Against the backdrop of the Presidency’s kite-flying over payment of N5,000 monthly stipends to “the poorest and the most vulnerable in the country” through the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) of its Social Investment Programmes, SIP, Nigerians tend to ask: how do you assess and ascertain “the poorest and most vulnerable” in the country? According to the Presidency, under the CCT, one million Nigerians would receive N5,000 monthly payments as a form of social safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable as budgeted for in the 2016 Appropriation Act. Laolu Akande, the Senior Special Adviser to the Vice President on Media, Monday said in a statement that the first batch which commenced last week covered nine states and that beneficiaries had started receiving their first payments by December 30, 2016. If the claim is true, do the very poor and vulnerable Nigerians most of whom are not lettered understand the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) the platform the government is saying hosts and validates payments for the scheme? How come what was budgeted for in 2016 is being paid to beneficiaries on the eve of another year? When will the arrears be paid and what happens to provisions for 2017? We just hope that this government will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations in this drama of poverty alleviation.
We recall that in 2013 the then leading opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, criticized the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP over the Subsidy Reinvestment Programme, SURE-P due to this kind of administrative lathergy. The party alleged that the programme was an avenue for PDP to gather money for the 2015 presidential ambition of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The ACN’s attack on the PDP came on the heels of an intervention by chairman of the defunct National Electoral Commission of Nigeria (NECOM) and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Argentina, Professor Edet Okon Uya, that the various poverty alleviation programmes of the Federal Government are for politicians and not the people, the altercations between PDP and the ACN were enough justification. That the then Federal Government allocated the SURE-P funds on the basis of political parties instead of the economic benefits of the suffering people of Nigeria as alleged shows that it was for political patronage. According to Prof. Uya, the various poverty alleviation programmes embarked upon by the Federal Government are nothing but “political programmes” deliberately designed to service the economic interest of the political class in the country rather than the interest of the poor in the society.
Speaking during the 14th Professor Bassey Andah Foundation memorial lecture in the University of Calabar, Uya, a renowned professor of History had this to say:”If you are not a member of the political party, then you are definitely not part of the programmes”. His swipe was not targeted at the PDP alone; it cut across all the political parties. Nigeria could not meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals given the kinds of development programmes it assumed to be implementing and her approach to them. Even when the hidden plan of those at the helm of affairs is to support their respective party faithful with the so-called poverty alleviation programmes, the exercise is often marred by administrative perfidy and corruption. A case in point is the National Poverty Eradication Programmes (NAPEP). These are all drain pipes to fritter away public funds into private pockets. The Buhari administration is unfortunately doing the same thing in the same manner that previous administrations did it.
From available reports and statistics, Nigeria is so neck deep into the corruption menace that virtually public officials and their relations since 1999 to date are entangled one way or another in the mess. How else can it be explained that the billions of naira budgeted for several laudable projects for the ostensible purpose of improving on the quality of lives of the people over the years have come to nought as the nation has regressed into more devastating poverty and misery despite such huge expenditures? It is lamentable that though the country is rich, a vast majority of her citizen continue to live in abject poverty. The re-launched United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) Human Development Programme signifying that most of the Nigerian people are excluded from the “impressive growth”. The UNDP report places Nigeria amongst the least countries of the world that recorded achievement in the upgrade of the welfare of their citizen-the Low Human Development category where mostly poor nations or low-income countries, as they are called belong.
Despite having spent at least N50trillion generated between 1999 and now, as reported by the Budget Office of the Federation, Nigeria on the rating table attracted an overall placement of 153 out of a total number of 186 countries around the world where the survey was conducted. With very disturbing and frightening indications such as: 143 under-five children die yearly of preventable diseases out of every 1,000 births; 630 women die out of every 100,000 deliveries in the country; the population of people living under one united states dollar and twenty-five per cent per day (an average of N170) is 68 per cent while life expectancy is 52.3 years meaning the majority of Nigerians die before even the public service official retirement age of 60 do apparently to deprivation. Consequently, Nigerians should not expect anything from a phantom poverty alleviation programme which is a paradigm for campaign funding. It is a shame that after the welter of rackets ravaging the NAPEP having throne billions of naira down the drain, the Federal Government now decided to scrap it.
Unfortunately, SURE-P was the same victim of government failure. Whereas the recurrent expenditure for such an intervention programme is not supposed to exceed 10 per cent, a check on SURE-P’s travelling expenses alone is so mind-boggling that a Senate Committee had to query the agency’s leadership. But poverty should be addressed by a conscious policy to stimulate economic growth and generate employment instead of just throwing money around. Funds should be channeled into critical needs of departments and agencies through evolving pan articulate process that can generate positive impact on the economy rather than creating slush funds that encourage official theft. Government should fix ailing infrastructure, create fiscal and monetary policy that will encourage investment even by the middle class. Until the manipulation of the nation’s foreign exchange market is halted and the Central Bank stopped from monopolizing the dollar component, poverty alleviation will remain a ruse.