N5,000 Stipend: Buhari’s Greek Gift?

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The commencement of N5,000 stipend to the less-privileged Nigerians is a subject of debate in many quarters as a paliative which may not outlive the Muhammadu Buhari administration

By Olu Ojewale  |  Jan 16, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT  |

NOBLE as the idea may sound to its proponents, it appears that the federal government’s plan to pay stipend of N5,000 to the unemployed and vulnerable Nigerians will continue to be a subject of controversy. Just as when the idea was first made a campaign issue during the 2015 general election, the beginning of the payment of the stipend by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, government is now generating another set of controversy. According to the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the monthly stipend of N5,000 each would be paid to 25 million less-privileged Nigerians.

Even as the government announced the start of the scheme on Monday, January 2, the news was greeted with another round of criticism, outright disbelief in certain quarters and scepticism of government’s real intention with the project.

First to attack the scheme was Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State who cried out that the payment of N5,000 to the less-privileged in his state, as claimed by the federal government, was a ruse and should be discountenanced.

Fayose had claimed that the federal government was merely using the scheme as a propaganda machine to score cheap political goals. The governor in a statement by Idowu Adelusi, his chief press secretary,  said most of the states listed were the APC states and would not publicly refute the claim. He challenged the federal government to publish the names of people collecting the stipends and their accounts.

Although none of the beneficiaries had been identified in the press, the Presidency listed the states where the scheme had commenced as Borno, Kwara, Bauchi, Cross Rivers, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti.

Irked by Fayose’s reaction, the presidency on Wednesday, January 4, through Femi Adesina, special adviser on Media and Publicity to the president, dismissed the governor’s insinuations. Fielding questions from State House correspondents in Abuja, Adesina said: “On the N5, 000 stipend for the poorest of the poor. It was announced specifically from the office of the Vice-President that the scheme has started in nine states and then someone came and said ‘it’s not true’. Is just a matter of who do you believe. This is a government that is built on integrity and accountability.

“This government will not lie to Nigerians, does not lie to Nigerians, in fact anything you hear from this government you can take it to the bank, believe it. So, if anybody says `it is politics’, is not true. Choose who to believe; I can tell you that you should believe this government because this government will not lie to you.’’

Fayose

Fayose

Indeed, the commencement in the payment of the stipend was announced by Laolu Akande, senior special assistant on Media and Publicity to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, in a statement released, Monday, January 2, stating that the payment was effected through the Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT, of the government’s Social Investment Programmes, SIP.

According to the statement, one million Nigerians would receive N5,000 monthly payments under the CCT as a form of social safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable as budgeted for in the 2016 Budget.

Akande added that many of the beneficiaries had already reported receiving their first payments in the first batch that started last week.

“In the first batch that commenced last week, nine states would be covered, and many of the beneficiaries have already reported receiving their first payments by Friday last week, December 30, 2016. Funds for the commencement of the payments in four states were released last week to the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System, NIBSS – the platform that hosts and validates payments for all government’s social intervention programmes. Funds for another set of five states to complete the first batch of nine states would follow soon,” it said.

It, however, said that the states were selected because they had a social register that identified the vulnerable and poorest Nigerians.

According to the statement, the federal government, with the support of the World Bank, has adopted the CBT for developing the social register in the other states around the country for transparency, objectivity and credibility in the selection of the poorest and vulnerable Nigerians. Hence, the federal government would soon begin community mobilisation for the creation of the register in more states, to expand the scope and reach of the CCT across the country.

That notwithstanding, many Nigerians are not convinced that paying N5,000 monthly to the less-privileged is a better option in the current economic climate.

Mustapha Mohammed, a journalist, said he would prefer a situation whereby government would identify certain trades or agricultural products peculiar to a certain areas and help in those areas to train to get expertise that would help them harness their natural given endowment and make their living from those things. “Giving money to people without helping them to identify what they are good at and be able to make a living through their own handiwork is a big waste. I don’t know how long the government is going to be able to sustain this policy, but I fear the policy will die with the exit of this government even if it is sustained for sometimes,” Mohammed said.

Similarly, Uju Ejeye, also a radio broadcaster, said she would rather want a situation “where I am trained to know how to catch fish than being given fish. The programme may look good initially, but it will run into problem sooner than expected because of lack of adequate planning and statistics on how reach those are really in need of the money.” Ejeye said she would want the money being devoted to paying stipends to be used in job creation ventures across the country especially in the rural communities where people lack basic things such as electricity, potable water and health facilities.

To the likes of Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, the policy should be encouraged. But Ekpe-Juda would like to know the modalities used in arriving at those being picked as poor and vulnerable. “I hope it will not be something they will take the federal government money and go to one region and give to people there and say they are the poor,” he said. He queried how many villages were covered in the process of identifying those eligible for the scheme.

“Have they gone to my village to determine whether there are poor people there? Of course, there are poor people there, but how many of them are going to benefit from it? I want to know the modalities they used to determine those who are poor; they have to come up and tell us the modalities,” he said.

Okorocha

Okorocha

Also sceptical is Abdulaziz Ibrahim, a lawyer, who would want to believe Fayose that the N5,000 scheme is a mere propaganda. “I don’t know how they came about the names; we don’t know when they were compiling the names. Where did they get the names from? Everyone in Nigeria could be vulnerable in one way or the other. What is the category of people you call vulnerable? Most of these people you claim are vulnerable are probably farmers and what do they mean by vulnerable?  They should allow us know the process of compiling the names that is when we can fully discuss the issue. For now we don’t know how they came up with names. Is it people that have less than N500 in their bank accounts and there was no census in the country. I think they had a better plan but now they are starting with Ekiti State they are trying to play tricks on us,” Ibrahim said.

Being suspicious or sceptical about the N5,000 stipends to the less-privileged Nigerians may not be out of place after all given the current economic climate whereby the Naira has been so battered and rendered almost valueless.

Even at a point, President Muhammdu Buhari tried to distance himself from paying the stipend when he probably considered the economic implications on the nation’s financial standing. Speaking while on a visit to the Middle East in February last year, Buhari was quoted saying: “This largesse N5,000 for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, the school and correct them and empower agriculture, mining so that every able bodied person can go and get work instead of giving 5,000, N5,000 to those who don’t work.”

The president’s position was then seen by pundits as his first major break away from the ideological bent of the APC on the back of which he ascended to the presidency.

Governors Rochas Okorocha of Imo State and Tanko Almakura of Nasarawa State saw the reversal as a consequence of economic realities of the time, even though the president did not give that as his reason for reneging on the promise by his party.

Okorocha said then: “To be honest with you, it is a great idea, but there are many ways to give that support. Sometimes it could be in cash which has its negative challenges. Handling of that is also in itself a wonderful and great idea.”

On his part, Al-Makura said it behoved on the president to review policies to suit the prevailing situation. He said: “The president is the person that can tell you precisely how he is working on promises and interventions that he has created by his ingenuity. And if at any point in time the president is reviewing that issue, I think he is the only person to do that because what he is doing is in the best interest of the country.”

As expected members of the opposition feasted on the reversal to attack the APC government, alleging that it used the N5,000 stipend as a bait to hoodwink Nigerian electorate.

Now that the president has bought into the idea of paying the stipend, it is left to be seen how far the government can go in its implementation. In the era where the minimum wage of N18,000 is no longer tenable and the Nigerian labour group is demanding minimum wage of N96,000 for workers, the N5,000 stipend to the poor looks like a Greek gift to keep some people happy and help the government as the nation matches to 2019 election year.

—  Jan 16, 2017 @ 01:00 GMT

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