The Politics of Reforming the Social Intervention Programme

Maryam Uwais

Mon-Charles Egbo, Print Media Aide to Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan draws attention to the role played by federal lawmakers to ensure the Social Intervention Programme delivers on its mandate

It is lamentable that at a critical time like this when our common humanity is facing threat of extermination, some public officials find it expedient to play politics with the overall containment strategies. It is expected that those in authority should at least through empathy and strategic thinking key into the global efforts at curbing the ravaging Coronavirus pandemic.

This is the reason Nigerians should dispassionately interrogate the propriety or otherwise, of the proposal to reform the National Social Intervention Programme especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Firstly, attempts should be made to review the unfortunate altercations between the National Assembly leadership and the Presidential Aide on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais.

In line with sustained interventions towards managing the calamitous situation, the legislators had at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and dtisaster Management, Hajia Sadiya Farouq, sought some clarifications on the disbursement of cash to “the poor and most vulnerable” as palliatives to the hardship occasioned by the lockdown order of the President.

Ideally, the legislature was acting on incessant public outcry over the manner of implementation. Also, there was a suggestion for appropriate legislations to strengthen the operations of the SIP. The Senate President was emphatic that “we need to work together with you to ensure that there is effectiveness, there is efficiency; that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly. We believe that when we work together, the Executive side of government and the National Assembly as representatives of the people, we will be able to reach much more of these people who are in serious distress even before the Coronavirus. Now with Coronavirus, they need our attention more than ever before. The time has come that we review the ways and manner we use to deliver the services under the SIP to Nigerians. We need to be better in terms of strategy for delivery and definitely, what we have been doing in the past cannot deliver exactly what will solve the challenges of the most ordinary and most vulnerable Nigerians. So we need to put on our thinking cap and work out some strategies on how to identify the poorest persons in Nigeria. I think we have not been able to reach far out there to get them properly captured”.

This sincere proposal for optimal performance of the scheme was welcomed by all at the meeting.

But strangely a few hours later, an unpleasant public reaction emanated from someone who was neither present nor officially represented at the meeting. Apparently defending those identified shortcomings of the SIP, Uwais stated that her response was aimed at “safeguarding the entitlements of the poorest of Nigerian citizens, whose benefits are likely to cease, because they are not known or connected to National Assembly members or any other person of influence.”

By her outburst which was laden with other insinuations, it appeared as if the National Assembly was merely out to hijack the programme at the expense of the poor masses. She subsequently took to television appearances to advance her arguments. In one of the outings, she unwittingly reinforced the position of the National Assembly with a damning disclosure to the effect that there were no details about the disbursement processes because the beneficiaries “don’t want to be addressed as poor people (and) that is why we can’t publish their names”. She added that “section 14 of the FoI Act says people who receive social grants should not be published or made disclosed without pre-consent.”

Curiously also, such public defence expectedly should come come from the ministry that is supervising the SIP, and not by someone that lacks the legitimacy to speak for the agency or even for the executive.
Mrs Uwais brandished appealing figures perhaps to justify the humongous sum already gulped by the programme. But until they translate to reduction in poverty level in the country, the data would amount to mere grandstanding, incompetence, failure and calculated attempts to cover up; thereby adding impetus to the general belief that this SIP has undermined the integrity of Buhari’s administration as it concerns anti-corruption crusade.

The wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, just like Dr. Ahmad Lawan, had spoken the mind of many Nigerians relative to the social investment programme , while under the coordination of Maryam Uwais. Mrs. Buhari dismissed the SIP as indeed a failure, particularly.

According to her, “the SSA to the President on social investment (Maryam Uwais) is a lady from Kano and I’m sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made. I have never asked how the money is being used or is being given out. Recently, I saw a 74-year-old man selling petty things in Kano. I asked him how much is his capital. He told me between N3,000 and N4,000. Don’t forget that we have campaigned to give the poorest of the poor, N5,000 every month.”

Specifically referring to Adamawa State, she added that “my state does not benefit from it – where SGF came from – I kept quiet because I don’t want people to say that I talk too much…..Maybe, it worked out in some states. In my own state, only one local government benefited out of the 22. I didn’t ask what happened and I don’t want to know but for it to fail woefully in Kano, it’s not a good sign and it’s not a good thing. I was expecting that N500 billion to be utilised in different methods in the north for the aim to be achieved. I don’t know the method they used but most of the northern states do not get it.”

She further noted that “they spent $16 million buying mosquito nets, I did not get it, maybe some people have it. But I feel that $16 million is enough to fumigate mosquitoes all over Nigeria. That’s my opinion.”

Evidently, this Social Intervention Programme which was conceived and packaged for the well-being of the poor masses is not delivering on its mandate despite huge investments. Its operation is currently at variance with global standards for poverty reduction initiatives.

Senator Ali Ndume recently lamented that “while the pitiable situation of the poor is visible to everyone, few individuals are rushing to squander the money meant for the poor. We have reliable information that the names they (SIP) generated are fake and that they connived with some of the banks to defraud the poor. He warned that “it is better to stop the exercise because it is full of lies and if the President doesn’t do something to stop it now, we will end up investigating and later on going back and forward to the court.”

So if the National Assembly as the people’s representatives, through Ahmad Lawan, rose to the responsibility of echoing the dissatisfaction of the Nigerian people, it should not be trivialized ostensibly as diversionary attempts. There is an urgent need to strengthen the SIP through appropriate laws for effectiveness, accountability and probity. In short, in an enlightened democracy the processes of comprehensively appraising the scheme since inception should by now be receiving priority attentions.

Meanwhile, for any keen observer, the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria has created opportunities for the current National Assembly to further demonstrate its resolve to work for the people. Verifiable records have it that prior to the advent of the pandemic in Nigeria, the senate president had invited the minister for health and other stakeholders for a meeting to review the level of preparedness of the country, and also to work out relevant proactive measures. He immediately secured the release of over N600m for rehabilitation of the isolation centre at the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital after his assessment tour of the facility. Similarly, the Senate made several resolutions that have continued to guide the presidency into meaningful and responsive actions since the outbreak. Also, the National Assembly has dutifully kept all the organs that are fundamental to managing this precarious situation on their toes through intermittent engagements and legislative interventions.

Therefore, it is either mischievous or a joke taken too far, for anyone to impute ulterior motives to the profound commitment of the 9th National Assembly to protect the interests of the poor masses in response to popular clamour for reform of the Social Investment Programme.