By Dele Sobowale
“If they go about solving the problem this way, how many more problems will they have created by the time they finish? James Baldwin, c 1968. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 201.
The president had announced the Social Protection Programme, SPP, with the sort of hyperbole expected of people still having a hangover from the promises made during elections. According to Buhari, “I am happy to formally launch, by far, the most ambitious Social Protection Programme in our history.
A programme that both seeks to start the process of lifting many from poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves.” (President Buhari, presenting the 2016 Budget to the National Assembly). As we enter the last two months of the year, it is time for an interim review to determine if the Social Protection Programme, SPP, for which provisions of N500 billion were made, and for which less than N90 billion had been provided, could have succeeded even if all the N500 billion was available.
There is no need to cry over spilled milk. The project, which sought, among other promises, to engage 500,000 teachers, pay N5000 monthly to five million unemployed people and feed 5.5 million school kids had failed miserably in 2016. Even the government’s most able propagandist would find it difficult to deny that one. But, if 2016 is gone, 2017 is still ahead of us. And, the same programme is back on the national agenda for next year. The critical question for 2017, apart from whether the funds will be available, is one concerning the programme itself. Will it ever work?
Nigerians and the Federal Government itself, need to be reminded that all the promises were made during the campaigns and they eventually found their way into the party’s manifesto and the 2016 Budget. The first and most important question is: were the promises based on any study to determine their feasibility? Was a study conducted to determine that 500,000 teachers were needed and where? That N5 ,000 could be given to 5 million people and who are they? That 5.5 million kids could be provided with food daily for approximately 220 days a year; and where?
As corollary to those questions, Nigerians would like to know how it was determined that 500,000 teachers were needed instead of 200,000 or 800,000? How N5000 per month was chosen instead of N70000 or N10,000 for the unemployed? How only 5.5 million kids were selected as beneficiaries, out of over 17 million, instead of 9 million or 10 million?
If the truth must be told, by President Buhari, by the leaders of the All Progressive Congress, APC, and by Ministers, those base figures, 500,000 teachers, 5 million unemployed, and 5.5 million kids, were baseless and were products of fraudulent electoral promises. Just before the reader regards that statement as too harsh, let us be reminded of two facts on record.
When the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriations first removed the N500bn request from the 2016 budget, Senator Goje and Representative Jibrin, in a joint statement announced as follows:
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY POSTPONES N500B SOCIAL PROGRAMME.
“There is no detailed and clear-cut structure being laid down for the implementation of this project because what we have in the budget is N300bn recurrent and N200bn capital. We had to push hard yesterday to get some details, which are not convincing. For instance, the explanation we got is that N5000 will be given to one million Nigerians. Who will choose the one million? What structures do you have in place to make sure you choose the right people?” Senator Danjuma Goje, Chairman of the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriation, Thursday, March 3, 2016.