Are Govt’s Social Intervention Programmes Yielding Dividends?

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Sadiya Umar- Farouq

In 2016, the Buhari administration announced a series of social interventions aimed at shoring up the debilitating economic situation of Nigerians. The National Social Investment Programme sought to, among other things, provide soft credit to ‘millions of Nigerians’, but the beneficiaries aren’t paying back. Nosa James-Igbinadolor examines the salient issues around the reluctance of beneficiaries to make good on their ‘promissory notes’

Recently, the Kwara State Focal Person for the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), Hajia Bashirah Abdulrazaq-Sanusi, lamented that beneficiaries of ‘Trader Moni’ had refused to pay back the loans given to them by the federal government.

The beneficiaries, she said, were insisting that the loans were their own share of ‘national cake’, adding that about 10,000 people benefitted from “Trader Moni” programme in the state with over N1.3billion disbursed to them.

Established in 2016, the National Social Investment Programme, according to the federal government was designed to tackle poverty and hunger across the country. At the same time, the government asserts that the “suite of programmes under the NSIP focuses on ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women.

Since 2016, the FG, posits, “these programmes combined have supported more than 4 million beneficiaries’ country-wide through a fair and transparent process supported by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning (MBNP) and other notable MDAs with aligned goals.”

To most Nigerians, however, the federal government’s broad claims stink of falsehoods. The programme, they avow, has neither aided vulnerable populations in any significant way, nor tackled poverty and hunger across the country.

On the contrary, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), and other international bodies show that despite four years of implementing the NSIP, the poverty level in the country has significantly increased, leading to widespread hunger and under-five deaths.

In its poverty and inequality report from September 2018 to October 2019 released in May this year, NBS said 40 per cent of Nigerians live below its poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year. This represents 82.9 million people out of a population of about 200 million.

“In Nigeria, 40.1 per cent of the total population was classified as poor,” NBS said. “In other words, on average four out of 10 individuals in Nigeria has real per capita expenditures below N137,430 ($352) per year.”

In 2018, two years after the programme was inaugurated with fanfare and some N1.7trillion thrown at it, Nigeria overtook India to become the country with the largest number of people living in extreme poverty, with an estimated 87 million Nigerians, or around half of the country’s population, thought to be living on less than $1.90 a day.

Krishna Panchal, writing on poverty in Nigeria, noted that, “while the Nigerian government has launched a variety of programmes to help those in poverty, its attempts have clearly not been strong enough. Due to the high presence of corruption, unemployment and inequalities, the nation’s programmes are failing to adequately lower the rates of poverty. Being the poverty capital of the world is not only impacting the country of Nigeria but it is also impacting the whole world. Nigeria is not living up to the U.N.’s goals of freeing the world from poverty by the year 2050. By reducing corruption and improving employment and educational opportunities, Nigeria can help its citizens get out of poverty. These steps will not only reduce the poverty rates, but they will also help the nation prosper in other levels as well. Hopefully, Nigeria can lose its status of the poverty capital of the world.”

Chimere Iheonu and Nathaniel Urama in their 2019 essay on ‘Addressing Poverty Challenges in Nigeria’ in AfriHeritage Policy Brief, asserted rightly that, “despite the various poverty alleviation programmes adopted by various governments in Nigeria, over 93 million Nigerians still live in poverty, with at least three million sliding into extreme poverty between November 2018 and February 2019. This is a clear indication of the ineffectiveness of these policies and programmes, which is attributable to corruption, high level of inequality in income distribution, low literacy rate and poor skill set, political instability, and poor leadership. It is therefore clear that for there to be an effective poverty alleviation programme in the country, there is a need for corruption to be adequately tackled on all facades…”

The latest mortality estimate report released this month by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) showed that despite the N1.7trillion spent on the National social investment programme so far, Nigeria again overtook India as the world capital for under-five deaths. UNICEF, in the report titled: ‘Levels and Trends in Child Mortality’, said Nigeria recorded an estimated average of 858,000 under-five deaths in 2019 as against India, which ranked second with 824,000 deaths out of 5.2 million under-five deaths globally.

Right from its inception, the programme has been characterised by allegations of politicisation and corruption. The NSIP was at the centre of the 2019 presidential election and the subsequent judicial litigation process.

The presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar and his party, petition filed before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal to challenge the outcome of the February 23 election, insisted that the Trader Moni initiative embarked upon by the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a vote-buying scheme that lacked budgetary backing.

They declared that in a bid to “improperly influence voters,” Buhari, “using his position as President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, commenced a programme or a scheme called Trader Moni, through which the Nigerian electorate, most especially traders across the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, Abuja, were, a few weeks to the presidential election, given N10,000 each.”

They added: “In spite of the fact that there was no budgetary provision for this scheme; and in spite of public outcry against it, the 2nd respondent (Buhari), through the Vice-President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, went round all the states of Nigeria and the FCT, Abuja, and shared the said sum of N10,000 to traders, thus using state resources to buy votes.”

Transparency International Nigeria, in 2019 labelled the ‘Trader Moni’ scheme a form of voter inducement. Awwal Rafsanjani, the Chair and National Contact of the organisation noted that the initiative was an “official use of public funds in the name of Trader Moni to actually induce voters.” He further added that, “it was not done three years ago. It was only started close to election time. So, the allegation by many Nigerians that this is clearly a case of vote buying using public funds goes contrary to our constitution and to having a free and fair election.

A former Vice-President of the World Bank and co-convener of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, had also roundly condemned the subterranean use of the scheme as a vote buying tool when she accused the government of deliberately corrupting the elections in Osun with the launch of the programme three weeks before its scheduled governorship elections in the state in September 2018.

“The federal government either failed to be ethically circumspect or in fact deliberately decided to corrupt the elections in Osun by handing out cash to traders on the heels of the state elections,” Ezekwesili tweeted on her Twitter page. “Such behaviour after the grand corrupting of voters in Ekiti is reprehensible,” she added.

Even the National Assembly, widely derided as a weak minion and grovelling appendage of the Presidency had cause to dismiss the National Social Investment Scheme in 2018 as very unimpactful. Danjuma Goje, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, warned that, “Many people are complaining that they have not seen the impact of the programme considering the magnitude of the fund involved. I am from Gombe State, I represent Gombe Central. I am yet to see one single boy who came to tell me that he has benefited from your N500 billion. Many other Nigerians are saying the same thing. N500 billion for 36 states is about N13 billion. If you spend NGN13 billion in one year in Gombe State, there is no way I would not have known, other people will also know. If you spend N500 billion in one year in Nigeria, Nigerians will know. No single All Progressives Congress person Gombe State has benefitted from your school feeding programme. No single person from Gombe State has benefitted from your N-Power. We don’t know about your N-Power. As far as many of us are concerned, we are completely dissatisfied with what you are doing.”

That a vast majority of ‘beneficiaries’ of the Trader Moni scheme are unwilling to pay back their loans isn’t too surprising after all. Allegations of fraud through underpayment of beneficiaries have long been trumpeted against the scheme by beneficiaries. An investigation report by a Lagos-based national newspaper in its December 15, 2018 edition, showed that many beneficiaries, all petty traders, who were supposed to receive N10,000 each as loans had N2,000 deducted from the ‘loan’ extended to them by the federal government.

The investigations showed that that the agents, who came to the market to disburse the loan to beneficiaries, initially collected N2,000 cash from each beneficiary before transferring N10,000 to their bank accounts. But later, they stopped collecting N2,000 cash from beneficiaries and transferred just the sum of N8,000 to them.

According to one of the beneficiaries a trader, “we had also heard in the news that that was the amount the government was giving out as loan to petty traders, so we were expecting N10,000.

“Initially, when the agents want to pay people, before they transferN10,000 to anybody, they will first collect N2,000 cash before transferring N10,000, which means what they were giving out to beneficiaries in the market was N8,000.

“But after doing that for the first two days, they came to disburse the loans, they stopped collecting N2,000 cash and instead, just transferred N8,000 to the beneficiaries.”

As noted by the paper, “another beneficiary, a petty trader who simply identified himself as Jude, said he also received N8,000. Jude also showed the alert, which indicated a payment of N8,000 to his bank account through the Eyowo app. Like Daramola, Jude was hoping to grow his general goods business through the Trader Moni loan.

“I think the government is not really serious with the way it is going about the disbursement. I’m afraid the objective will not be achieved,” he told the newspaper.

Also speaking, a meat seller, Akeem, told the national daily that, he did not mind collecting only N8,000 rather than the expected NGN10,000, because according to him, it was a gift.

“They just came one day and asked for my number. I gave them. Next thing I knew, they said I had qualified to receive loan of N10,000 without any collateral. When they came they gave me only N8,000. I did not ask for it so I could not reject it,” he said, adding that he was not concerned about the ‘incomplete amount’.”

What is more surprising, is that the managers of the National Social Investment Programme truly expect that after defrauding many beneficiaries through under paying them, these beneficiaries would really turn around and pay back the fraudulent loans they got.

The Trader Moni and other NSIP interventions were built on quick sand, driven more by politics rather than economics. The day of reckoning has finally come, and it is dawning on us all that again, trillions of naira have been thrown at the wind by the federal government with no tangible and visible outcomes for Nigerians.