Barely two weeks after Brookings Institution reportedly rated Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world with the highest number of extremely poor people on earth, the Federal Government’s move to checkmate the scourge appears to be receiving flak from a wide spectrum of Nigerians who fear the Muhammadu Buhari administration may be embarking on another wild goose chase.
According to the report, about six Nigerians join the extreme poverty category every minute of the day.
The report stated: “According to our projections, Nigeria has already overtaken India as the country with the largest number of extremely poor in early 2018, and the Democratic Republic of Congo could soon take over the number two spot.
“At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.”
Even before the Brookings institution’s report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), had in March of 2018, said Nigerians are getting poorer and consequently called for coherent and comprehensive economic reform programme to reverse the trend.
It was perhaps on the basis of that alarm that the government opted to deploy the $322 million (about N116 billion) recovered Abacha loot to bridge the poverty gap in the country.
But since news of the initiative hit the airwaves, critics of the government and indeed, other well meaning Nigerians, have faulted the plan citing inadequate data on the nation’s poor matrix as a major setback.
Already, the disbursement, which initially was expected to take off this month among 19 states has generated a lot of furore.
The Buhari administration said the fund would be used to fund its Social Investment Programme (SIP), using the conditional cash transfer, which entails giving money to the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country.
Under its Conditional Cash Transfer, which began in December 2016, the President had promised to assist one million poor and most vulnerable Nigerians with a monthly stipend of N5,000 each.
The National Coordinator of the National Cash Transfer Project, Dr. Temitope Sinkaiye, recently said 300,000 poor households in 18 states and some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno State have since been receiving the cash transfers.
States listed as beneficiaries of the initiative include Niger, Kogi, Ekiti, Oyo, Osun, Kwara, Cross River, Bauchi, Jigawa, Gombe, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Nasarawa and Anambra.
But, there have been mixed reactions from Nigerians on the decision of Buhari’s administration to distribute a whopping $322 million Abacha loot among the poor households.
Although the Regional President of IndustriAll Global, Issa Aremu, supported the Federal Government’s decision to pay the $322 million Abacha loot as cash transfer to poor homes through Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT), several other Nigerians rather see the policy as a grand plot to reloot the recovered fund by the government in power. They argue that since there is no credible data to identify the extremely Nigerians, it would be left with the administration of officials to determine who qualifies, thus giving room to further abuses.
Aremu, who is also a National Executive Council (NEC) member of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and General Secretary of National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria (NUTGTWN), while speaking in Kaduna frowned at the National Assembly’s call on the executive to pay the repatriated monies into the Consolidated Revenue Account where it will be distributed to the federating units in line with the current revenue sharing formula.
The labour leader observed that the Federal Government was right in giving the poorest Nigerians the cash transfer as a matter of right rather than what he called “undignified handouts” by some corrupt politicians.
He urged the National Assembly to partner with the Executive through FCC to ensure the cash transfer is not limited to the poor households in 19 states alone but should be spread to all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in line with the federal character principle.
For his part, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) President, Ayuba Wabba, expressed reservations on the sharing of the proceeds to the poor.
According to Wabba, the proposed sharing formula may be riddled with corruption as there are no empirical data that capture the population of Nigeria’s poor or delineates class spectrum in the country.
As far as the labour leader is concerned, the government disbursement mode can only work in a country with a clear social safety net.
He said: “It can only work in a country where we have a credable and workable data. But this is not applicable in Nigeria. In other countries, we have social security safety net.
“What needs to be done here is to have an empirical data and establish a proper social security net that will take care of the less privileged in our society.”
Wabba insisted that Organised Labour would only measure the sincerity of the government after seeing the empirical data and the criteria that will be used to determine those being considered the poorest of the poor in the country.
Another Nigerian, Kaycee, reacting to one of our publications on the Abacha loot queried the proposed sharing formula.
He stated: “I want you to ask the proponents of sharing Abacha’s loot to the poor, to tell Nigerians how to determine who is poor, the criteria for being poor and how to extend this loot to the said poor people.
“Truly, Nigerian leadership has gone mad. It is in delusion and grossly dead in ideas. For heaven’s sake, this administration is an agglomeration of dead woods bereft of any iota of focus and intelligence.
“For this group of labour officials who are supporting this proposal, we would need their brains examined by psychiatrists. This is a totalitarian failed society, I must confess with unequivocation.”
Also reacting, Director General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Mr Muda Yusuf, said the recovered loot is part of the revenue expected to fund the budget, especially the social intervention fund, which includes the N5,000 being shared to the people in selected states, micro credit scheme and others.
“The social intervention fund is meant for the poor. I believe the money is going to come as social intervention programmes of the government and these are targeted at the poor on the lower level of the economy,” he said.
The LCCI boss, who pointed out that the money, through the budget, could be used to address a lot of social infrastructure challenges, said that would be more ideal rather than distributing physical cash to the people.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives on its resumption a fortnight ago resumed debate a bill seeking to use the $322 million (or N116 billion) Abacha loot to fund the Ajaokuta Steel Company and Railways.
This was barely six days after the House passed a resolution urging President Muhammadu Buhari to halt ongoing plans to distribute the $322 million to 302,000 poor households in 19 states without database.
The details of the bill for an “Act to allocate the returned looted Nigerian government fund of $322 million from Switzerland for funding of Ajaokuta Steel Company and Railway line(s) projects in Nigeria and for other related matters,” was promoted by Rep Ossai Nicholas Ossai, PDP, Delta and five other lawmakers.
They include Mohammed Umar Bago, Rita Orji, Darlington Nwokocha, Alagbaso Jerry and Nwabuwa Henry projects.
The explanatory memorandum of the bill further stipulates that the “bill seeks to ensure that returned looted Nigerian government funds are used for major infrastructural projects that will enhance economic growth and development in Nigeria.”
This came as some professional bodies in the housing sector and civil society organisations had called on the Buhari administration to halt the plans to share the $322 million to the poor but rather roll out modalities to channel the fund into more productive sector with potential to add value to the nation’s economy.
The lawmakers had penultimate Wednesday passed a resolution to set up an ad-hoc committee that will investigate repatriated Abacha loot from 1998 till date, and mandated that the ad-hoc committee should report back within six weeks for further legislative action.
Why we prefer cash handouts …Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday gave reasons why he preferred giving cash handouts to the poor. Reacting to criticisms against conditional cash transfer, the president said the Federal Government signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the World Bank and Switzerland to lift people out of poverty using the recovered loot.
Speaking at the inception of a meeting of the Mantra project on asset recovery and development in Nigeria by Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), in collaboration with World Bank and Switzerland government, the President, who was represented at the occasion by his Special Adviser on Justice Sector Reforms, Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu, said the choice of investing the recovered loot in the social investment programme as captured in the MoU was taken to address the problem of extreme poverty and create social equality among Nigerians.
The president said the administration is committed in partnering with both local and international partners to ensure transparency and accountability in the management of the recovered loots.
‘The use of the funds to be applied to social investments, particularly to targeted cash transfer, is to lift people out of poverty. We know people who are today in this country that wake up in the morning and don’t even know where to get their meal from. I’m sure you’ve experienced such people within your communities, so this whole project is to address that problem to create social equality, to provide opportunity.