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Muhammed: SIP a fraud, conduit pipe for handlers

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Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, in this interview with JOHN AKUBO, decried the modus operandi adopted for the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPSs) saying it was fraught with irregularities. He also carpeted the National Assembly for meddling in an affair that is exclusively that of the executive branch to implement.

Given the controversy that the National Social Investment Programme has attracted lately, don’t you think the scheme is beginning to look like another failed project?
STRAIGHT away, what I will say is that 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.

When it was operated directly from the Office of the Vice President, people like I raised issues on the way and manner that it was being run; the benchmarks that were being used to dish out the money; the elitists creations involving computers and other stuff. So, most of the people qualified to benefit from the programme did not, and the whole thing was just dark, and lies were coming out of it because there were quite a number of people with media background in the Vice President team.

Second, the lady who was supposed to be running the programme knows nothing about the programme because she never ran one. So, anytime there is a criticism, somebody would be asked to draft a statement, and of course she could not deny because she knows nothing about it.

As a former policy adviser on poverty alleviation to President Olusegun Obasanjo, I am in a position to comment on the SIP and no one can accuse me of not knowing what I am talking about because I helped to design an anti-poverty initiative with the help of Ford Foundation, the UNDP and the World Bank. 

I recall that as an adviser, the President asked me to get in touch with some ministers regarding what we were putting in place, but all the ministers that I was asked to reach never bothered to reply me till today. But in spite of that, it was when I left the Presidency that I decided to speak about some of those issues. However, I have noticed that this time around, an anti-poverty initiative is being run with so much fanfare and so much lying beyond anything that President Obasanjo could have imagined, and of course, nobody cares to respond, and now we are going through it all over again.

For instance, in my reaction to TraderMoni and others such schemes, I pointed out that the beneficiaries of the system were highly skewed. On what basis were the number of beneficiaries from Rivers and Lagos states (one of the wealthiest states in the country) picked, or were entitled to benefit from TraderMoni in comparison with poor states like Zamfara, or Jigawa or Bauchi, or so many other poor states in the North Central?

So, for me, the whole SIP thing is opaque, and is being run in a manner that is not accountable and transparent. I have no doubt in my mind that if it is still left in the hands of those that managed it in the Office of the Vice President, it would surely fail despite being taken away to the new Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

So, whatever happens, we must first of all find out what happened to the previous money allocated and how they were disbursed for us to arrive at where we are today. But I must also warn that the managers have to be careful because they cannot cheat all the people, all the time.

Before the 2019 election, TraderMoni was being used as campaign tool, and many saw it as a variant of corruption. Could it have been administered the way it was without transparency concerns?
First and foremost, the idea, and the principle behind interventions like TraderMoni are not indigenous to Nigeria as they are also carried out in other parts of the world. However, in those climes, they are carefully designed, manned and implemented by honest people, who also make use of reliable statistics to evaluate income level, and come to the conclusion of how each person should have his/her income augmented. You can see clearly that nothing of this sort is being done here. The entire thing is fraud from top to bottom. What was done in the past was fraudulent, and what is being done now is equally fraudulent. Of cause, if we are determined, we can track those who are manipulating the system and benefitting from it, as well as using their media connections to abuse those that dare to pick holes in their activities.

Having said that, let me add that it is shocking for the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, to say that everything is okay. From the start, this woman had nothing to do with Buhari. In fact her husband was abusive of Buhari even in court when he was the Chief Justice of the Federation. For her to now land this kind of plum job shows that there is something fishy. Even in the All Progressives Congress (APC), some stakeholders were shouting that they have not been fairly treated, when an opponent, who openly abused the President when he contested election in the past is now one of the major beneficiaries of the government. This clearly shows that it was not party loyalty that gave her the job, neither was it rational consideration.

But you know that at a point, crisis engulfed this programme when it was still in the VP’s office, could that have led to its being unable to deliver on its objectives
Those who ran this programme before failed. And after the programme was transferred out of the Office of the Vice President, they nearly created another crisis that the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo was being sidelined; that it was only his people that were somehow being hounded. But I ask, what did those surrounding Osinbajo do when they were in charge of the SIP? Mind you, we have not all forgotten what happened before. However, what has happened shows you that they have no regard for accountability, and no respect for transparency. They believe that they can blackmail the government of Buhari, or anybody else to continue running things as they like.

But Uwais recently accused some members of the National Assembly of attempting to compromise the SIP register. What do you make of that allegation?
What ever is said about the current National Assembly is not my cup of tea; I can’t stand them. Nobody has conclusively and comprehensively put up any defense on how the National Assembly was trying to involve itself with the implementation of the SIP. It is an executive prerogative. Yes, they can ask questions; they can make observations, but they have no right to query the national social register, or the names, which they give for money to be shared to most of which are fake. But whatever embarrassment that the National Assembly earns for itself is deserving because this thing is not the job of the National Assembly, but that of the executive, whom it assigns it to is another matter.

When similar observations were made about the SIP earlier, some members of the national Assembly were summoned by the VP and were given sheets of paper to go and make announcements and abuse those, who criticised the SIP. If this time around they are the ones that are criticising SIP, it shows that something has happened. However, let me state here that some of the people either in the House of Representatives, or in the senate don’t know what they are talking about; they are only prepared to acknowledge good or bad based on their interests. I also need to stress that the current SIP is a failure, and that the issue of members of the National Assembly being accommodated is another matter completely.

In all of these what is they way forward?
I wish I knew. If I knew, perhaps, I would not be lying down in my house in Kano. May be I would be the President, but because I am not, I can only pass comments, and the comment is by and large what has been commented upon by other well-meaning Nigerians; not members of the National Assembly. Those ones have no moral right because when it happened before they kept their mouths shut.

The Wife of the President also condemned the programme. What would you say to that?
Well, if the first lady passes comment the way I am passing, it is well and good, but I will certainly be more concerned if people that are recognised by the constitution come out and make some of these statements because it is within their rights to do so. The position of the First Lady is still a controversial one until it is properly recognised by the constitution… if a comment is right, it must be deemed to be right, if it is wrong it is deemed to be wrong. On the current issue, I believe the first lady has every right to pass a comment like any other Nigerian. I don’t know if the minister or members of the National Assembly, or the former implementers, who were guilty of working with Prof. Osinbajo admit, or refuse to admit or respect the comments of the first lady.


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Junaid MohammedNSIPSs
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