School feeding

Adebayo Obajemu

Following last week’s Midterm Review of the administration’s scorecard, economic experts have picked holes in the social investments programme of the Buhari government in particular and the administration’s scorecard in general.

They insist that for a government that is borrowing heavily to fund projects, its social programmes are good money being wasted.

Speaking at the opening of two-day Mid-Term Ministerial Performance Review Retreat organised to assess progress made towards achieving the goals of the administration, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, President of Africa Development Bank, stated emphatically that what the youth need is not handouts but investments.

Adesina advised the administration to refrain from giving handouts and concentrate on investments on the youth, urging government to make its youths drivers of the new economy through the creation of Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks.

According to him, the necessity for making Nigerian youths and vulnerable groups the drivers of the economy cannot be overemphasized, as it will put new financial ecosystems around them to fully unleash their potential.

“We must move away from so-called ‘youth empowerment programs.’ The youth do not need handouts. They need investments,” the former minister added.

The social investment programme of this government is based on three major issues, such as monthly cash transfers of N5000 to the poor, school feeding and fuel subsidy. The government has spent over a trillion naira on the cash transfers in two years; over N200 billion on school feeding annually and N900 billion subsidy in 2020.

These policies are purportedly meant to assist the poor and vulnerable groups, but they are a drain on scarce resources, especially when government is borrowing to fund infrastructure projects, which has become its policy mantra.

For Adesina and other experts, this is a misplacement of not priority but resources. He said that poverty is never eradicated through cash handouts, but by skill empowerment and job creation. It I investment in such critical areas such as technology that can reduce poverty.

According to him, that 75% of youth in Nigeria are approximately under the age of 35 and more decisive actions are needed to turn this demographic asset into an economic dividend.
“We must unleash the potential of the youth of Nigeria. Today, over 75% of the population is under the age of 35,” he explained.

“A young, productive, youthful population, with access to education, skills, social protection, affordable housing, and medical care, will power Nigeria’s economy, now and well into the future”.

“One of the industries that will dominate the future is the FinTech industry. By 2030, 650 million Africans will have smartphones, and 50 million will have 5G phone networks. Digital payments, mobile money accounts, savings, credit, and money transfers will revolutionize businesses.

“Nigeria’s FinTech is surging as one the leaders in Africa today. Google recently announced plans to invest $1 billion in Africa. That tells you something: they see the demographic and mobile tech growth and how this will rapidly change the future of e-commerce, trade, health, and finance.

“The African Development Bank will support the Federal Government efforts, being led by Vice President Osinbajo, on Digital Nigeria. The Bank is preparing investment in the Digital and Creative Enterprises (I-DICE) program, a $600 million investment to be co-financed with several partners, which will promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the digital technology and creative industries,” Adesina said.

Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist said “when we take a holistic look at the administration’s performance, I would say it has nothing to write home about, especially when set against the backdrop of promises made to Nigeria.

“If you look at the social investments programme of this administration, it is not sustainable, neither is it geared towards creating opportunity for the youth: it is just a mere handouts, doling out handouts, instead of investing in their potential.

He stated that insecurity has taken away whatever gain made in the area of infrastructure, there is mass poverty in the land according to him.

Dr.Olufemi Omoyele, a public affairs analyst and director of Entrepreneurship at Redeemers University, said “honestly there is nothing to celebrate, this Midterm Review in all honesty is a review of failures, only redeemed by some gains in the area of railway Infrastructure.
“There is unemployment reaching unprecedented level, hunger is rampant, in spite of this administration’s agricultural interventions schemes by the Central Bank.”

On his own assessment, Dr. Uche Igwe doubts the value of social investment programmes and questions whether it can help the country overcome its current overwhelming poverty burden.

“That there are many poor Nigerians is a fact known to many. Sadly, Africa’s biggest economy has been struggling to put her acts together despite being one of the largest producers of crude oil in the continent. It has come to epitomise the paradox of plenty or the curse of the endowment of natural resources.

“When former Venezuelan oil minister, Juan Pablo Perez Alfonso, exclaimed that oil is the devil’s excrement, it appears he had countries like Nigeria in mind.

“Unsurprisingly, the country has become host to the largest number of poor people in the world. According to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) about 40 percent of the population or almost 83 million people live below the country’s poverty line of N137,430 ($381.75) per year. The unemployment rate increased to 33% percent in the last quarter of 2020.

“With a Gini-coefficient of 35.1. Nigeria is in the top eight countries with the highest inequality in income distribution in the world. Simply put, few people have much while the majority of others have too little. The country also has a scary public debt profile of 32.915 trillion naira and the second highest burden of stunted children in the world.

“With 42.5 percent youth population, the unemployment rate is now around27 percent as of 2020 and the number of out-of-school children hovers around 6.95 million, according to official sources.
“Expectedly, incidents of violent conflict, kidnapping for ransom, student abduction, armed robbery and terrorism are increasing across the country. The security agencies appear overwhelmed.

Cries of marginalisation and demands of secession spread within the country from citizens and groups who feel a deep sense of exclusion. There is growing interethnic intolerance, mutual suspicion and tension within groups who hitherto co-existed in harmony.

According to Igwe, social investment has been widely acknowledged as a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach to poverty reduction through focusing the priorities of government towards sustainable development. It appears to be one of the paths through which President Buhari’s administration wants to fulfil its promise to Nigerians.

“Interestingly during his 2021 Democracy Day speech the President affirmed that 32.6 million poor persons identified through the Nigerian social register across 708 local governments are already benefitting from the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) while 10.5 million individuals have already been lifted out of poverty in the last two years. Many Nigerians insist that there is little evidence to justify the President’s claims.

“Findings from the International Centre for Investigative Reporting suggest that about 105 million Nigerians lived in poverty from the third quarter of 2019 and according to World Poverty Clock these numbers have been far exceeded due to the pandemic. Rising poverty levels in Nigeria have been attributed to what many describe as President Buhari’s largely inconsistent and unimpressive economic policies.

Recall that in a bid to tackle poverty and hunger across the country, the Federal Government, in 2016, established the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs). The bulk of programmes under the scheme were aimed at ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women.

Furthermore, it was meant to support millions of these vulnerable people across the country through a fair and transparent process, supported by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning (MBNP), other notable MDAs with aligned goals, and lately, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHADMSD).

The N-power component was designed to assist young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 35 to acquire and develop life-long skills for becoming change makers in their communities and players in the domestic and global markets. They earn a monthly stipend of N30, 000.

On its part, the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme directly supports those within the lowest poverty bracket, by improving nutrition, increasing household consumption and supporting the development of human capital through cash benefits to various categories of the poor and vulnerable. The support is conditioned on fulfilling soft and hard co-responsibilities that enable recipients improve their standard of living.

Also in the bouquet is the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), a micro-lending intervention that targets traders, artisans, enterprising youth, farmers and women in particular, by providing loans between 10,000 and 100,000 at no monthly cost to beneficiaries.

In April 2019 just before the Modified Home Grown School Feeding Programme saga, the National Assembly finally launched a vitriol against some aspects of social investments programme.

Two weeks after the National Assembly criticism of the scheme, the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, had carpeted the NSIPs, describing it as a failure, especially in the Northern part of the country.
In launching a solo attack, which savaged the image of the initiative in May 2019, during an interactive programme for women at the State House, Abuja, Mrs. Buhari said even though the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Investment Programme (SIP), Mrs. Maryam Uwais, who manages the programme is from Kano State, the programme has failed in the state.

The first lady, who queried how N500billion budgeted for the programme was being spent, alleged that the conditional cash transfer arm of the programme was not reaching the target audience, adding that an aide of her husband deceived her that 30, 000 women in Adamawa State would benefit from N10, 000. That, she said, had remained a farce as the promise is yet to be fulfilled.