The Social Investment Programme Nigeria [N-SIP], domesticated in the Office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and managed by Senior Special Assistant to the President Barrister Maryam Uwais, came under heavy attack from unusual quarters in the last two weeks. President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife Aisha raised doubts on the program’s effectiveness in reaching out to the poor, the purpose for which N500 billion was voted for it in 2015.
In a statement that stirred the hornet’s nest, Aisha Buhari said, “The [Senior Special Assistant to the President Maryam Uwais] on social investment is a lady from Kano and I’m sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made. I have never asked how money is being used or is being given out. I met Barrister (one of the President’s aides on SIP) once and he promised me that for my state [Adamawa] we should get 30,000 women to be given N10,000. Up till now, I haven’t heard from him.
“I don’t want to raise alarm that my state does not benefit from it. [This is] where the SGF comes from. I kept quiet because I don’t want people to say that I talk too much. Recently, I saw a 74-year-old man selling petty things in Kano. I asked him how much [was] his capital. He told me between N3,000 and N4,000. Don’t forget that we have campaigned to give the poorest of the poor N5,000 every month. So, I don’t know where the Social Investment Programme [is being implemented]. Maybe it worked out in some states. In my own state, only a local government benefited out of the 22. I didn’t ask what happened and I don’t want to know but it failed woefully in Kano.”
N-SIP’s Office responded to Mrs. Buhari by churning out data that pointed to the program’s impact in Adamawa State and other states. Some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) supported the data with testimonies that the programmes have made positive impacts and are largely successful. According to them at least, Mrs. Buhari’s claims did not stand up to scrutiny and they backed the scheme’s claims.
In a country with about 80 million citizens living below poverty line and with unemployment at an unacceptably high level, any program that seeks to ameliorate the situation or provide succour to the poverty-stricken must be welcome. In the North especially, the human development situation is made worse by banditry and Boko Haram terrorism. A highly sensitive interventionist programme should, therefore, not have ignored these peculiarities in its fundamental principles, action plans and implementations. Though the scope of N-SIP is national, there should have been a deliberate attempt to structure it in such a way that the peculiarities of each geopolitical zone are taken into consideration.
Even though Mrs. Buhari’s strident criticism of N-SIP shocked the scheme’s implementers and was hailed in some quarters, it should be viewed more as a wakeup call. The program’s principles, methods and scope should be reviewed. Is Trader Moni, for example, the best approach to lifting market women from poverty? Is the money being channelled into Home Grown School Feeding Programme actually reaching its target? This is because many food vendors have loudly complained about what gets to them to feed numerous pupils. Does the Cash Transfer policy reach the very poor who should benefit from the N5,000 monthly allowance? Is the N-Power policy of providing jobs and basic allowances to graduates of various categories worth the money that is being channelled into it? Are these schemes the right approaches to poverty alleviation?
As this administration begins its second term, we call on the Office of the Vice President to take a critical look at the posers raised above, as well as the remarks made by the President’s wife. Many people are asking the same questions. What is worth doing is worth doing well.