The Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari has finally demonstrated that its social investment programmes (SIPs) have failed. This is evident in the slashing of allocation to the SIPs by a massive 94 per cent in the proposed 2020 budget. It will be recalled that the projects had been the flagship of the Federal Government’s claim to be a progressive government, a government which cares for the poorest of the poor. Indeed, the government had presented them consistently as evidence that it is committed to ensuring inclusive and equitable sharing of economic prosperity.
For over three years, the government has claimed that they are the largest social protection programme in Nigeria’s history. They were supposed be massive empowerment programmes designed to meet the needs of poor and vulnerable Nigerians. The government claimed that it had directly provided employment, supported small businesses and alleviated poverty through the SIP’s four main projects, namely: N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfers, National Home-Grown School Feeding, and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programmes (GEEP). The N-power was designed to address the challenge of youth unemployment by skill acquisition activities that would equip young Nigerians to contribute to the provision of public services. The graduate aspect of the programme engaged graduates to participate in addressing the inadequacies in public services in education, health and civic education. Many of the enrolled graduates have been engaged in primary and post-primary schools as teachers across the country on a stipend of N30,000. The N-Power website claims it had engaged over 200,000 such graduates across several sectors.
The cash transfer and school feeding programme sought to promote school enrolment and reduce absenteeism in school or promote health through immunizations. Unfortunately, they never went beyond the pilot stage in the states. What is more, the government enterprise and empowerment scheme became notorious for the ‘Tradermoni’ initiative which saw Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visiting local markets and sharing money to select traders during the election season. Not a few considered it a form of vote buying. The school feeding programmes was supposed to draw on the products of small-holder farmers to feed children. Tienabeso Bibiye, Communications Manager for National Social Investment Office (NSIO), once declared that “Since its implementation in 2016, the N-SIPs have impacted over 12 million direct beneficiaries and over 30 million indirect beneficiaries, comprising family members, employees of beneficiaries, cooks and farmers.” But given the level of poverty in the country, the government is certainly expected to do more.
In spite of the limited coverage, problems of wrong targeting and leakage issues, there is little doubt that the programmes have been beneficial to the disadvantaged Nigerians who have had the opportunity to participate in them. Indeed, in many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia, such intervention programmes have been used to break the vicious circle of poverty and improve the productivity of the poor. Nigerians expect the government to strengthen and expand the roll out of the programmes given the increasing level of poverty in the country. It is therefore surprising that the government is cutting back drastically on allocation to the programmes, so much so that it suggests their gradual abandonment.
In his Independence Day speech a few weeks ago, President Buhari announced the creation of the Ministry for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to “institutionalise these impactful programmes”. If the programmes had been so impactful and required further institutionalisation, why would the government drastically reduce allocations to them? In each of the previous three budget cycles, the programmes were allocated N500 billion. If these have been inadequate, what will the N30 billion allocated to them in the 2020 budget proposal do? It appears that the transfer of the SIP programmes from the office of the vice president where they had been domiciled since their inception in 2016 has been done to bury them. At inception in 2016, the office of the vice president was responsible for overseeing the projects while issues of funding, contract awards and procurement were carried out by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning. An inter-ministerial steering committee, chaired by the vice president and composed of several ministries, had policy oversight on the programmes’ implementation. Did this management structure fail?
What the meagre allocation means is that the programmes are being wound down. What will be the fate of the 200,000 N-Power beneficiaries that will be dropped? What will happen to the children who have been beneficiaries of the school feeding programme? What about the farmers, many of whom have borrowed loans to meet the food requirements of the school programme? Many of them were urged to join the programme by the government. This decision of the government is not only unfair to beneficiaries and supporters of the programme, it is unacceptable given Nigeria’s professed commitment to reducing hunger and poverty as espoused in the sustainable development goals. Indeed, a study by the Brookings Institution showed that Nigeria overtook India as the poverty capital of the world last year. While the number of Nigerians falling into extreme poverty grows by roughly six people every minute, poverty in India continues to decrease. At present, an estimated 5.3 per cent of Indians or 71.5 million people live below the poverty line. The World Poverty Clock puts the number of Nigerians below the poverty line at 91.9 million.
While we sympathise with the government that the SIPs have not delivered as promised, we think the solution is not to collapse them. It is clear that the whole scheme was not properly conceived. Indeed, ‘Tradermoni’ seems to have been driven by a drive to win elections at all costs. The programmes were riddled with corruption. The issue of sustainability was not thoughtfully considered. As Maryam Uwais, the special adviser to the president, noted, 80 per cent of payments for social investments have come from the looted funds recovered from former Head of State, Sani Abacha. The remaining 20 per cent came from credit from the World Bank. All of these issues should be addressed. Social protection for the vulnerable is a must for any government that aspires to decent citizenship and inclusive growth and development.