Social investment scheme: Lofty in design, poor in execution
Nothing best illustrates the fact that all is not well with the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPSs) of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government than the recent condemnation of the Modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme, as well as last April’s spat between managers of the programme (by extension, the Federal Government), and the leadership of the National Assembly over the initiative.
While the Federal Government is alone on one side battling to tell the world that the NSIPs constitute a game-changer in efforts aimed at giving succour to the poor, the leadership of the National Assembly joined by a handful of socio-political groups, experts and, indeed many Nigerians were strident in in exposing the failings of the scheme.
National Social Investments Programme
IN a bid to tackle poverty and hunger across the country, the Federal Government, in 2016, established the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs). The bulk of programmes under the scheme were aimed at ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women. Furthermore, it was meant to support millions of these vulnerable people across the country through a fair and transparent process, supported by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning (MBNP), other notable MDAs with aligned goals, and lately, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHADMSD).
The N-power component was designed to assist young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35 to acquire and develop life-long skills for becoming change makers in their communities and players in the domestic and global markets. They earn a monthly stipend of N30, 000.
On its part, the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme directly supports those within the lowest poverty bracket, by improving nutrition, increasing household consumption and supporting the development of human capital through cash benefits to various categories of the poor and vulnerable. The support is conditioned on fulfilling soft and hard co-responsibilities that enable recipients improve their standard of living.
Also in the bouquet is the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), a micro-lending intervention that targets traders, artisans, enterprising youth, farmers and women in particular, by providing loans between 10,000 and 100,000 at no monthly cost to beneficiaries.
The Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) component aims to deliver school feeding to young children, with a specific focus on increasing school enrollment, reducing the incidence of malnutrition (especially among the poor and those ordinarily unable to eat a meal-a-day), empowering community women as cooks, and by supporting small farmers that help stimulate economic growth.
SINCE its inception, the scheme has had the misfortune of attarcting controversies with the latest being the newly introduced Modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme, which got many to conclude that feeding schoolchildren to improve their health and to spur school enrollment were far from being the major objectives of the initiative.
Despite protestations from Nigerians, the Minister of MHADMSD, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq went ahead with the strange feeding programme claiming that the Presidency directed her ministry to carry out the exercise even when schools are closed. According to her, she was mandated to deliver feeding support to 3.5 million homes, as against pupils.
Despite the change in nature, the programme, which retained most of its nomenclature was to ensure that each household in the three pilot states receive a Take-Home Ration (THR) valued at N4, 200. A breakdown showed that 29, 609 households were targeted in FCT; 37, 589 in Lagos, and 60, 391 in Ogun states.
The THR consisted of a 5kg bag of rice; 5kg bag of beans; 500ml of vegetable oil; 750ml of palm oil; 500mg salt; 15 eggs, and 140gm of tomato paste. As the condemnation of the modified school feeding programme persisted, the ministry was forced to debunk allegations that it was fraught with fraudulent activities.
Responding to an inquiry from The Guardian, the ministry through its deputy Director of Information, Mrs. Rhoda Iliya alleged that claims that the scheme was used to funnel money into private pockets was peddled by people, who are either not clear about the programme, or are focused on bringing the minister and the ministry to disrepute.
According to her, the programme targeted at 127, 589 households in FCT, Lagos and Ogun as pilot states, was not a novel development as about 17 countries have embraced similar initiative, with technical support from the World Food Programme. She solicited the support of Nigerians as the ministry strives to deliver on the programme.
In April, just before the Modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme saga, the National Assembly summed up courage to speak truth to power, weeks after the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, had carpeted the NSIPs, describing it as a failure, especially in the Northern part of the country.
In launching a solo attack, which savaged the image of the initiative in May last year, during an interactive programme for women at the State House, Abuja, Mrs. Buhari said even though the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Investment Programme (SIP), Mrs. Maryam Uwais, who manages the programme is from Kano State, the programme has failed in the state.
The president’s wife, who said she had kept quiet until May 2019 to avoid being accused of raising the alarm, added that the programme was equally a failure in her own state of Adamawa, where she said only one of 22 local councils benefitted from the programme, as of then.
The first lady, who queried how N500b budgeted for the programme was being spent, alleged that the conditional cash transfer arm of the programme was not reaching the target audience, adding that an aide of her husband deceived her that 30, 000 women in Adamawa State would benefit from N10, 000. That she said had remained a farce as the promise is yet to be fulfilled.
“Concerning the N500bn voted for SIP, that was part of 2015 campaigns where they promised to give out N10, 000, feed pupils in primary schools and give N5, 000 to the poorest of the poorer,” she said adding that “the SSA to the president on social investment is a lady from Kano and I’m sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made. I have never asked how the money is being used, or is being given out.
“I met barrister (one of the president’s aides on SIP) once and he promised me that for my state (Adamawa), we should get 30, 000 women to be given N10, 000. Up till now, I haven’t heard from him.
“I don’t want to raise alarm that my state does not benefit from it – where the SGF came from – I kept quiet because I don’t want people to say that I talk too much. Recently, I saw a 74-year-old man selling petty things in Kano. I asked him how much is his capital. He told me between N3, 000 and N4, 000. Don’t forget that we have campaigned to give the poorest of the poor, N5, 000 every month.
“So I don’t know where is the social investment… maybe, it worked out in some states. In my own state, only a local government benefited out of the 22. I didn’t ask what happened and I don’t want to know, but for it to fail woefully in Kano, it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good thing.” Mrs. Buhari, who said: “I was expecting that N500b to be utilised in different methods in the north for the aim to be achieved. I don’t know the method they used, but most of the northern states do not get it. My states did not get,” added that the alleged use of $16m counterpart fund for the purchase of mosquito net was too huge as the money was enough to fumigate the entire country.
Soon after Mrs. Buhari spoke, Uwais told the first lady that her lack of knowledge of how NSIP works led her to the conclusion that it was not working, adding that had the first lady had access to data, her position would have been different.She said contrary to Aisha Buhari’s claim, about 290, 000 persons have benefitted from the NSIPs in Adamawa State.
NASS Leadership Toes Aisha Buhari’s Line
THE leadership of the National Assembly is not just irked by the way and manner that the NSIPs are being implemented; it is even displeased with the current national social register being used, which it claims was contrived by “the World Bank method,” hence the compelling need for it to be immediately discarded.
The Senate President Ahmad Lawan, and Speaker, House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, when they met with Minister Farouq, and some top officials of the ministry in April, lamented that the funds have failed to reach those for whom the initiative was created.
Lawan and Gbajabiamila at the meeting stressed that SIP, which was established in 2016 under the Presidency, but which is now under the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, needed a reform to make it more efficient and effective.
Lawan said: “The National Assembly is 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 in Nigeria 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.”
Not satisfied with how the programme was dragged in the mud, Uwais in a statement 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, noting that the allegation that the SIP has gulped over N2t 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 N1.7t, 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 N619.1b, 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 N500b in 2016 and N400b appropriated for the subsequent years. It should be noted that for 2017 to 2020, the sum of N100b 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.
She continued: “As of 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.
However, on Tuesday, April 14, Lawan, and Gbajabiamila met with President Muhammadu Buhari behind closed doors to discuss the implementation of the NSIPS, COVID-19 among other issues. This was after they urged Uwais in their response to her statement to be “receptive to constructive ideas and suggestions expressed to enhance service delivery.”
Lawan, who spoke to journalists after the meeting at the State House, Abuja, reiterated the call for reforms in the social investment initiatives, saying: “This afternoon, we had an engagement with Mr. President to discuss with him what we, the leadership of the National Assembly, have resolved and our opinion on various issues regarding the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria and going forward.
“We also believe that it is time to reform the way and manner we implement the Social Investment Programme. This is a very important programme that is to help Nigerians who are poor and vulnerable. We believe that, having implemented this programme from 2016 to date, it should be reviewed to evaluate the efficacy and efficiency with which we have been implementing this programme.”
The speaker equally urged Minister Farouq to liaise with relevant committees of the National Assembly to achieve the goal of making the NSIPs accountable, transparent and efficient.
Gbajabiamila, who queried the minister on the parameters used to arrive at the list of beneficiaries noted: “We want the implementation plan of FG’s Social Investment Programme to be clearly outlined in a piece of legislation to enable a coordinated and legalised implementation plan devoid of mistrust and acrimony.”
Past, Present SIPs Are Failures, Muhammed Insists
WITHOUT mincing words, Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, insists that the current SIP is a failure, and that the issue of members of the National Assembly trying to force things their way is another matter completely. According to him, “all the coercion in the National Assembly has to do with the implementation of the budget money… and some National Assembly members are known to be in the habit of going around to do deals with civil servants and politicians in the executive branch. Now, you can see the hopelessness of the situation.
The former lawmaker added: “I am not surprised that the latest adventure into the so-called social investment programme is failing. It is failing not because people do not know what made the previous ones to fail; it is failing because the ones that failed were deliberately compromised, and far from being transparent, and just a conduit for corruption.”
Parametres Used To Determine Poor, Vulnerable Are Unknown, Not Logical
ATIKU Samuel, a policy analyst, is of the view that redistributing wealth from the rich to the working poor, and have-nots is critical if the objective of the government is to have an egalitarian and balanced society.
Accordingly, the objective of the SIP should entail transfering funds to the poor, and the unemployed, and ensuring financial inclusion for market women etc. “However, how do you operationalise it in a country with a history of corruption? Rightfully so. The Conditional Cash Transfer scheme sets out to transfer funds to the extreme poor. On paper, it sounds wonderful. In fact, it should form the core of government programmes. But how do you determine folks living in extreme poverty? The programmes and metrics used in the country are unknown and not logical. Government and its development partners – the World Bank were so secretive about the whole thing. The fundamental principle of government requires a high level of transparency when you are dealing with things like these.
“Equally shocking was the manner in which funds were disbursed – Cash being handed over to some people. Clearly, we do not have a robust national identity system, and from experience when government actors hand cash out to people, the biggest beneficiaries are those handing out the cash. How do you audit such? How do you determine that the actual beneficiaries got the money they deserve?”
Samuel continued: “Personally, the programme is a disappointment. Most countries doing similar programmes issue debit cards, cheques or make direct deposit into accounts of beneficiaries. I believe that very little thinking went into the programming of the SIP, and it is critical to put a stop to it. Also, a close look at the N-power programme equally reveals that very little thinking went into it.”
He therefore, recommended that experts should take a close look at the socio-economic situation that we find ourselves in and to come up with time-tested solutions to our travails. “A professor of economics does not have a better understanding of how to sell auto-spare parts, we need to talk to those that are actively selling spare parts to better understand the business. It is wrong for some folks to sit in a room and decide how taxpayers money should be spent without consulting taxpayers. Nigeria needs a robust public participatory mechanism for capturing the views of citizens on policy issues because even the National Assembly is not aware of what metrics were used. If plans to have a robust national identity system is anything to go by, then it needs to be accelerated. We need to consolidate multiple identity systems into one. The government once suggested a national identity card, which can be used as debit/credit card and voter’s card. What is stopping Nigeria from instituting such? It is critical to reduce the use of cash so that we would have audit trails.”
SIP Vehicle To Fraudulently Divert Funds By APC, PDP Alleges
FOR the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a combination of factors, including corruption, deceit, lack of transparency, and impunity joined forces to undermine the NSIPs.
PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, who made the party’s position known in an interview with The Guardian alleged that the Federal Government “fraudulently sidestepped extant financial regulations and illegally resorted to cash disbursements, directly by a cabinet minister, instead of using the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) cash disbursement facility.
It described as dubious and embarrassing the inclusion
of “the scandalous school feeding programme as an expenditure line even when schools are closed following the social distancing directives; an alarming development that points to the level of corruption in the APC administration.”
“Our party had also called on the National Assembly to immediately investigate allegations of diversion of funds in the recent disbursement of palliative money by a cabinet minister and recover same for Nigerians,” said Ologbondiyan.
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