Buhari, Jonathan and the politicization of social welfare

PIC.16.PRESIDENT-ELECT RETIRED MAJ.-GEN. MUHAMMADU BUHARI (L) IN A HANDSHAKE WITH PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN DURING HIS OFFICIAL VISIT TO THE PRESIDENTIAL VILLA IN ABUJA ON FRIDAY (24/4/15).WITH THEM IS THE FORMER CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF,RETIRED LT.-GEN. ABDUHRAMAN DAMBAZAU. 2175/24/4/2015/ISE/CH/NAN

OrderPaperToday – Last week Senators rowed over allegations that the current All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of President Buhari was diverting public funds meant for its social intervention programme under the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) to purchase Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) ahead of the election next year.

According to Senate Minority Leader, Biodun Olujinmi, forms for the social intervention programme have been converted to means of obtaining PVCs in exchange for cash payments.

Olujinmi’s claim sparked a heated exchange of words between Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and APC Senators. In the debate that followed, APC Senators insisted that NSIP under the APC administration is transparent in contrast to the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) under former Goodluck Jonathan’s PDP administration.

“Let me say from the onset that the social intervention programme of this administration is computer based and very transparent,” Lawan said amidst loud chants of “NO!” from the opposition PDP Senators.

Speaking further, Lawan took a dig at the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan over the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) of his administration, saying: “By the way, we were here when SURE-P or ‘UNSURE-P’ was instituted and all the money in our treasury was stolen.”

In the end it the red chamber resolved to probe both schemes.

While we await the outcome of the Senate’s investigation into NSIP and SURE-P, it is important for us to take an in-depth look into the impact and challenges of both programmes.

SURE-P

The Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program known (SURE-P) was established in 2012 during the era of President Goodluck Jonathan. The aim of the programme was to re-invest savings from the removal of fuel subsidy on infrastructure projects and social safety net programmes to cushion the effect of the removal. The Programme laid claim to many projects ranging from repair and construction of roads and bridges to intervention in unemployment, transportation and health as evidence of its relevance and effectiveness.

SURE-P’s controversy

Despite the good intentions and activities of the programme, SURE-P was not controversy free; it was similarly dogged with allegations of politicization in favour of the then ruling PDP. For instance in 2014, Coordinators of the Programme in Kwara State raised alarm over an alleged plot to sack 3,000 beneficiaries of SURE-P in the state on political grounds. The spokesperson of the coordinators, Alhaji Kola Yusuf, accused the Chairman, implementation committee in the state (CIS) of plotting to replace names of the original beneficiaries of the programme with his party members in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). “Report reaching us as the zonal state coordinators, confirmed the plot by the chairman to change the bank account in use for the payment of Sure-P workers’ salaries at Access Bank, as well as change the original names of beneficiaries from different communities in the state and replace them with his party’s (PDP) members’ names,” he said in a press conference.

Also that same year, the National Coordinator of the Programme, Alhaji Abdulrazak Rafiu Otto cried out over the sale of fake employment forms to innocent unemployed youth across the country in the name of SURE-P. Earlier in November 2013, the Senate claimed that more than half of the fuel subsidy savings amounting to N500 billion raised by the federal government may be missing.

NSIP

The National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) was established in 2016 by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari as an interventionist fund to empower vulnerable sectors of the society, improve the standard of living, provide affordable and accessible credit facilities for medium small and micro enterprises (MSMEs), reduce inequality and so on.

The programme is divided into four project areas, including job creation and youth empowerment (N-Power), National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), Government Enterprise and Employment Programme (GEEP) and the National Cash Transfer Programme (NCTP).

The social investment programme has claimed to have employed 200,000 Nigerian graduates from all over the country in the first phase of its N-Power Programme, with each person receiving a stipend of N30,000 a month. An additional 300,000 graduates have been captured for the next phase of the programme, bringing the total number of beneficiaries to about 500,000.

Also information available as at April 2018, showed that out of the enumerated 439,859 poor and vulnerable households in 23 states, 297,973 are already benefiting from the cash transfer programme.

In addition, 259,451 loans were  issued through the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme across 36 states and FCT.

Also, the Special Adviser to the President on SIP, Maryam Uwais told the Senate Committee on Appropriations earlier this year that  7,487,441 pupils are being fed daily in 22 states by 75,333 cooks in 33,981 primary schools.

NSIP’s struggles

NSIP just like SURE-P has had its own fair share of challenges and controversies even before Wednesday’s revelation by Senator Biodun Olujimi.

For instance, a report by Sunday Tribune  published in June this year revealed that there have been complaints about the quality of food being served the pupils under the programme, which sources in some of the schools claimed, “leaves much to be desired”. Some states, it was discovered, had stopped the programme entirely due to funding issues.

During a budget defence sitting in April, the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriations, Danjuma Goje said that he has not been able to identify “a boy or girl” that has benefited from the intervention programme in his home state of Gombe.

Recently, the Special Adviser to the President on Social Invest Programme, Maryam Uwais claimed that funds for the Federal Government Home Grown School Feeding Programme were being diverted in Benue State. She added that the number of beneficiaries of the school feeding programme in Benue State is bloated.

Uwais had previously voiced out her concerns over corrupt practices in the states, where officials allegedly engage in shortchanging, racketeering and harassment of beneficiaries. Last week, participants attending the N-Power Tech Hardware training in Yola alleged diversion of their transport allowances and boycotted classes.

The youth employment issue

he Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) was the flagship component of SURE-P in the same way that N-Power is the most popular component of NSIP. Both schemes were designed to address the issue of youth unemployment.

GIS was introduced as part of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P) for graduates to be placed in viable firms and organizations where they would be trained and supported to develop their skills and employability.  Graduates were paid a monthly stipend of N30,000.

The target of the scheme was to employ about 50,000 unemployed youth in the 36 states of the Federation and Abuja in the first phase. At least 1,000 beneficiaries were scheduled for each of the states, with the number of participants scheduled to be raised to 100,000 in phase 2.

The N-Power scheme is similar to GIS with an aim to engage 500,000 graduates with a monthly stipend of N30,000 to work as teachers, agricultural extension workers and healthcare providers in their immediate communities. Participants will be trained in skills that will enable them exit after two years to economically viable jobs and business opportunities.

For the first phase of the scheme, 200,000 graduates were enlisted and posted to work in their respective states and have started receiving their monthly N30,000 stipend. One hundred and fifty thousand of them were trained as assistant teachers; 30,000 as agricultural extension workers and 20,000 as community health workers. The second phase was similarly designed for 300,000 participants.

Beneficiaries speak

OrderPaper Nigeria spoke to beneficiaries of both programmes. Ben, who was a beneficiary of SURE-P’s GIS and posted to the Federal Housing Authority in Abuja between 2014-2015, described the scheme as “fair” as he gained professional work experience in the course of the programme.

He added that he was satisfied with his monthly stipend of N30,000 as he was not expecting much financially from such a scheme.

“I gained experience when I was posted to work as a SURE-P Graduate intern. We were paid N30,000 and it kept me engaged. We were posted to a unit where we had the opportunity of gaining relevant profession experience.

“Personally, I did not expect much from the programme financially,” he said.

On the other hand, Taiwo Sobukola, a beneficiary of N-Teach posted to work in a primary school in Lagos under the N-Power programme of the present administration complained of being overworked and underpaid in his Place of Primary Assignment (PPA).

According to Sobukola, “The programme is a very good programme but the problem many beneficiaries are facing is that the stipend we are being paid is not taking us anywhere, it is not enough.

“Secondly, those of us that are teaching, in our place of primary assignment, some of the teachers leave everything to us; they do not want to work at all. Once they see you are a graduate with much potential, they leave all the duties to you.

“In my school, I take up to three classes in a day while the main teacher would take only one class. We are just earning stipends while the teachers are earning salaries.”

On what can be done to improve the scheme, he added: “They should tell the teachers that we are just here to assist. Beneficiaries should go two or three times in a week because some of us spend up to N500 on transport alone in a day and end up earning N30,000 in a month, do the math.”

Have your say

While we await the outcome of the Senate’s Ad-hoc Committee’s investigation into SURE-P and NSIP, It is clear that both social programs have their good and bad sides.

In your opinion, which of the schemes is/was better? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section or vote in our twitter poll here: https://twitter.com/OrderPaper/status/1061871744057778176

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