NASS’ verdict on SIP

RECENTLY, the leadership of the National Assembly faulted the manner in which the Social Investment Programme (SIP) of the Federal Government was being implemented. Speaking in Abuja during a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, a meeting also attended by top officials of the ministry, Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, Deputy Speaker Idris Wase and other principal officers and members from both chambers, Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Speaker Femi Gbajabiami called for implementation in line with the global best practices. The National Assembly leadership convened the meeting against the backdrop of the ongoing intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable Nigerians.

According to the legislators, the National Assembly was very much interested in the current intervention initiatives of the ministry, particularly with respect to the disbursements aimed at assuaging the plight of the poorest of the poor Nigerians, and was therefore concerned about the conditions and guidelines for the programmes. Lawan told the minister: “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 had been in serious distress even before the coronavirus pandemic. We need to be better in terms of the 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.”

Gbajabiamila, on his own part, said: “Your job right now is probably the most important as we speak, because you are saddled with the responsibility of alleviating poverty or the hardship, due to no fault of anyone, being thrust upon Nigerians.” He noted that the relevant committees in the House of Representatives had been complaining bitterly, even before the minister took over the scheme, about their inability to access information on it, and that Nigeria’s SIP was similar to the Unemployment Insurance Act in the United Kingdom and the Social Security Act in the United States. In her response, the minister acknowledged that there were challenges in implementing the SIP, adding that it was moved to her ministry for “sustainability and institutionalisation.”

But the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Programme (SIP), Maryam Uwais, would have none of the legislators’ qualms. She declared that the claims made by Lawan and Gbajabiamila on the government’s conditional cash transfer were “regrettable and dangerous”, adding that it was not true that beneficiaries were made to meet requirements such as presenting bank verification numbers (BVN). According to her, “The utilisation of the BVN for N-Power beneficiary payment is also as a means of identity (since the NIN number can be generated from the BVN), and to facilitate the tracking of payments and further ensure accountability.” But then, the Senate President took Uwais up, describing her response as unfair and baseless. He noted that he and Speaker Gbajabiamila only made observations on aspects of the SIP and recommended that the implementation process be fine-tuned and the scheme backed up with legislation to make it more efficient, effective and in accordance with the global best practices.

To be sure, the National Assembly’s intervention is timely and appropriate. As representatives of the people, the lawmakers certainly have a right to ask questions regarding the delivery of social intervention programmes, particularly amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Nigeria being the world’s poverty capital, it would have been both irresponsible and unconscionable for the National Assembly leadership not to have paid attention to complaints by the vast majority of Nigerians regarding the government’s palliative measures. In any case, as Lawan pointed out, the comments made at the meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development were not made to denigrate any official but to make the scheme more effective in the delivery of its critical mandate. It is hard to fault this position.

In her needlessly combative and rather rude response to the National Assembly’s query, Uwais sought to convey the impression that all was well with the SIP. This is self-delusion at best. Uwais’ riposte is made all the more ludicrous by the fact that the N20,000 paid to some of the country’s most vulnerable populations represented the arrears of the Federal Government’s conditional cash transfer programme, rather than special provisions for such people amid the pandemic. We commend Mrs. Umar-Farouq’s forthrightness in admitting the limitations of the SIP and urge her to work with the legislature to fine-tune the grey areas, and back up the scheme with an enabling legislation. We endorse the call for greater transparency and efficiency in the delivery of the SIP. The National Assembly has spoken on behalf of Nigerians and can only be ignored at the country’s peril.

 

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