The social investment programme of the government made news for the wrong reasons last week when the Senate expressed its dismay with the performance of the scheme, and some members even ventured to describe it as a failure.
The Chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee, Danjuma Goje, led the charge, threatening to cut the budgetary allocation of the programme. The Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, who is in charge of the programme, had been invited by the committee to defend the budget. But at one point her dialogue with the committee was said to have “almost degenerated into a shouting match.”
Now, this programme was instituted in 2016 to tackle poverty and hunger across the land and it is expected to ensure the equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable people. The N-power component is designed to assist essentially unemployed graduates to acquire skills that would support them in life, while providing them a monthly stipend of N30,000.
The Conditional Cash Transfer directly supports the poorest, providing N5,000 monthly to each beneficiary, to make sure they feed and get the most basic of needs.
There is also the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, a poorly defined scheme to lend money to traders at no cost. And there is the school feeding scheme, the “Home Grown School Feeding Programme,” to reduce incidence of malnutrition among poor children.
The Senate Committee was looking at the N1.5 trillion which it has appropriated and was right to ask for the evidence that such huge spending has been properly applied. Mrs. Uwais, on her part, swore she received no more than a total of N175 billion, which is a small fraction of the outlay.
She spoke of N100 billion allocated to the Social Housing Scheme, which is probably another segment of the social investment scheme, an indication that the programme is a lot more complex if not unwieldy for efficient management. The money was deducted at source, she said, by the Federal Ministry of Finance.
The Senators stated that they wanted the programme to succeed. “We are not against it…We called you because you are handling big money. N500 billion is half a trillion. Unfortunately most Nigerians do not know what you are doing. Your publicity is zero…” The committee asked the presidential aide to submit the names of beneficiaries of its programme for verification to ensure that the money is not going into wrong hands.
All fair-minded Nigerians who have paid some attention to this programme would agree that as laudable as the programme sounds, as vital as its needs are, it is inescapable to come to the conclusion that it was not adequately articulated and not thoroughly figured out. The N-Power makes eminent sense, but it should be a countrywide programme, not limited to some states. Every university graduate, who accepts to go through a course of self-improvement and skills acquisition, should readily be enrolled in the programme.
The cash transfers would have been an excellent programme but for the moral hazard in the selection of beneficiaries. And the antidote is the publication of the names of the beneficiaries based on the qualifying criteria. It should, under no circumstance, be a secret list. It should be implemented nationwide.
Last Wednesday, in Anambra State, the blind lady who spoke to thank the Federal Government on behalf of other beneficiaries named her co-beneficiaries who included truly needy, economically vulnerable citizens – poor old people who live alone, the handicapped, widows without children who could support them, and the mentally challenged.
The so-called Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme for traders has no place in the social investment programme and should be discontinued or handed over to the Central Bank which seems to have schemes to help those groups.
The traders do not meet the criteria of individuals that should be covered by the social investment programme. The school feeding must now be nationwide or it should be discontinued. It is remarkable that no details were offered about the meals offered the pupils. There is no word as to the cost of each of the 246 million meals and the costs in the different states. When such figures are missing they mask fraud, waste and abuse.l9 Nigeria should be able to offer each child in primary school a balanced meal a day. It would be a shame if it cannot.