It is a worthwhile project if well-implemented
In fulfilment of its campaign promise, the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has commenced the payment of N5,000 monthly stipends, targeted at supporting one million of the most vulnerable and poorest Nigerians under social investment scheme. Bank accounts have already been opened for all the beneficiaries in the pilot states and three banks have been enlisted to ensure that payments are effected to the beneficiaries within their communities and at no additional cost to them.
While we commend the initiative, we hasten to point out that the idea of conditional cash transfer has been tried in the past under various schemes with unpleasant tales after hundreds of billions of naira had been wasted. For instance, under the past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, there was a programme called SURE-P, which was a response to the public demand for judicious utilisation of the savings from the partial removal of petrol subsidy at the time. At the end of the day, SURE-P did not make any impressive impact on the life of Nigerians.
It is particularly noteworthy that the conditional cash transfer component under the SURE-P was the Midwifery Service Scheme (MSS). It was designed to tackle maternal deaths in the country which are traceable to lack of accessible, acceptable and affordable primary, secondary and tertiary health care, lack of drugs, dearth of skilled personnel, lack of access to skilled birth attendants; lack of consumables, medical equipment, poor referral linkages in our hospitals; poor transportation and general lack of access to basic emergency obstetrical care. There is nothing on ground to suggest that the objective of the programme designed with the specific purpose of enabling mothers to access healthcare to have their babies, was ever met.
To the extent that it is the responsibility of government to adopt strategies for meeting critical challenges, this initiative is worthwhile if implemented faithfully. Because of the prevailing poverty in many of our rural communities, in some of our urban slums and in the absence of what the government should ordinarily avail its citizens (as of right), such social interventions can make a whole world of difference if implemented well. We also believe that there cannot be a better team for its implementation than the one being led by Mrs Maryam Uwais.
Yet as lofty as this initiative is, as with everything in Nigeria, we believe it could easily be hijacked by politicians in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) as was the case in the past, thus defeating its purpose. Under previous administrations, the cash transfer process became a mere cash transfer system to the private pockets of a select few. There was ambiguity in the system of determining the conditions that should be met, while accountability was a grave challenge. It became essentially money to be shared for political patronage.
That the programme is being implemented in conjunction with some development partners such as the World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, African Development Bank and UNICEF gives it a measure of credibility. But that is not enough. It is important that the federal government’s explicitly stated objectives that qualification and selection for any of the programmes will not be based on partisan, ethnic or religious affiliations must be strictly adhered to.
All factors considered, we believe that this is worthwhile initiative. If the necessary safeguards against corruption and cronyism are entrenched, this incentive may well improve on our appalling poverty indices, as has been proved in so many developing countries.