TO their credit, the All Progressives Congress, APC, was the first major political party in Nigeria that made monetary payments to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society part of their campaign promises in 2015, though some officials of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government initially attempted to deny it.
Public pressure, criticisms and the benevolence of the World Bank which provided $500m credit in June 2016 moved the hand of the Federal Government which invested $1.3bn in setting up the National Social Investment Programme, N-SIP.
The N-SIP is the umbrella that houses social welfare initiatives such as the N-Power, the Homegrown School Feeding Programme, HGSF, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme, GEEP, and the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, CCTP, which doles cash directly to the poor.
Of the four programmes the CCTP has been the most controversial because of opaque criteria used in selecting beneficiaries and the actual amount so far spent.
It is said that the Coronavirus pandemic will change a lot of things. Definitely, it is already changing our health sector for the better and also the Nigerian Social Register, NSR, which is being presumably used in implementing the CCTP.
Even though there are over 100 million Nigerians under the poverty line, President Buhari only last Monday ordered the expansion of the 2.6million register by one million more persons.
Apart from the paucity of number of beneficiaries, Nigerians are sceptical as to whether even those on the register are getting their monthly N5,000 allowances.
Recently, Hajiya Aisha Buhari and the National Assembly joined the horde of critics of the N-SIP. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum has also called for its reform. Governors want the states to be involved to ensure that the benefits of the programme get to the intended persons.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Social Development and Disaster Management outraged Nigerians when it started the Coronavirus pandemic palliative measures by sharing dirty naira notes in an Abuja suburb.
In the process it broke the social distancing policy ordered by the President and the Governors.
To reform the social register and ensure the equitable and transparent administration of cash disbursements, we need a panel of experts to examine the Register and bring it up to date in line with international standards. There must be a place in it for independent watchdogs to know how the programme is being run. This will minimise corruption, partisanship and nepotism.
More importantly, the Federal Government should not be abandoned to shoulder the burden alone. The states and the corporate world should play their roles along with the international donor agencies, especially in this emergency situation.
We must share the burden of poverty with the poor to ensure social stability and equilibrium. If the grassroots revolt there will be no hiding place for the pyramid toppers.