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AS part of its Social Investment Programmes, the Federal Government recently commenced the payment of N5,000 monthly stipend to some of the poorest and most vulnerable persons in the country, to cushion the effect of hunger that has been their lot over the years.
The social safety net programme implemented through a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) system is a fulfillment of one of the campaign promises of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government. The scheme has commenced in three states, namely Borno, Kwara, Bauchi, with another six states: Ekiti, Cross Rivers, Niger, Kogi, Oyo and Ogun, lined up to join shortly. That will bring the number of benefitting states to nine, with 27 more states and the FCT, Abuja, left to join in the programme. The nine pilot states were chosen because they have existing social registers that have successfully identified their poorest citizens. The registers were developed using tested methods, in conjunction with the World Bank.
The expectation is that the social safety programme would spread rapidly to these remaining states, as soon as they fulfill the minimum conditions for qualification and participation. Other components of the SIP include the school feeding programme, micro-credit loans for market women and the post-NYSC grants. The SIP is, indeed, a laudable initiative of the Federal Government which all states will benefit from.
Given that one of the pegs of the programme is collaboration between the Federal and State governments, we are hopeful that the two tiers of government will take the necessary steps to perfect the processes for nation-wide coverage and participation.
The careful steps being taken on this programme are in order, given our past experiences of shoddy and ineffective implementation of government programmes. In fact, government cannot be too careful with this scheme. From information available, government, in preparing this programme, had to learn from similar programmes that have been implemented in the country and overseas, in order to adapt it to the peculiar needs of the country. This is the reason the commencement date of the programme was postponed twice. Now that it has taken off, we commend the Federal Government for its effort to fulfill a major campaign promise.
It is good that Nigerians are informed about the process through which the beneficiaries were selected. We have been informed that through collaboration with relevant arms of the United Nations and other international agencies as well as the state governments, the potential beneficiaries were carefully selected and profiled so that they meet the stringent conditions for qualification for the government hand-out. Payments in states which are already benefitting from the scheme were handled through the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) to ensure transparency and accountability. The NIBSS platform hosts and validates payments for all of government’s SIP programmes. Some people have expressed doubts about the desirability of these payments and whether the stipend will be of any real benefit. While such concerns may be in order, these critics must not lose sight of the real intention of government. The SIP payment is a stipend, not a salary. It is meant to alleviate the effects of crushing poverty and neglect for a certain category of citizens who, either through illness, disability, old age or neglect, have no way of feeding themselves. Government, as a provider of last resort, has stepped in to save them from starvation and give them a helping hand, even if marginal.
This programme must, therefore, not be defeated. To ensure this, extra care must be taken to constantly validate the scheme. The stipend must reach the beneficiaries regularly as conceived. For the take-off, most of the beneficiaries reportedly received payments around December 30 last year. This must be consistently replicated throughout the life of the programme.
In addition, the safety net programme should be expanded to capture more deserving beneficiaries as the economy improves. As presently conceived, the programme will benefit only one million vulnerable and poor citizens. Given our population of over 170 million people and with a poverty prevalence rate of about 70 per cent, the number of citizens that can benefit from such programme should be far higher than the one million presently contemplated. We hope this is just the first phase.
Ultimately, growing the economy and providing gainful employment for the teeming army of unemployed persons, especially youths, is the way to lasting economic recovery and prosperity. There are likely to be some people captured in the present cash payments who can do better with skill acquisition or gainful employment. Only these, in the long run, can guarantee a more fulfilled citizenry and reduce the number of old and indigent persons needing social support in the country. The objective should be to support those who absolutely cannot support themselves, while ways are found to take them off the scheme as soon as they can stand on their feet. We urge the Federal Government to faithfully implement this programme and ensure that no state or deserving citizen is left out. The government must also closely guard against corruption in the implementation of the programme.
The scheme must be subjected to continuous audits and the beneficiaries intermittently cross-checked to ensure that the money is not going into the wrong hands. We must learn a lesson from the failure of past governments’ poverty alleviation schemes and ensure that this laudable initiative is sustained.