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First Lady and N500b social investment assessment

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[FILES] Aisha Buhari. PHOTO: HAYE OKOH

The allegation by the wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari that the Federal Government’s social investment scheme failed “woefully” in Northern Nigeria should be worrisome at this time. This is particularly so, given that this is coming from no less a person than the First Lady herself. Mrs Buhari made this allegation in Abuja during an interactive programme she organised for women at the Presidential Villa. This allegation is a serious indictment of the implementation of the social investment programme, which her husband campaigned on, in 2015 as well as 2019 presidential elections.

The government social investment programme (SIP), which is worth N500 billion is domiciled in the Office of the Vice President and managed by a Senior Special Assistant in charge of the poverty reduction. It was provided for in the federal budget and passed by the National Assembly right from the 2016 federal budget, being the first by the Buhari administration. According to her, she is yet to encounter any beneficiaries of the programme, in Adamawa, her home state as well as in Kano where, according to her there are so many poor people struggling to eke out a living for themselves.

She wondered how a whopping N500 billion 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 even questioned the integrity of the officer in charge of the scheme. Mrs Buhari also criticised the $16 million counterpart fund on procurement of mosquito nets, which she also wondered who the beneficiaries of the nets are and what really is going on.

The Nigeria’s First Lady did not stop there. She also expressed worry about the N12 billion released by the President to take care of trauma cases across the country and the need for the money to be closely monitored.

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These allegations and assertions by the First lady clearly expose the haphazard approach used in managing the government’s social investment programmes. This appears to lend 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. It is worrisome that a government that prides itself as fighting corruption could have these types of revelations emanating from within its ranks and not from the opposition.

Mrs Buhari should be commended for her boldness and forthrightness since her husband took office in 2015. She has not failed to speak out when she perceives that corruption is holding sway even within the corridors of power. It can be recalled that she had raised some alarm concerning the lack of basic facilities and medicines at the Aso Villa Clinic in spite of the huge sums budgeted for that purpose. She has also been quoted as criticising her husband about the existence of some cliques inside the powerhouse, presidential villa generally believed to be influencing the direction of statecraft.

Though a former president has advised the First Lady to keep quiet and engage only in ‘pillow talk’ with her husband for her grouse to get deserved attention, we are persuaded that she should be encouraged to keep talking and thus make life uncomfortable for corrupt elements within her husband’s administration. That is part of the majesty of democracy we too keep talking about.

The issue of probity in managing these social investment schemes also came to the fore when government earmarked the $322 received as part of the Abacha loot for sharing to vulnerable Nigerians under the same scheme, without going through appropriation by the National Assembly. These anomalies in the management of public funds have been a source of worry for many Nigerians. It is no wonder that despite government’s frenzied efforts in fighting corruption, the country’s ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index (TIPI) has not experienced any significant change. A lot still needs to be desired in the fight on corruption. There is indeed need for more transparency as part of the fruits of the fight. The nation should know the details of how a whopping N500 billion worth of SIP has been spent.

In the same vein, the main opposition Party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has called for a probe into Mrs Buhari’s corruption allegations concerning these social investment programmes. The call appears relevant since the person making the allegation of corruption is highly placed within the Buhari administration. The average Nigerian would need to be reassured that the country’s resources are not being frittered away by unscrupulous individuals within the Buhari administration.

The sustenance of such allegations, in the face of widespread poverty in the land could lead to social unrest and lack of faith in the managers of the economy and their ability to work for the common good. An investigation by the relevant authorities into these allegations by the First Lady would go a long way in dousing any tensions that may arise in the polity as well as promote good governance for the benefit of all.

On the whole, there should be no question of why the First Lady should be talking to the public instead of her husband’s men. The Office of the Vice President should continue to respond to the Aisha’s challenge. The nation should be given clear details of how the N500 billion was spent, in this regard. Yes, the nation needs details of who got what and where – from the Social Investment Programmes!

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Aisha BuhariSIPTIPI
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