A nongovernmental organisation known as Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to “instruct the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation Mr Abubakar Malami SAN and Minister of Finance Ms Kemi Adeosun to urgently publish more details on the alleged fraud and stealing of some of the N1 trillion budgeted for the Social Investments Programme (SIP), including the exact amount of the $321m of the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha recently returned by Switzerland, affected by the fraud.”
The organization also urged Buhari to “instruct appropriate authorities to publish details of how his government plans to spend and monitor the spending of the $85m returned by the United Kingdom from the controversial Malabu deal involving $1.6bn, so as to remove the risks of corruption or mismanagement of the money.”
The Special Adviser on SIP, Maryam Uwais, had last week reportedly disclosed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was invited to probe ‘massive fraud’ and other corrupt practices like short-changing, racketeering, harassment of beneficiaries and exploitation of the vulnerable plagued the scheme in some states.
SERAP in a statement today by its deputy director Timothy Adewale said, “While we welcome the reported disclosure of fraud and corruption in the SIP and the request to the EFCC to probe the allegations, we are concerned that sufficient details about the allegations have not been disclosed. Nigerians have the right to know more about the allegations, including the names of the states involved, and whether the recently returned $321m Abacha loot was affected by the reported fraud and corruption.”
According to the organization, “It is important for the government to identify and remove the risks of corruption in the SIP as fast as possible and let Nigerians know the exact steps the authorities are taking to protect public funds, including the returned Abacha loot, in the implementation of the SIP. Part of this could include naming and shaming the states and contractors involved, to serve as deterrent to others and to preserve the integrity of the SIP.”
The statement read in part: “Transparency in the spending of returned Abacha loot and Malabu funds is absolutely important to ensure that the funds are utilized for tackling poverty and inequality in the country and not mismanaged, diverted or re-stolen. The authorities should actively take steps to prevent any misuse of the repatriated funds.”
“It is in the public interests, especially victims of corruption, and the government, to maintain good practices with regard to the spending of all assets recovered. This would also make repatriation easier and the countries where our commonwealth has been diverted would have no difficulty in disgorging the looted funds.”
“The effectiveness of the SIP will be determined by the level of trust the citizens have in the mechanisms put in place by the authorities to prevent fraud and corruption in the implementation of the scheme. State governments and their officials should not be allowed to undermine citizens’ access to the SIP, and any states involved in fraud and corruption should be named and shamed.”
“We also urge the government to appoint ‘integrity advisors’ as ‘early warning mechanism’ for the SIP to monitor the implementation of the scheme across the states of the federation, identify and alert on any risks of fraud and corruption, and engage in analysing such risks, as well as in corruption prevention and reporting activities in general. It is also important for the authorities to promote and encourage whistle-blower complaints in the implementation of the scheme.”
“The authorities should take these proactive measures to combat allegations of fraud and corruption in the SIP if state officials are not to continue to profit from public funds meant to address the situation of the vulnerable groups in the society, and if the credibility and integrity of the SIP is not to be undermined.”
Ms Uwais had reportedly said that, “A total of 7,812,201 Nigerians are direct beneficiaries of the SIP, which include home-grown school feeding programme, conditional cash transfer, N-Power; while secondary beneficiaries – mainly farmers and cooks – are about 1,500,000. The total actual spending on SIP in 2016 and 2017 is just 15.58 percent of the budget. Half a trillion naira had been budgeted for each of the two years, meaning that only N158 billion had been released and spent.”
She also disclosed that challenges encountered so far had been “Corrupt practices in the states, like shortchanging, racketeering and harassment of beneficiaries; exploitation of the vulnerable. Some officials had siphoned money to illegal bank accounts.” The Federal Government established the National Social Investments Programmes (NSIP) in 2016, to tackle poverty and hunger across the country. The suite of programmes under the NSIP focuses on ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women.