Uche Usim, Abuja
The Federal government has assured that a level playing field will continually be maintained in the execution of its Social Investment Programmes (SIPs), warning anyone or group not to expect to be treated as sacred cows.
The Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs Maryam Uwais stated this at the weekend in Kaduna while addressing Course 2 participants of the Kasshim Ibrahim Fellowship, a mentorship programme designed to groom future leaders in Nigeria
According to her, structures have since been put in place to ensure that those who benefit from the various components of the social intervention programmes are captured on merit.
She told the group of budding leaders drawn from various parts of the country that gone are the days when a privileged few in the society benefited from a government empowerment initiative designed to reach out to the poor.
She said: “All applicants are encouraged to engage with the processes in place if they need a job. The programmes are open to everybody. You don’t need to know anybody to get enrolled into N-Power, for instance.
“Same procedure applies to the cash transfer programme and other components. We have done similar programmes in the past but such efforts were not as effective because the drivers at the time did not establish mechanisms and structures that aim at targeting the poorest of the poor.
The presidential adviser revealed that the process of developing a reliable Social Register in each State of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was ongoing, noting that well-trained people are being sent to the various communities to identify the socio-economic needs of the people based on their circumstances and peculiarities.
Recounting the huge impact the SIPs are making on the beneficiaries, Uwais notes with delight that for the first time in a long while, a government in Nigeria has consistently budgeted definite amounts of money for its poor and vulnerable citizens, irrespective of their party affiliations and ethno-religious differences.
“Poverty doesn’t know culture, party affiliation; it doesn’t know ethnicity or religion. Majority of Nigerians who are poor don’t even have voters card or know what is happening in the political circles. But government has a responsibility to each and every one of them. You need to see how beneficiaries appreciate what we are doing. A woman came with a big bag to collect just ten thousand naira. When we asked why, she told us she hasn’t had such an amount of money before and needed to be sure she could carry her money home, after payment.
“The cash transfer programme goes beyond cash payments, as community facilitators, who are staff within the LGAs, are trained to visit them every week, to teach them how to form savings groups, life skills, sanitation, nutrition and hygiene. Indeed, due to the fact that the mentoring and support is embedded within the communities, we have confirmed that these beneficiaries have so far saved over N500 million, and are investing their energy and monies in productive activities such as farming, animal husbandry, poultry farming and rehabilitating community infrastructure”
She, however, bemoaned reported cases of extortion of a few cash transfer beneficiaries by people who take undue advantage of their vulnerabilities, limited knowledge of banking procedures and use of gadgets to dupe them.
She also said that because cash payments come with several hazards, steps are being taken to address this challenge as the NSIO has started the process of mapping, to identify money agents and financial institutions that would facilitate the transfer of cash directly to the beneficiaries.
Uwais, a 1981 Graduate of Law from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria had earlier shared her life experiences with the participants, urging them to always strive for excellence in all their endeavors.
She admonished them to rise above ethnic and religious sentiments and at all times put country first as they prepare to take up leadership responsibilities.
Earlier in his remarks, Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir el-Rufai thanked Mrs Uwais for honouring the invitation to speak to the young ones, describing her as a woman of great conscience and one of the few accomplished women in Northern Nigeria, who has made outstanding contributions towards humanitarian efforts and social justice in the country.