September 12, 2016

Whatever happened to the N500bn Social Welfare Package?

Whatever happened to the N500bn Social Welfare Package?

One of the cardinal campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was the provision of a broad array of Social Welfare Programmes (SWP) aimed at the most vulnerable segments of our society – the old, the unemployed, school children and others.

To achieve these objectives, N500 billion was included in the 2017 budget to fund several programmes in education, employment and school feeding programme. Discernible observers had pointed out right from the start that the request for N500bn, the highest allocation for any programme ever, was made without any demonstrable plan for the attainment of the goals or details regarding how the funds allocated to each sub-programme would be raised and spent.

The fears of the critics appear well-founded. When the House of Representatives asked Mrs. Maryam Uwais, who is in charge of the SWP, to provide the situation report, she pleaded for more time for her to address the complex issues involved. Yet, eight months have expired; there are only four months left in the year. A programme which should have acted as a stimulus to an economy in recession since the first quarter of 2016 is still on the drawing board.

The question for the Federal Government is: was the N500bn put in the budget without a detailed plan? Are the details just now being worked out after arm-twisting a reluctant National Assembly to approve the budget with the N500bn included? 

Clearly, it is now almost impossible to spend N500bn in four months without wasting a lot of it. Programmes like the recruitment of teachers and the provision of school meals are well behind schedule. The teachers who applied on-line have not been sorted out, offered appointments and posted to the schools. Food vendors have also not been selected and assigned for the supply of food to school children. But, schools will open in mid-September. Have these programmes been deferred till next year or what?

Uwais is not forthcoming with information; and the President, who made the promises, is not talking either. With each passing day, the credibility gap is opening up. A government which had lost a great deal of goodwill cannot afford to add failure to fulfil its Social Welfare promises to the list without a considerable loss of the support it needs from Nigerians to get the nation out of recession.

As late US President John Kennedy once observed, “The worst thing that can happen to a leader is to look back and discover that there is nobody following”. Failure to get these programmes off the ground this year will leave President Buhari leading only a few followers.