By Emmanuel Onwubiko
“If the poor are not sleeping because they are hungry, then the rich will remain awake because the poor are awake”.-:anonymous.
A writer was reflecting on the realities that the current CORONAVIRUS INFESTATION IN NIGERIA has thrown up and one of those he could remember is that the situation has exposed the run down health sector of Nigeria. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mr. Boss Mustapha showed that he is a very unlearned boss when he confessed that he never knew that the public healthcare system in the Country has become so dysfunctional. The health minister also mamifested a high dosage of ignorance when he stated that he is not in a position to say if the medical professionals on the frontlines of the battles against the spread of COVID-19 are paid special allowances or not.
Another analyst wrote that the fact that virtually every nation under the EARTH have shut their borders and airports means that the Nigerian political elitist class that often junket around the World especially around the Western advanced societies in search of quality healthcare professionals and better services/FACILITIES will now be forced to stay in Nigeria and consult those same medical practitioners they have grossly underpaid and will stay in the devastated health facilities they have set up for the ordinary populations. The health and educational institutions suffer the most neglects from top government officials who divert resources busgeted for the development of the strategic institutions to their personal accounts overseas. Now with CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC in the World, these thieving political class of the Nigerian species can not even gain access for now to those jurisdictions whereby they warehoused the commonwealth of Nigerians that they cornered illicitly.
What was never in the contemplation of the analysts aforementioned was the extent of corrupt practices that have been perpetuated by Federal government officials in the administration of the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME (SIP) of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration since 2015 that he came on board.
The truth is that the dimension of the scale corruptions that have become emblematic of this otherwise strategic social safety nets or intervention of the Federal Government hitherto set up to ameliorate poverty and reduce the widening spectre of absolute poverty amongst millions of households in the Country has become staggering and startling.
Just before the emergence of the CORONAVIRUS challenge IN NIGERIA, it will be recalled that about two years back, Nigeria overtook India to become the nation with the largest populations of households that are absolutely poor. So this hard fact could have awaken Nigerians to the reality of widespread corruptions in the administration of the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME since it was originally designed to take millions of people out of poverty.
In the light of the above scenario of the evolution of Nigeria into the disgraceful position of the World’s poverty capital, it was not in anyway a shock to most discerning citizens to read in the media of what the reporters chose to call allegations of monumental fraud perpetrated at the Social Investment Programmes (SIPs) which they attributed to the consternation of the leadership of the National Assembly about few days back.
As we read, we saw that the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, reportedly voiced their outrage over the clear manifestations of corruptions and lack of transparency in the running of the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME during a high profile consultative meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq and some top officials of the ministry in Abuja.
Understandably, the two presiding National Assembly officers reportedly called for the immediate suspension of the register used for the scheme when as it were, they were informed by officials that accompanied the minister to the gathering that some N12 billion was being paid monthly for the school feeding programme without verification.
Then wait for it. The other burning issue that got the legislators Lawan and Gbajbabiamila angry was the N100 million monthly payment was being made to an unnamed consultant that purportedly handles some aspects of the project.
The DEVIL IN THE DETAILS was unveiled when it was said that the minister for Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development informed the bewildered National Assembly hierarchy that the dysfunctional state of affairs in the scheme was indeed a tradition she came to meet because in her words I inherited the “mess.”
The beautiful minister was said by the media in their thoroughly written news reports to have told the lawmakers that she does not understand why the school feeding project was adopted for COVID-19, adding that “even other programmes have so many inadequacies that her ministry is still trying to unravel.” This assertion by the minister shows the inherent contradiction in the way the government desugns and implement interventions meant to touch the lives of the poorest of the poor. Imagine that the minister does not know why the President insisted that though school children are home the feeding programmes for their schools would go on. How? The DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS.
By way of a reference just before we proceed, this same minister headed the National Refugees Commission when it was alleged that Saudi Arabia donated some processed food packages meant to be given to the Internally Displaced Persons in their camps around the North East of Nigeria but these would be beneficiaries were however short-changed and these foods donated to them were misapplied.
If one may ask, why are things never going well wherever this minister presides over? Imagine the minister admitting to the National Assembly that she inherited a dysfunctionality and chose to continue in the mess.
This confession got the two leaders of the National Assembly angry to the extent that the Senate President Ahmed Lawan was quoted as telling the minister that: “The way the poverty list was generated has raised all types of problems here. No one believes in the social register. Its a fraud and not fair.” These conversations as we were told happened behind Cameral but some media reporters working in some of the best newspapers such as The Guardian got wind of these privileged details which indeed turned out to contain the DEVIL in the entire game of massive frauds going on in the name of the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME.
Later a statement was issued after the meeting by the media office of the Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives who said that the National Assembly leadership urged enabling legislation to transform the SIPs in line with global best practices.
The forum it was gathered was convened by the legislature against the backdrop of the ongoing interventions by the Federal Government to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on most vulnerable Nigerians.
In his opening remarks, Lawan had noted that the two legislative chambers were very much interested in the current initiatives of the ministry particularly the disbursements aimed at assuaging the plight of the poorest of the poor in the wake of the COVID-19 endemic.
“We feel that we need to work together to ensure that there are effectiveness and efficiency. We also want to ensure that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly,” he added.
Femi Gbajabiamila noted: “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, and I know that you came into a system, or you met a system that has nothing to do with you, but what we will be asking you to do is for you to change that system.”
He added: “When you walk into a system, no system is 100 perfect. The word reform is something we use all the time, and this is one time when that word, reform, must be used in the truest sense of it.”
Angered by these widespread accusations of irregularities in the administration of the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME the Special Adviser to the President on the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME Mrs. Maryam Uwais fired back at the National Assembly leadership and accused them of blackmail because in her words, her commission was put under illegal pressures to accept some lists from the leadership of the National Assembly as beneficiaries but she rejected the lists.
Mrs Maryam Uwais, Special Adviser to the President on SIP, issued a rejoinder, wherein she listed the scheme operational activities and payments to beneficiaries.
She alleged that the inability of certain members of the National Assembly to include their candidates to be beneficiaries for the NSIP is largely why the programme has come under attack by Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Reps.
Addressing issues raised by the lawmakers about the NSIPs, and especially the selection of beneficiaries, Hajiya Uwais said “the demand for the inclusion of candidates to the NSR from the NASS has been a recurring issue from the inception of the NSIPs.
She said it was untrue that BVN and online application were part of the conditions for beneficiaries to be engaged. She said her response was to safeguard “the entitlements of the poorest of Nigerian citizens, whose benefits are likely to cease because they are not known or connected to NASS members or any other person of influence.”
This assertion of the Presidential aide is pure fallacy that is regarded as ARGUMENTUM AD HOMINEM which is a style adopted by persons unable to provide sufficient explanation to now attack the personality of the critics.
In response, the National Assembly described the presidential aide’s comment as “unfair” to its members and dismissed it as “entirely baseless”.
The Senate President said his comments on SIP were not made to denigrate any official but to make the scheme more effective in the delivery of its critical mandate.
Senator Lawan, in a statement by his media aide, Ola Awoniyi, said “These comments were well taken by the Honourable Minister and her delegation.
The minister was honest enough to admit that the SIP had some ‘challenges’ and also bedevilled with ‘intrigues’ which she was yet battling with.
“The leadership of the National Assembly would not have suggested an enabling legislation for the SIP if it does not believe in the relevance of the scheme.”
He noted that public office holders should be receptive to constructive ideas and suggestions expressed to enhance service delivery and to improve the performances of public projects and institutions.
“The leadership of the National Assembly is committed to sustaining its cordial working relationship with the other arms of Government as it has seen the benefits of this approach in the improved environment and speed of policy and decision making. “But this commitment will never deter or discourage it from asserting its considered views in promotion and defence of good governance.
“We urge officials and agencies of Government to exploit their access to the Legislature in making clarifications before reacting to newspaper reports on its deliberations,” Lawan said.
But in its usual style of sweeping accusations of corruptions amongst its key officials under the carpets the Federal Government through the President has so far maintained conspiratorial silence but has opened the conversation on another related matter of suspicions of mismanagement of public fund when the ministry of Finance and budget planning said it will soon constitute a special committee to monitor the disbursement of donations made by individuals, corporate organisations and public sector players towards addressing the coronavirus affliction. Under the current administration it is known that committees are set up to muddle up things and serve as delay tactics whenever the members of the public are making strong demands for accountability.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, confirmed the development that government is concerned about public anger and suspicions and said members of the committee would be made up of individuals from both the private and public sector.
Ahmed said the need to monitor the usage of the funds had become compelling to ensure transparency and accountability.
She said while the Presidential Task Force and the Accountant-General’s office would be saddled with the responsibility of disbursement, the separate committee would be in charge of ensuring that the fund was effectively used.
Phenomenally, a day after these encounters and back and forth between the Executive and the Legislative leadership on the accusations of corruptions in the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME which drew a reaction from the Finance minister and the controversial outbursts of Mrs. Maryam Uwais, the offices of the Accountant General of the Federation who ought to be the custodian of the documents that are needed to validate or invalidate any claims of mismanagement of PUBLIC FINANCES surreptitiously went up in flames.
Till date there is no known transparent investigations on this inferno apart from some statements here and there from the Finance minister and the Accountant General of the Federation affirming that the FIRE at the office of the Accountant General of the Federation did not affect any documents relating to public finances.
Majority of Nigerians believe that the funds donated towards containment of the COVID-19 DISEASE IN NIGERIA would be mismanaged just like the Trillions of public fund in the SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMME WHICH are unaccounted for as we write with the Special Adviser to the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration on SIP Mrs. Maryam Uwais comically claiming that the identities of the beneficiaries will never be disclosed to the media as against the clear provision of SECTION 22 of the Nigerian constitution mandating the media to be the conscience of the nation by monitoring activities of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The apprehensions by the public regarding the lack of transparency in the running of Nigeria’s public finances must have rattled the Finance minister to now say that a committee will monitor the use to which the donations made by corporate individuals and institutions towards containment of the spread of COVID-19 AILMENT.
Recall that the Nigeria Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 had realised N21.58bn towards the fight against COVID-19 as of Monday.
The minister worried about the lack of faith in the ability of the government to manage these funds said, “We need to track those funds separate from the spending of the Federal Government. We need to be able to clearly define which project is done by this private sector fund so that there would be visibility. We have opened account where funding can be donated from both the private sector and individuals. We also have account for public sector donations for ministers. We want to be able to determine how much has come into the accounts and what they have been applied to. We are also looking at putting in place an independent steering committee that will monitor the use of those funds.”
These steps highlighted by the Finance minister are ambiguous and remain mere politics. The best way going forward is for the Federal Government of Nigeria to willingly submit financial records to Nigerians or civil society practitioners or groups making Freedom of information request on the entire system of administration of public finance. Finance minister should also publicize in the mass and social media the expenses and projects that are made with these cash donated so members of the PUBLICwill be informed in line with Freedom of information.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has become so politically toxic that it always looks the other way even when public resources are siphoned by officials of the Presidency.
The anti graft bodies must be professionally administered if we ever hope to restore the faith of the Nigerian public on the capability of Nigerian officials to manage public finance tailored towards achieving public good.