Okwe Obi, Abuja
The electoral victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 heightened the hopes of Nigerians of better days, especially with the launch of the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP). The scheme comprises the N-Power, National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) and Tradermoni.
The schemes, introduced in 2016, were targeted at reducing systemic poverty, improvement of livelihood, development of human capital to spur economic growth across different segments of the country’s population. Already, over 2.5 million beneficiaries have benefitted from the N-Power. According to the Federal Government, over N15 billion is being spent as monthly stipends for N-Power enrolees, aside from multiples of N100 million for non-graduates who also get investment in toolkits.
For the NHGSFP, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Social Development and Disaster Management, Sadiya Umar Farouq, announced that over 8.6 million pupils currently benefit in over 56,000 primary schools in 35 states.
Additionally, over 107,670 cooks have been empowered and over 200,000 smallholder farmers linked by supplying locally sourced ingredients to improve the nutrition and quality of meals with 8.4 million eggs and 94 metric tonnes of fish consumed weekly.
However, as impressive and enticing as it sounds, the schemes are beginning to take a different twist, with the plethora of complains tabled by both government and beneficiaries.
The Federal Government, through the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Job Creation and Youth Employment to the President Muhammadu Buhari, Afolabi Imoukhuede, fired the first shot by accusing enrolees of absconding and being truants in their primary places of assignment (PPA).
Imoukhuede further lamented that some of them secured jobs elsewhere and abandoned their PPAs and connived with state officials who grant them a clean bill of health to get salaries at the end of the month.
“We gathered that some of you have secured other jobs. Hence you are not able to show up at your PPA. But rather than take the noble path of integrity, you have refused to resign. Some of you even choose to connive with some unscrupulous officials at your PPA to do what is called ‘sorting.’
“Just write your resignation letter, send to us via email to avoid being caught and prosecuted,” he said.
According to him, when the complains got worse, government decided to place some of them on payment hold, meaning they would not be able to get salaries until the problems were addressed.
“When we get report of people who play truancy, we usually place you on payment hold,” he said.
But when their truancy and lackadaisical attitude became unbearable, government forcefully removed more than 5,781 beneficiaries, to serve as a deterrent to others.
He said: “I have some good news for most of you. There are 5,781 of you that have been forcefully exited out of the programme because of disciplinary issues. Perhaps, you will begin to believe that states have authority over you. If you do not do the right thing and you are paid, you are stealing the money,” he said.
The expulsion did not go down well with some affected beneficiaries, as they claimed that they were wrongly removed and accused heads of PPAs of sabotaging their efforts.
One of the victims, Nosa Emmanuel, said he did not receive any message from government warning him of indulging in truancy or any misdemeanour and subsequent summon for explanation.
“I was doing my job peacefully, dutifully, and I did not receive any e-mail from N-Power notifying me of truancy. I was shocked when the head of my PPA told me that my services were no longer needed. Before I could know what was happening, I had stopped receiving monthly stipends,” he said.
Another candidate, Nathaniel Nomso, accused government of delaying their payment and posting them to farflung places, making it difficult for them to save any money at the end of the month.
“Government is not transparent with the scheme. For about two months, we have not been paid and you want us to go to work? It is not easy. Prices of foodstuffs are high; same with transportation. Exiting us from the scheme will never solve the problem. Stipends should be paid promptly,” he said.
Meanwhile, before government could finish removing some persons, about 11,238 persons who got disenchanted with the scheme or got better offers had tendered their resignation.
“We have received a total 11,238 requests across the two batches. We have approved 8,709 because we have gone through the whole process and they have confirmed to us. About 3,529 are still pending.
“And the reason for the delay to accept the resignation letters of the remaining 3,529 is because we could not reach them through the mobile phone numbers they submitted on their portal,” Imoukheude said.
It was also gathered that the payment system has been so faulty that, despite their resignation, or excuses given by Imoukheude, majority of the beneficiaries still receive stipends, while working in other establishments.
Even the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Programme supervised by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, is under scrutiny by the National Assembly. Already, some Nigerians have lampooned the government for not being transparent in the distribution of N20,000 to the most vulnerable.
With the coronavirus pandemic, which led to the lockdown of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states, making it difficult for residents to work in order to earn a living, there have been more complaints of hunger emanating from many.
Tunde Idowu, a resident of Dogongada village in the FCT, said, since the lockdown, he has not received any cash transfer even as an enrolee.
“I have not received any money from government. I only heard that the minister distributed palliatives to some residents of Kwali Area Council. We appeal to government to help us. The hunger is biting us by the day,” he said.
But now, there seems to be some hope, if assurances by Sadiya Umar Farouq are anything to go by. She has stated her resolve to overhaul the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs), including the N-Power component, to ensure transparency, effectiveness, accountability and the judicious application of public resources in running the programmes.
“The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development will, along with relevant partners, drive the overhauling process to ensure that the expected benefits of the NSIPs are realised in full,” she said.
To match word with action, she directed the termination of contract of two payment service providers (PSPs) for their failure to meet the contractual agreement to commence Conditional Cash Transfer to beneficiaries in Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Abia and Zamfara states, respectively.
She noted that the termination was part of the guidance of the World Bank, and a new procurement process launched using the bank’s procurement guidelines to ensure that payments commence in the affected states on or before April 28, 2020.
The minister maintained that the Federal Government could not accept delays in the current payment round of N20,000 stipends to beneficiaries in poor and vulnerable households under any excuses in any state of the federation.
“The failure of any payment service provider to meet their contractual agreement is unacceptable. The Federal Government, through the ministry cannot allow contractors to derail the immediate conditional cash transfers to the poor and the vulnerable,” she said.