Dr Christopher Kolade
Although the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme is an interventionist approach of President Goodluck Jonathan, to tackle some socio-economic problems, it may have become a major tool of political disagreement, writes Ademola Adeyemo
Penultimate week, the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) of President Goodluck Jonathan, ran into yet another problem as it became a political tool in the hands of rival parties in Lagos State. With accusations and counter-accusations that resulted in bitter exchange of words, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) resumed their rivalry on the management of the SURE-P.
ACN fired the first shot when it accused PDP of diverting the funds meant for SURE-P to kick start the 2015 campaign of President Jonathan. This, however, was sequel to a fight that ensued among members of the Lagos chapter of PDP on the sharing of the SURE-P funds.
A statement from a group by name “Concerned PDP Stakeholders in Lagos State” had accused the Chief Bode George faction of the party in the state of hijacking the funds meant for SURE-P and therefore appealed to Jonathan to sack the state coordinator of the programme, allegedly loyal to George, Bode Oyedele, if the programme must succeed in the state.
The aggrieved group argued that Oyedele, being a factional leader had failed to carry everybody along on the programme. It also charged the president to investigate the origin of the names of the beneficiaries of the programme in the state. “SURE-P is not for Bode George’s agents. If PDP members are going to benefit, it should be PDP members all round, and not selected members,” the group noted in a statement.
Smartly and typical of the party, ACN cashed-in on the opening and served a debilitating salvo that hit the party from the state through to its national secretariat. National Publicity Secretary of ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said in a statement: “The truth has prevailed as the PDP members themselves have confirmed that the SURE-P funds are being shared among them across the federation.
“Thanks to the alleged hijacking of the SURE-P funds meant for the PDP members in Lagos State by the Bode George faction and the crisis that it has generated, the nation can now see that the Jonathan administration has willfully converted the money accruing from SUREP to campaign funds.”
He therefore described the incident as “a serious violation of the constitution, because the State Implementation Committee, a body not recognised by law, has been set up to distribute the SURE-P largesse to PDP members in all the states.”
According to ACN, by virtue of the SURE-P arrangement, part of the funds are now available for the PDP to share freely by approving contracts, programmes and activities to satisfy its members.
Further to this, ACN listed some of the coordinators who were Jonathan’s campaign coordinators during the 2011 election but now head the SURE-P programme as Bode Oyedele (Lagos), Mr. Joseph Ishekpa (Nasarawa), Garba A. Kurfi (Katsina), Alhaji Aliyu Mamman (Niger), Adamu Yaro Gombe (Gombe), Femi Akinyemi (Ekiti), Jarigbe Agbom Jarigbe (Cross River), Abdullahi Ohioma (Kogi), Dare Adeleke (Oyo), Al-Kasim Madoka (Kano) and Kolo Bukar (Borno).
Interestingly, the PDP knew the implications of ACN’s outburst and quickly moved in to contain it. PDP National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, while reacting, challenged the ACN to list the programmes that the PDP-controlled states have implemented with their shares of the subsidy funds.
“The leaders of the opposition parties are used to frittering away funds meant for the people. They are not happy that Nigerians are benefiting from the SURE-P and are hell bent on using any means to discredit the programme and deny the people the benefits that accrue,” PDP stated.
Also, PDP chairman in Lagos, Captain Olatunji Shelle, denied that any fund was released by the federal government to any of the coordinators in the state. Shelle also challenged ACN governors to come out with details of how they disbursed their own share of SURE-P funds.
On his part, the Public Relations Officer of the SURE-P committee, Mr. Adelani Ashamu, said that the federal government had used its own share of SUPE-P funds (41 per cent) as an intervention fund on infrastructural projects like roads across the country and re-vamping of rail system
But despite the controversies dogging the SURE-P, Chairman of the initiative, Dr Kolade, has vowed not to quit his job. “I will continue to work for Nigerians and we will not abdicate this country to anybody and nobody will take my integrity away. I will not quit. If you attack me, I will defend myself. The National Assembly and the SURE-P Committee and everybody are supposed to be working for Nigerians not individuals,” he said.
He also dismissed allegations that SURE-P funds were made available only to states controlled by the PDP.
“The money that we are using for our projects, the money that we are putting to the activities that this committee is overseeing are going specifically to contractors that are working on these projects; to people that are getting employed on these projects. If there is a situation between political parties where they are alleging that money is going from one place to another, well, that is politics; it has nothing to do with our committee.
Quite curiously, SURE-P has always been hopped in and out of controversy. Jonathan, while inaugurating the board of SURE-P, under the leadership of Kolade, said the intervention programme was designed to employ 370,000 youths in the year 2012 with 30 per cent of the jobs reserved for women.
He also said the programme was one step in government's plan to provide the enabling environment for all willing Nigerians to get to work and compliments the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YouWin) initiative which was launched in 2011. According to the SURE –P document, the total projected subsidy re-investible funds per annum is N1.134 trillion based on average crude oil price of US$90 per barrel.
Jonathan, who announced his government's frustration in implementing the programme said a partial deregulation exercise had affected the programme, adding that the SURE-P fund had dropped from the expected N1.134 trillion to N426 billion due to the reduction of pump price of petrol from N141 per litre to N97 per litre.
Giving his report after running the programme for one year before the National Assembly, Kolade declared that Sure-P had gulped N70 billion deployed to providing employment opportunities to Nigerians.
While asking Nigerians not to expect the programme to perform miracles within one year of its existence, Kolade noted that the initiative had performed well in accordance with its mandate which he said was to upgrade infrastructure, build roads, rails, mass transit and improve maternal and child healthcare.
But if Kolade had expected members of the National Assembly members to clap for him, he got it wrong as the joint sitting of the lawmakers condemned the programme and insisted on its immediate scrapping, describing it as a duplication of activities carried out by the existing Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) in the country.
But he defended his position when he said N135 billion was realised by the end of October, 2012 raking-in N15 billion monthly, the sum of which was channelled into construction of abandoned road projects, maternal mortality care. Yet, the infuriated lawmakers disagreed with him and insisted that what was being done by SURE-P had already been carried out by existing agencies.
To further stoke the controversy, the House of Representatives and the Coordinating Minister for Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, also bickered over the SURE-P when the lawmakers accused the minister as the brain child of a programme dogged by controversy in the application of funds allocated to it.
Responding, the minister said: “I think you have to give respect and dignity to the federal government. We need to look at this objectively. The programme is not a programme of any individual, it is the programme of the federal government led by the President, who is very clear and want to show Nigerians the dividends of the SURE-P.
“He created a transparent committee to account for the use of the resources shared by the respected Nigerian, Dr. Christopher Kolade and he is here and will tell Nigerians how the money is being spent. So, this is not one design to put a hang on anyone’s neck,” she noted.
But while the programme appears prone to crisis, government must take a step of faith to find out the true situation with the funds provided for Lagos and put paid to the insinuations it had elicited through politics. And until the basic questions are answered, SURE-P programme may not be distinguished from similar other initiatives that ended a fraud that in government circles.