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Ohanaeze, yoruba elders, PANDEF want SIP probed

By m Kelvin Ebiri (Port Harcourt) Lawrence Njoku (Enugu), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
12 April 2020   |   4:33 am
Strident calls for a thorough investigation of the troubled Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, yesterday

Initiative Has No Impact In Yoruba Land – YCE
• Provide Database Of SIP Beneficiaries – PANDEF
• It Has Failed To Justify Why It Was Set Up – Ohanaeze Ndigbo
• Launch Investigation Without Delay — Sani

Strident calls for a thorough investigation of the troubled Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government, yesterday, resonated across the country with most major socio-political groups describing the initiative as being fraudulent.

The groups comprising the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Ohanaeze Ndigbo and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) were unanimous in their response insisting that the SIP has had little or no effect on the poor, bogged by transparency concerns and suffused with unsubstantiated claims.

A chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum and the immediate past Secretary-General of the group, Elder Anthony Sani, minced no words in calling on the National Assembly (NASS) to waste no time in commencing probe of the programme given the avalanche of fraud allegations it has attracted.

All their submissions are in sync with the views of the Senate President Ahmed Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, who described the programme as a scam.

Expectedly, the position of the leadership of the National Assembly led to a spat between it and the Presidency.

Weighing in on the matter, the YCE, which also alleged some corrupt practices in the scheme, questioned its modus operandi and said immense efforts should be made to shed the corrupt toga.

According to the Secretary-General of YCE, Dr. Kunle Olajide: “With the amount of money that the government claimed to have sunk into the SIP, we cannot see much of its effect here in Yoruba land. Definitely, I know that any programme that does not have an orderly method of distribution, and of reaching the people obviously will end up as a scam,” he said. 

Olajide continued: “For me, I will not say that SIP has been a scam totally, but obviously the government does not have a record of proper management of the scheme. In any case, because of the fact that we don’t have reliable data in this country, failure of good governance has continued over the years, and that is why we are having all these problems. I have no doubt that a lot of people are helping themselves to the money. The money is not likely to reach those, who deserve it. To some extent, one can say there is a lot of fraud involved in it. I do not want to blame the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 because it is facing an uphill as a result of the defective structure of government that we have. 

“In my humble opinion, the easiest approach would have been to use the polling booth and voter registers. Then have COVID-19 Taskforce at the state, local government and at the ward level. The taskforce should necessarily consist of the leadership of the two leading political parties, traditional institutions, labour leaders, youth organisations, among others. These people would be able to effectively identify the poorest of the poor and ensure that the money gets to where it is supposed to get to.” 

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo says SIP should be investigated right away, especially now that the leadership of the National Assembly had raised doubts over judicious application of resources.

The deputy national publicity secretary of the group, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, who stressed that SIP has failed woefully to tackle the primary thing that led to its establishment in 2016, maintained that hunger and poverty have continued to ravage the land ferociously.

He said there was no reason for the Federal Government to continue to fund a programme, which impact has not been felt by the people, stressing that funds so far committed to the project may not have matched challenges expected to be tackled.

Ibegbu said: “The Social Investment Programme is bewildering and for the National Assembly to tag it a scam means that something is wrong somewhere. This is because we are not talking about a National Assembly controlled by a different political party, but by the same APC. This leaves much to be desired.”

He continued: “What is happening is worrisome and the fire that engulfed the Office of Accountant General of the Federation made SIP look more like a scam that must be thoroughly investigated in the interest of the progress and development of the country. It must also be investigated for integrity sake.”

On its part, PANDEF is challenging SIP managers to avail Nigerians the database of beneficiaries of the scheme, and the criteria for their selection.

PANDEF National Publicity Secretary, Ken Robinson, said the intervention of the leadership of the National Assembly was auspicious and must be commended.

Robinson said the people of the South-South geopolitical zone are concerned that government programmes, such as the SIP are always lopsided to the disadvantage of the Niger Delta.

“As we speak, we don’t know how many people from the Niger Delta are benefiting from the SIP. The zone has also been excluded from the current coronavirus intervention. However, we hope that the National Assembly will follow this matter to its logical conclusion,” he said.

PANDEF noted that at a time when the global economy including that of Nigeria was in distress, people saddled with the responsibility of managing funds for programmes like SIP must be accountable and transparent.

“Nigeria belongs to all of us. We will like to know the number of Niger Delta people that have benefitted from this programme. Niger Delta has been the greatest benefactor of the Nigerian state in the last 60 years, yet we are discriminated against in programmes like this,” he said.

He, therefore, tasked the leadership of the National Assembly not to back down on a thorough probe of how the scheme has been managed since inception till date.

ACF chieftain, Elder Sani said it was important for the National Assembly to commence a public probe on the fraud allegations since the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives have questioned the management of the scheme.

“The two people that have alleged that the SIP is a scam are not ordinary Nigerians, but leaders of an important arm of this government. They are not only charged with the responsibility of making laws but also with that of oversight functions. If they have sufficient evidence of abuse of the programmes, they are both at liberty to inflict retribution on offenders,” Sani said.

He added: “What Nigerians would not like in the practice of our multi-party democracy would be for our leaders to join the fray and make allegations without fact checks. Such declaratory allegations without evidence, rather than strengthening our democratic institutions, are capable of eroding public confidence in the institutions and the government.

“They should, therefore, help grow our democracy and improve governance by living up their oversight functions, rather than play to the gallery. If in the opinion of the principal officers of the NASS, they come to the conclusion that SIP is a scam, they should do the needful, by ordering a probe by either the NASS or the executive arm of the government.

“If the allegations are found to be true, the perpetrators should be sanctioned in accordance with the provisions of the statutes. That the government has pledged to fight corruption to a standstill is not to suggest that all government functionaries are saints. What is important is for the government to have a mechanism of sanctioning those who go astray from declared policies and actions of the government.”