By Dele Sobowale
If you shut up truth and bury it underground, it will but grow and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through, it will blow up everything in its way — Emile Zola, 1840-1902.
ONE unpleasant truth has recently blown up in the faces of President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo. On May 29, 2015, President Buhari announced the Social Intervention Programme, SIP, which was called the most audacious attempt by any government in Nigeria to address the issues of poverty and joblessness.
The four components of SIP included: employment of 500,000 teachers; payment of N5000 per month to five million poor Nigerians; ICT Training designed to turn trainees into entrepreneurs and employers of others and the feeding of 5 million school children. If it had succeeded, it would have been Buhari’s legacy project which would have also made him Nigeria’s greatest leader of all time. It is not succeeding. In fact, it is a colossal failure and a big fraud.
Unfortunately, for Buhari and Nigeria, SIP was a product of more wishful thinking than effective planning. It never had a chance for success as conceived. But, Buhari, never a methodical planner, and appointing people based on sentiments rather than competence, planted the seeds of failure and fraud even as he sent in the first budget in 2016 to kick-start the SIP. In the 2016 Budget, SIP was allocated a mind-boggling N500bn; it was the largest allocation to any sector. It was even bigger than what Fashola got as Super Minister of Power, Housing and Works. Few people, except Senator Danjuma Goje and me questioned the allocation of so much money to a totally new programme whose details were still to be worked out.
Buhari did not fall into this trap all by himself. Perhaps knowing his own limitations when it comes to understanding complex programmes, the President relied on the Vice President – a Professor of Law and Pastor. Osinbajo also was keenly aware of his own deficiencies in such matters. So, he turned to one Mr Laolu Akande – his Senior Special Adviser – whose tissue of lies on SIP has finally blown up in everybody’s faces. For Buhari and Osinbajo it was a blunder to commit so much to an untested idea and someone with no track record of achievements.
When the 2016 Budget estimates reached the Joint Appropriation Committee, Senator Goje made this observation. “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 to get some details which were not convincing. For instance, the explanation we got is that N5000 will be given to one million Nigerians. Who will choose the one million? (Sen. Goje, March3, 2016).
The Joint Appropriation Committee, at first deleted the N5000 from the 2016 budget and advised the Federal Government to go and do its homework before re-presenting the SIP in the 2017 budget. But, those who were hell-bent on taking Nigeria to the cleaners would have none of that patriotic advice.
They must have their scam ratified by the National Assembly. Pressure was brought to bear on the NASS and N500bn was appropriated as requested. That was almost double what was allocated to Education or Health – the operations of which were well-known to all. It never made sense and will never make sense. In no country does a reasonable government allocate more funds to an untried project than staple fare. But, Buhari and Osinbajo know very little about budgets.
Senator Danjuma was not alone in raising alarm. In August of 2016, I wrote as follows about SIP. “As a minimum, Nigerians must be told who will be the beneficiaries of these programmes, how they were selected, where they can be located in order to verify the claims by government about performance later. Does this sound like not trusting government? You bet it is.”
That was the first of at least twelve articles written about SIP warning Nigerians that SIP, under VP Osinbajo would eventualy become a den of corruption. On each occasion, I had challenged Mr Laolu Akande and the VP to substantiate their claims that SIP was achieving results. For instance, the article — “Fooling Nigerians on N5000 payment” — was written in January 2017, after traveling to nine states and finding no single official recipient of the money. “Questions on FG’s School Feeding” appeared in August. It detailed all the lies which were being reported from the VP’s office by Mr Laolu Akande who has refused to disclose the list of schools benefiting from the phony School Feeding Programme. All to no avail.
Just as I was about to give up; thinking “the wicked have done their worst” about SIP and Nigerians don’t seem to care about the swindles involved in it, Mrs Maryam Uwais, Senior Special Adviser to the VP and the person directly in charge of SIP suddenly opens up and vindicates me. On February 16, 2018, THISDAY on page 10 had a story titled: “NEC: Social Investment Programme Marred by Fraud, Corruption.” The Guardian made it front page news.
“Govt Admits Fraud in N1th Social Investment Fund”. Mrs Uwais, tired of the cover-up of monumental fraud under the SIP, located in the VP’s office is letting us into the dark secrets which had characterized Buhari’s pet project. Mr Laolu Akande, predictably, is now difficult to reach by media. He can run but he can’t hide. Thanks Mrs Uwais…
To be continued