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Failure of N2tr social investment programme

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The implementation of the Federal Government’s social investment programme (SIP) has come under serious criticisms in recent times. The programme, which was articulated in the government’s strategic implementation plan that preceded the 2016 “budget of change,” was part of the government’s three-pronged approach to governance of fighting corruption, addressing insecurity and growing the economy. In this regard, the social investment programme commenced in 2016 with an annual budget allocation of N500 billion which has been sustained since then for the past four years cumulating to about N2 trillion since 2016. 

The social investment programme which is part of the “investing in the people” aspect of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, ERGP, include sub-programmes such as conditional cash transfer, the home-grown school feeding and job creation. Against this background, the public had expected the programme to address the ever-widening incidence of poverty in the country as well as provide some form of social safety nets for impoverished members of society who cannot easily eke out a living for themselves, more so with the country currently labelled the “poverty capital of the world” as well as having the highest number of “out-of-school” children globally.

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The challenges in addressing these poverty-related issues were enormous but hopes have been high that with a successful implementation, no one will be left behind in the delivery of the dividends of governance to the society. Consequently, the social investment programmes were domiciled in the Office of the Vice President and managed by a Senior Special Assistant, though subsequently relocated to a new Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, following some curious power play within the administration.

The hope of addressing the incidence of poverty in the country appears to have been dashed. The First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari raised the first alarm in May 2019 when she alleged that the monies earmarked for the programme were not reaching the intended beneficiaries. According to her then, the social investment programme failed “woefully” in Northern Nigeria, with serious concerns expressed in various circles given that the allegation came from no less a person than the first lady herself.

This represented a serious indictment of the implementation of the social investment programme. She had wondered how the whopping N500 billion budgeted for the programme was disbursed, particularly in the North and ended up saying that “it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good thing.” She had also criticised the $16 million counterpart fund on procurement of mosquito nets and wondered who the beneficiaries of the nets were and what really was going on. She went further to question how the N12 billion released by the President to take care of trauma cases across the country was disbursed. These allegations and assertions by the first lady clearly indicated the haphazard approach used in managing the social investment programmes.

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It lent credence to the perception in some quarters that these schemes are merely conduits for government to siphon money for political purposes or to serve certain interests. Allegations have been rife that the SIP has become a cesspool of corruption, in an administration that has been boasting of fighting corruption. Could it be that these are part of the reasons the country has not fared any better in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index despite the hullaballoo about fighting corruption, since the government came into power in 2015. 

The advent of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) in 2020 has raised increasing interest in the functioning of the social investment programme and some of the new and damaging criticisms have come from the leadership of the National Assembly. This latest public criticism by the National Assembly that the social investment programme has failed is another serious indictment on the current administration. With the declaration of lockdown by the Federal Government in Lagos, Ogun and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as well as those declared by various state governments, the need to provide palliatives for the very poor in the society, became very compelling. While effort has been put in place to arrest the spread of the deadly virus in the country, the danger of exposing the poor to another kind of “virus,” hunger, has placed a lot of demand on the authorities to ensure that the poor are sustained while the lockdown lasts. 

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The operations of the social investment scheme over this period, in providing palliatives to the people have been seriously indicting on the integrity, competence and fairness of the operators of the scheme. The distribution mode has been questionable. The spread of the distribution has been skewed in favour of certain sections of the country and hardly could many poor persons that supposedly benefitted be clearly identified. The data in circulation, on the distribution of the palliatives or cash transfers to the poor smacks of gross nepotism. What is seen in the media are stacks of cash on tables and some supposed beneficiaries on queue. It is surprising that a programme that has been in operation since 2016 is still using crude and archaic methods in its operations. A lot of what is going on in the social investment programme smells of corruption – that should not be swept under the carpet again. 

The programme needs to be reviewed. The government needs to redeem its image by carrying out a total overhaul of the programme. There is the need for expert’s advice on evaluation. The personnel involved, even at the highest level should be right-sized and probed. This is an age of the big data. Technology should be deployed in the operation of the programme and so the SIP should ensure that every part of this country is a beneficiary. Except these issues are addressed, people will see the entire scheme as a charade and a means of siphoning money by the various political interests to serve their ungodly purposes, to the detriment of the poor and vulnerable. The change should start now. If the authorities continue to shrug their shoulders in Abuja in their rampaging impunity, they should note that this is a period of consequences for ‘‘thieves of state.’’ Financial intelligence data miners and money trail experts are now available and they will come after them – long after leaving office. 

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