Europe and Central Asia, 2.2 percent; Sub-Saharan Africa, 1.5 percent; Latin America and the Caribbean, 1.5 percent; East Asia and Pacific, 1.1 percent; Middle East and North Africa, one percent; South Asia, 0.9 percent.
Opposition kicks

Also, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), said Mrs. Buhari vindicated its stance that the administration is deceitful when she made revelation on the social programmes and faulted the $16 million spent on the purchase of mosquito nets.

PDP in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said: “More disheartening is the fact that the said funds were meant for the welfare of the poor, whom Mr. President had always claimed to represent in government.

“Unfortunately, these poor Nigerians have been waiting endlessly for the failed social investments promised by President Buhari only to have their hopes dashed as revelations by Mrs. Buhari had shown that the money provided for the programme had been stolen.

“The PDP holds that now that the truth has been revealed by no lesser Nigerian than Mr. President’s wife, the National Assembly and all anti corruption agencies should immediately commence forensic investigation on how these funds were dispensed and utilized.”

Presidency explains
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity (Office of the Vice-President), Laolu Akande, said that the federal government is also targeting millions of Nigerians to benefit from its schemes.

According to the statement, over 12 million will be lifted out of poverty in the next phase of the schemes, with over one million poorest households benefitting from the cash transfer.

It said that the ‘Next Level’ GEEP schemes also targets 10 million Nigerians, while one million more Nigerians would be added to the N-Power programme.

“In continuation of its efforts to invest in the country’s human capital development, the Buhari administration has continued to make significant strides through its N-SIP,” Akande said.

He listed the states currently receiving payment under CCT to include: Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Ekiti, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Niger, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, and Taraba.

Akande explained that the CCT was designed to deliver timely and accessible cash to beneficiary households and so enhance their capacity for sustainable livelihood.

For the school feeding programme, the SSA listed the benefitting states to include: Anambra, Abia, Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Ebonyi, Enugu, Kaduna, Kebbi, Kogi, Sokoto and Nasarawa.

Others are: Taraba, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Plateau, Delta, Zamfara, Imo, Jigawa, Kano, Niger, Katsina, Ondo, Edo and Gombe.

Going forward
Rafsanjani said: “Sincerely, Nigeria must begin to devise effective, creative and sustainable mechanism for social investment to achieve meaningful socio-economic progress in the country. We have dilapidated critical sector that requires serious attention to pilot our economy but it is less prioritised. The existing SIPs may not be the only options. The failure to have a strong monitoring and evaluation by non-state actors is not helping the situation.

“You will recall we had an independent monitoring and evaluation on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by some credible Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Nigeria, which provided honest report about MDGs implementation. I believe government should have learned to replicate similar approach to ensure and know if the programme is meeting the desired objectives.”

According to a World Bank report, for Sub-Saharan Africa’s poor and most vulnerable people to fully benefit from social safety net programmes, there must be a focus on political, institutional, and fiscal barriers and opportunities.

The report, Realizing the Full Potential of Social Safety Nets in Africa, recommends moving beyond the technical and design aspects of social safety net systems to include political processes, strong institutional foundations, and expanding program reach and sustainability.

Ignoring these areas may undermine the successful implementation of otherwise technically sound programmes. The report said these considerations are crucial to creating social safety programs that are brought to scale in a sustainable manner and reach their full potential to reduce poverty, build resilience, and boost opportunities among the poorest people.

World Bank lead economist and editor of the report, Aline Coudouel, said: “Evidence shows that social safety nets in Africa are an effective tool in the fight against poverty.

“But there is a gap between the impact of social safety nets as they are developed now, and the impact they could have if they can be brought to scale and sustained.”

While the number of social safety net programmes has increased rapidly across the region, which hosts some of the fastest growing programmes in the world, the report notes that in most countries, those programmes have yet to reach most of the poor and vulnerable people.

According to the report, on average, 10 per cent of the population is covered in African countries, and poverty rates are higher than coverage rates in most areas.

World Bank programme leader and editor of the report, Kathleen Beegle, said: “If social safety net programs cov
ered all poor households in Ghana, Liberia and Niger for example, even modest transfers such as $50 per household per month would generate a decline in poverty rates in each country by as much as 40 per cent.”

The study identified three critical areas for governments and development partners to consider – political, institutional, and fiscal –to facilitate scaling up programs and to sustain their implementation over time.

Recommendations include:
*The need for a shift in the political economy of social safety nets and their place in society: Stimulate the political appetite for social safety nets, choose politically appropriate parameters and harness the political impacts of social safety nets to promote sustainability

*The need for strong institutional anchoring to expand social safety nets: Anchor social safety net programmes in laws and policies, mechanisms for coordination and oversight, and arrangements for program management and delivery

*The need for additional fiscal space and greater predictability in funding: The level of predictability of resources devoted to the sector must be increased to support the expansion of social safety nets to the desirable scale.

The report also highlights the need for smarter, more efficient spending, including using technology to reduce cost of delivery of benefits.