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Presidency, National Assembly faceoff over SIP gets messier

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• ‘Lawmakers’ call for inclusive reform dangerous, regrettable’
• Uwais’ remarks unfortunate, baseless, says NASS

The disagreement between the presidency and the National Assembly leadership over the management of the Federal Government Social Investment Programme (SIP) worsened yesterday.

It was learnt that Senate President Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila recently, in a media report, made some allegations against the handlers of the SIP and described the programme as a scam.

The presidency, in a statement issued by Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais, yesterday titled “Lawan, Gbajabiamila got it wrong”, provided statistics, figures and listed examples of how much was released to the programme and how the fund was used.In the statement, she described as untrue, many of the allegations made by the two presiding officers of the National Assembly.

Uwais said the allegation that the SIP has gulped over N2 trillion since 2016, when the fund was created was untrue.

“Although the total appropriation by the National Assembly from inception, for the 4 N-SIPs is N1.7 trillion, the actual funds released for the N-SIPs between January 2016 and October 2019 (when the N-SIPs 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 NASS.

“The monies released for the N-SIPs can be further broken down into 14.03 per cent (2016); 35 per cent in 2017; 43.5 per cent in 2018 and 57.8 per cent (as at Sept 2019) of the N500 billion in 2016 and N400 billion appropriated for the subsequent years. It should be noted that for 2017 to 2020, the sum of N100 billion was appropriated specifically for the National Housing Fund hosted by the Federal Ministry of Finance. These releases covered operational activities and payments to 13,363,680 beneficiaries across all the 4 N-SIPs, all of whom can all be verified either through their BVN numbers or their unique numbers generated by the National Social Register, those identities having been generated for the poorest of the poor who do not own bank accounts for sundry reasons.

“As at September 2019, the funds had been expended as follows:
• Job creation programme (549,500 N-Power graduates and non-graduates and 7 Technology Hubs);
• National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (in 33 states, 9,963,762 pupils to 107,862 cooks in 54,952 primary schools);
• National Cash Transfer Programme (including the development of the National Social Register by the National Social Safety Net Coordination Office) 1,491,296 poor and vulnerable households comprising 6,056,872 individuals in 33 states and 620,947 cash transfer beneficiaries;
• Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (managed by the Bank of Industry); and
•a total of 2,279,380 TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni beneficiaries,” Uwais explained.

According to her, it is not true that as part of the conditions for poor and vulnerable beneficiaries to be engaged, they are made to apply online, through the internet and they require a BVN for payment.

“The National Cash Transfer Programme derives all the cash transfer beneficiaries from a National Social Register (NSR), comprising state social registers that are developed and hosted by the ministry of planning of each state. The process for objective identification of poor and vulnerable households is as provided in the Financing Agreement (F.A) signed between Nigeria and the World Bank, for which purpose the World Bank IDA Credit and the recovered funds from the Abacha family are being utlised.

“The process involves a poverty mapping of the LGAs in each state, community mobilization, targeting and identification supported by trained enumerators at state and LGA levels, after which each of the households identified by the communities is visited and data collated, which information includes fields such as the size of household, age, gender, persons with disability (if any), assets, vocation of head of household, educational qualifications (if any) and dwelling house conditions, among others.

“Finally, all the data collated is subjected to a proxy means testing formula to determine those who merit the grants and the accompanying training. Even though each state hosts its own information, all of the data is hosted at the national level as the National Social Register. As at March 31st 2020, the NSR comprised 11,045,537 individuals from 2,644,495 households, collated from 35 states, 453 LGAs, 47,698 communities. Each and every beneficiary has a generated unique number and can be tracked.

“It is only in respect of the job creation programme that applications are made online. That particular programme was initiated for youth who consist of graduates and non-graduates, as with JAMB candidates who continue to apply for their own admission, online. Indeed, all the LGAs around the country currently have N-Power beneficiaries serving in sundry capacities.”

The presidential aide also dismissed the claim by the Senate that the NSIP information was not accessible to the National Assembly.

“It is, however, on record that all invitations to public hearings and meetings by the NASS were honoured by myself (as the supervisor of the N-SIPs) and the cluster teams, while documents relating to the structure, activities and progress of the N-SIPs were routinely shared with them, over the period that the NSIO supervised the N-SIPs under the auspices of the Office of the Vice President (OVP). Furthermore, the monthly reports of 3,000 N-Power monitors, spread across the 774 LGAs, are available to both Poverty Alleviation Committees of the NASS,” she said.

Uwais stated that the accounting and procurement aspects of the N-SIPs were handled by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning on behalf of the NSIO, and not the OVP.

She described as regrettable and dangerous the alleged assertion that the National Social Register was a ‘scam’ and needed to be reformed through a process that is “more inclusive” of the National Assembly “apparently because the beneficiaries are not known personally to the NASS members.”

“The NSR comprises persons selected by the communities directly, within the constituencies of each of the NASS members. No person has been imported from one community to the other. They have been identified as very poor by the communities in which they reside and may not necessarily be known by the lawmakers. Verification of their identity and status is possible, as has been for all investigative journalists and monitors, through the CTFs.”

In a reaction yesterday, the National Assembly alleged that Uwais’ submissions contained some “unfortunate, baseless and unfair insinuations” which were totally extraneous to the issues raised.

“We, therefore, take strong exception to the innuendo by the presidential aide that her rejoinder was issued towards safeguarding the entitlements of the poorest of Nigerian citizens, whose benefits are likely to cease because they are not known or connected to NASS members or any other person of influence. That insinuation is unfair to the members of the National Assembly and is entirely baseless,” the Assembly declared.

Lawan, on behalf of the leadership of the National Assembly, insisted that lawmakers, in line with their constitutional mandate to conduct checks on the activities of other arms of government, had the right to make the submissions it made about the social investments programme.

A statement by Lawan’s media adviser, Ola Awoniyi, made it clear that “the observations made by the Senate president and Gbajabiamila captured the views of many Nigerians.

“These observations also reflect feedback from the people they represent who are the targeted beneficiaries of the scheme.”The statement further read: “It is true that the leadership of the National Assembly pointed out gaps in the implementation of the N-SIP. As the representatives of the people, it is a key constitutional mandate of the legislature to oversight, review and make recommendations for better implementation of important programmes of government .That, in summary, was what was done at Tuesday’s meeting.”

Disappointed by the statements from the presidency, the National Assembly leadership cautioned: “Public office holders should be receptive to constructive ideas and suggestions expressed to enhance service delivery and to improve the performances of public projects and institutions.”

The legislature said its commitment to working cordially with other arms of government “will never deter or discourage it from asserting its considered views in promotion and defence of good governance.

“We urge officials and agencies of government to exploit their access to the legislature in making clarifications before reacting to newspaper reports on its deliberations.”

The Assembly noted that its comments during the meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, HajiaSadiya Umar Farouq, last Tuesday, were aimed at “making the scheme more effective in the delivery of its critical mandate and these comments were well taken by the minister and her delegation.”

“The minister was honest enough to admit that the N-SIP had some challenges and was also bedevilled with intrigues which she was yet battling with. The leadership of the National Assembly would not have suggested an enabling legislation for the N-SIP if it does not believe in the relevance of the scheme.”

At the Tuesday meeting, the National Assembly leadership called for an immediate suspension of the register used for the scheme when informed by officials who accompanied the minister to the meeting that some N12 billion was paid monthly for the school feeding programme which nobody had been able to verify.

Another issue that attracted the anger of the National Assembly leaders was the N100 million paid monthly to an unnamed consultant who handles some aspects of the programme.

It was learnt that one Mrs. Farouq told the National Assembly leaders that she inherited the mess since it was transferred to her ministry.The minister was said to have told the lawmakers that she did not understand why the school feeding programme was adopted for COVID-19 and that even other programmes had so many inadequacies that her ministry was still trying to unravel.

Lawan, struggling to contain his anger at the meeting, said:”The way the poverty list was generated has raised all types of problems here. No one believes in the social register. Its a fraud and not fair.”

In a statement issued after the meeting, explaining part of what transpired, Lawan’s media office said the National Assembly leaders called for an enabling legislation that would transform the N-SIP and make it to be in line with global best practices.

The meeting was convened by the leadership of the National Assembly against the backdrop of the ongoing Federal Government intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the most vulnerable Nigerians.

In his opening remarks, Lawan had said the National Assembly was very much interested in the current intervention initiatives of the ministry, particularly with respect to the disbursement aimed at assuaging the plight of the poorest of the poor Nigerians against COVID-19.
“We feel that we need to work together with you to ensure that there is effectiveness, there is efficiency, that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly,” Lawan said.

The Senate president said the National Assembly was concerned about the conditions and guidelines for the intervention programmes which are specifically directed at the most vulnerable Nigerians.

“When, for example, some conditions are set, that those who will benefit will have to go online, through the Internet or BVN and the rest of it.I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to Internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN.

“In fact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leave them out,” Lawan said.

The Senate President said the poorest of the poor had not been sufficiently captured by the programme.

“We believe that when we work together, the executive side of government and the National Assembly as representatives of the people, we will be able to reach much more of these people who are in serious distress even before the coronavirus.

“Now with coronavirus, they need our attention more than ever before. The time has come that we review the ways and manner we use to deliver the services under the SIP to Nigerians.

“We need to be better in terms of strategy for delivery and definitely, what we have been doing in the past cannot deliver exactly what will solve the challenges of the most ordinary and most vulnerable Nigerians.

“So we need to put on our thinking cap and work out some strategies on how to identify the poorest persons in Nigeria. I think we have not been able to reach far out there to get them properly captured,” Lawan said.

Speaking in the same vein, Gbajabiamila said: “Your job right now, is probably the most important as we speak, because you are saddled with the responsibility of alleviating ‘poverty’ or the hardship, due to no fault of anyone, being thrust upon Nigerians, and I know that you came into a system, or you met a system that has nothing to do with you, but what we will be asking you to do is for you to change that system.

“When you walk into a system, no system is 100 perfect. The word reform is something we use all the time, and this is the one time when that word reform must be used in the truest sense of that word.”


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