The Federal Government has reportedly commenced the implementation of the monthly payment of N5,000 to the poor. This is one of the Social Investment Programmes (SIPs) the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised Nigerians during the campaign for the 2015 general election. After much dilly-dallying and delay which almost culminated in denial, the scheme has taken off in nine out of the 36 states of the federation. An official confirmation from the Kwara State government that beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) in the state had received bank alerts took the steam off the apprehension that the reported commencement of the scheme was a mere propaganda. We urge state officials, especially those under the opposition parties where beneficiaries have been paid, to come forward to confirm same and, of course, raise a flag if no stipend has been paid. It will be unconscionable and unfeeling for politicians, whether in government or in the opposition, to play politics with the existential interest of the downtrodden in the society.
The stipend is small even in an economy that is not beset with high inflation. But for the poor and unemployed persons with zero opportunity cost of labour, every positive income is most welcome. That is why many Nigerians are interested in how the government arrived at the poor people that have been selected because at the soul of the scheme is the critical need for the money to get to the real targets. Therefore, the challenge of proper identification of the poor, so that the scheme might benefit the intended persons, must be addressed. In this connection, the reported identification of the beneficiaries via their Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) raises a poser as to whether the really poor Nigerians have BVNs.
It is imperative to know how the poorest of the poor were registered in their locations and who carried out the registration. Nigerians want to be assured that the registered beneficiaries are not all or largely members of a political party and/or ghost beneficiaries in this era of unending ghost workers on the payrolls of the federal and state civil service. The scheme should not be an avenue to dispense political patronage but to alleviate the suffering of the poorest and the most vulnerable. It is important to stress this point because the country is just smarting from the embarrassment caused by the callous and mindless diversion to personal use, allegedly by public officials, of some of the relief materials meant to bring succour to the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East.
However, the unconfirmed report that the office of the Vice-President has, with the support of President Muhammadu Buhari, resisted the attempt by the APC to hijack the scheme is gladdening. It is equally delighting to learn that the Federal Government adopted the social register already developed by the World Bank in eight states to select the beneficiaries. The same World Bank model, with due cognizance of and provision for the penchant of some Nigerians to cut corners and bend the rules, should be deployed to select beneficiaries in the remaining states. This scheme and indeed all other Federal Government’s SIPs cannot accommodate any margin of error, having regard to the parlous state of the nation’s economy today and the category of Nigerians the welfare schemes are meant to help.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the CCT palliative is needed by many and that the need predated the 2015 general election campaigns that birthed the idea. The Federal Government should, therefore, expedite action in bringing the remaining 27 states plus Abuja within the social safety net. There is palpable hunger in the land and, as such, there is no time or justification for experimentation, especially when the government had a whopping 18 or 19 months to prepare. We also like to warn that the implementation structure for this scheme should not be a huge or complex bureaucracy whose remunerations alone will impact the reach of the scheme negatively.
Indeed, in this era of advanced communication and information technology, the scheme should run on one of the existing relevant government structures. Put more pointedly, the scheme should not under any guise generate new personnel and overhead costs that the economy can ill afford now and which may constitute a burden on the national budget in the future. We also urge the institution of stringent and tighter control and monitoring and evaluation systems around the scheme to prevent abuse. Even in the older and advanced democracies where the institutional frameworks and value systems are much stronger, the bane of social welfare scheme has always been its abuse by some unqualified beneficiaries. Regrettably, in Nigeria, likely malpractices by the public officials superintending the scheme may also have to be factored into the overall quality assurance control.