At the start of this week, a total of 724 field monitors were deployed across 19 states and Abuja for the second phase of the monitoring of the use of the $322.5 million Abacha loot returned from Switzerland in 2018. By the end of the monitoring exercise, they would have confirmed, from a representative sample, if 329,963 poor households across Nigeria currently enrolled in the National Cash Transfer Programme (NCTP) are being paid basic monthly sums of 5,000 Naira from the Abacha funds.
This second phase follows from the first monitoring exercise undertaken by a network of civil society organisations led by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) in December which showed that over 90 per cent of the poorest households that were enrolled in the NCTP were receiving the stipulated monthly sums.
Beyond the significance of this monitoring framework, the utilisation of the recovered Abacha funds to finance targeted cash transfers to the poorest Nigerians signifies a departure from previous experiences in Nigeria with regard to the utilisation of recovered assets.
Whereas recovered funds has previously been allocated to fund infrastructural projects in the national budget in an opaque manner with negligible monitoring, the current framework has the potential of tackling the enormous challenge of poverty in the country through recovered assets.
At the commencement of the NCTP, there were dissenting voices who questioned the rationale for paying a paltry sum of 5,000 Naira monthly to poor Nigerians. Unfortunately, these arguments were built on a perennial lack of trust in government intervention programmes based on past experiences. Beyond this, attacks on social investment programmes reflect a poor understanding of the state of poverty in the country and the role of such social safety net programmes in safeguarding people against the extreme adversity and hardship that poverty entails.
There is also room for improvement. The monitoring exercise revealed that officials involved in the implementation of the cash transfers, especially at the local government and community levels, deducted parts of the funds meant for the beneficiaries. These revelations, which came to light through the monitoring exercise, were duly passed on to the relevant government agencies for appropriate action.
The emergence of pockets of corrupt practices in the implementation of the NCTP demonstrates the inherent problem of corruption in Nigeria. And it is for this purpose that the continuing monitoring of the use of recovered funds by civil society is crucial. This is not just to ensure the success of this programme but for the bigger picture of the emerging potential best practices in this area.
There is the need to ensure that the programme does not suffer the fate of similar programmes in the past. Whilst its initial location under the vice president’s office, arguably, provided the needed political will for the programme to thrive, the current move will, no doubt, ensure that it will outlives the present administration.
In a similar vein, ANEEJ and other civil society organisations have to sustain their monitoring role to ensure that recovered assets – and public funds generally – continue to be used for the country’s enormous development challenges.
Rev David Ugolor &
Dr. Ayibakuro Matthew