Fred Itua, Abuja
The leadership of the National Assembly, yesterday, queried the billions of naira spent on the Social Investment Programme (SIP) of President Muhammadu Buhari saying the monies were not properly accounted for.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq and some top officials of the Ministry, expressed anger and misgivings on the scheme and called for its suspension.
Sources familiar with what transpired during the meeting told Daily Sun that Lawan and Gbajabiamila queried the N12 billion spent monthly on the scheme, as well as the N100 million paid to an unnamed consultant who handles some aspects of the programme.
A source said Mrs Farouq told the National Assembly leaders that she inherited the mess on assumption of office. Until her Ministry was established, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s office handled the controversial SIP.
“In her comments at the meeting,the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs said she does not understand the school feeding programme for COVID-19 and that even other programmes have so many inadequacies that her Ministry is still trying to unravel. The way the poverty list was generated has raised all types of problems here. No one believes in the social register. It is a fraud and not fair. This was the what the President of the Senate told the Minister.
“The National Assembly has suggested reforms by the Ministry in four weeks. It wants the register discarded and all stakeholders used to generate those that are poor and vulnerable in their constituencies. Can you imagine that N12 billion is spent every month on school feeding nationwide. That’s a huge scam. Conditional Cash Transfer list is drawn up by State Planning Ministries. That was a Director in the Ministry told National Assembly leaders. A consultant who provides services for the conditional cash transfer programme is being paid above N100 million a month,” said the source.
In a statement released yesterday, explaining part of what transpired during the meeting, Lawan’s media office said the National Assembly leaders called for an enabling legislation in line with global best practices to run the scheme.
The meeting was convened by the leadership of the National Assembly against the backdrop of the ongoing Federal Government intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the most vulnerable Nigerians.
In his opening remarks, Lawan said the National Assembly was interested in the intervention initiatives of the ministry, particularly with respect to the disbursement of monies aimed at assuaging the plight of poor Nigerians 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,” Lawan said.
The Senate President said the National Assembly is concerned about the conditions and guidelines for the intervention programmes which are specifically directed at the most vulnerable Nigerians. The Senate President said the poorest of the poor have not been sufficiently captured by the programme.
“When for example, some conditions are set, that those who will benefit will have to go online, through the internet or BVN and the rest of it. I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to Internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN. In fact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leave them out,” Lawan said.
Speaker Gbajabiamila said: “Your job right now, is probably the most important as we speak, because you are saddled with the responsibility of alleviating ‘poverty’ or the hardship, due to no fault of anyone, being thrust upon Nigerians. I know that you came into a system, or you met a system that has nothing to do with you, but what we will be asking you to do is for you to change that system. When you walk into a system, no system is 100 per cent perfect. The word reform is something we use all the time, and this is the one time when that word reform must be used in the truest sense of that word.
“The questions are going to be asked, how do you come about your list, how comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread? So these are tough questions that are going to be asked but I want you to look at them as frank questions that we need to ask. If you really want to define the meaning of representation, if that was being practiced in the real meaning of representation, then we shouldn’t be here. Because all the questions we want to ask, we should already have the answers. We should be providing those answers to the Nigerian people we represent. But if they ask me, as the speaker of the House, or ask the Senate President or any of my colleagues here, we are going to be struggling for answers. If we were really representing, then we will not need to ask because we will have the answers,” Gbajabiamila said.
The speaker said relevant committees in the House have been complaining bitterly even before the Minister took over the scheme about the inability to access information about the scheme.
Gbajabiamila said Nigeria’s SIP was similar to the Unemployment Insurance Act in the UK and the Social Security Act in the US.