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Aisha Buhari got it wrong this time

Aisha Buhari

Single-minded and courageous, Aisha, the spouse of President Muhammadu Buhari, has cultivated a niche for herself as pro-downtrodden, pro-masses, and pro-women in her discourses. Though not designated as First Lady, she demonstrates that charisma of a woman who occupies that position, and is usually enamoured  in a cloud of glory with populist pronouncements. However, her claims that the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) of the Buhari administration, which gives stature to the equally populist agenda of this regime, is a failure flies in the face of available evidence and loud testimonies.

During her recent visit to Katsina State, where the activities of bandits have left thousands of persons homeless in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, the president’s wife descended on the NSIP, tagging it as a failure because she claimed not to have seen its impact in Katsina. She had said, “Concerning the N500bn voted for SIP, that was part of 2015 campaigns where they promised to give out N10,000, feed pupils in primary schools and give N5,000 to the poorest of the poorer. The SSA to the president 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 the 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 – where SGF came 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 is 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.. 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 for it to fail woefully in Kano, it’s not a good.”

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Incidentally, the programme did not fail; rather, it is a resounding success, from North to South. For instance, ActionAid, in a recent report, said of the state of the programme in Kano thus, “the findings were pulled from the collective monitoring of the 70 per cent of the local governments in 35 states, excluding Kano State “where monitoring was carried out in 18 LGAs by some Civil Society Organisations – funded by the United Kingdom (U.K) Department for International Development (DFID) Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) and Ford Foundation.” The Home Grown School Feeding programme “resulted in more pupils going to school, improved concentration of pupils during classroom teaching, reduction in absenteeism, and in some cases reduction in the rate of illness among pupils as reported by headteachers, parents and pupils in the communities visited.”

In Adamawa State from where Aisha hails, data available shows that some 217,000 persons have benefited from the National Special Intervention Programme (NSIP). Some 13,000 graduates and non-graduates benefitted from N-Power, which provided jobs for those candidates. Also, 167,975 pupils are being fed under the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, which began in October 2018. The same programme attracted jobs for 2,000 persons who are paid to cook for the children. Furthermore, 2,000 persons have benefited from micro loan scheme under the Trader Moni small grants to market women. Under the National Cash Transfer scheme, 14,000 persons have benefitted. Actually, assorted data  from the NSIP office show that since its implementation started three years ago, the N-SIPs have impacted over 12 million direct beneficiaries and over 30 million indirect beneficiaries, comprising family members, employees of beneficiaries, cooks and farmers Therefore, it is not fair to dismiss these outreaches on a visit to an IDP camp in Katsina State.

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The Senior Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais has been forthcoming about the state of the projects, the milestones reached and the challenges facing its implementation. What has been achieved is in spite of the fact that annual budgetary allocations to the scheme has never been released in full by government. Out of the N500bn set aside for the implementation of the programme, about N470.8bn had been disbursed. A breakdown of the amount showed that the sum of N79.98bn was released in 2016, while N140bn and N250.84bn were released in the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years respectively.

It is instructive to state that since 1998 when government began to recover funds looted by the erstwhile Sani Abacha regime, this is the first time that part of the money is being utilized in a transparent manner. So far, over $3 billion has been realised from the loot, but it is the $322.5 million returned under this administration that is being put to meaningful use. The recovery is the source of the Trader Moni loan scheme which market women across the country have been accessing since last year. With the high rate of poverty in Nigeria, put at about 70 per cent across the northern part of Nigeria, the deployment of the Abacha loot is, no doubt, a right step.

Hajiya Aisha Buhari’s enthusiasm for the poor and the female folks in the country is understood in the context of the pressure on government to change the fortunes of the people as quickly as possible. But such advocacy should be grounded in data. In the modern world where data is recognized as the basis for decision-making, the president’s wife should not be seen to further her populist agenda on the basis of emotion, sentiment and worse still on ignorance. The NSIP has been sustained by hard work, and this should be acknowledged, instead of being dispelled through flippant statements that are empty of evidence.

Danladi Audu, a social activist, contributed this piece from Abuja.

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