The Orbit

April 12, 2020

The poverty dole

Buhari, poverty

President Muhammadu Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari

By Obi Nwakanma

Many things that frequently happen in Nigeria, particularly under this administration, if they were to happen in other lands, often lead to the fall of governments.

People rise up fearlessly and confront their elected leadership. But Nigerians have become too fatal and docile.

Years of serial incompetence has alienated and traumatized the public into conditions of deep cynicism. And widespread cynicism among the public makes them docile, vulnerable, and receptive to a serial dog-style violation. But let me cut to the chase: every now and then we hear about silly government programs.

Like rehabilitating penitent captured Boko Haram fighters. This, by its very self, is a most incomprehensible programme. Government captures deadly fighters, and suddenly they are repentant. Then they are recruited into Nigeria’s military and security services. The few insider supporters of this programme have compared the policy to the Yar Ardua/Jonathan government rehabilitation and integration program for members of the Niger Delta militia.

First, it was a wrong policy then to agree to a large payoff of this gang of armed robbers and killers called the Niger Delta militia, as it is a wrong policy now to recruit and integrate Boko Haram fighters into the Nigerian Army and security services. The first move Buhari made was to neutralize the weight of the leaders of the Niger Delta militia.

He stopped payment of what was essentially a bribe to them, degraded their operation, and eliminated or sent the leaders of the militia running and hiding. He has been ruthless and uncompromising about it. But while the Niger Delta is quiet, the Boko Haram had been left to fester.

It is clear that this administration seems to have strategically left Boko Haram operating. The drawn-out Boko Haram insurgency is its own cash cow conflict. Half of Nigeria’s defence budget goes to Boko Haram operations. Yet, Nigerians have not seen results.

All they saw two weeks ago was Major General Eneche come on TV following the death of 40 Nigerian troops who had been waylaid and killed by Boko Haram stating clearly that these soldiers were killed because Boko Haram had intelligence about their movement.

Guess who supplies this intelligence to Boko Haram? And not too long after, in that same week, a Brigadier, leading the frontline operations against Boko Haram, in a statement that went viral claimed that the Buhari administration did not provide the troops enough needed supplies and equipment to do their work.

It may be coincidence, it may be retribution, but that officer was quickly transferred out of that operation. Buhari’s administration always adopted a catspaw policy against Boko Haram from its very beginning. Compare this to Chad’s response. In the same week that 40 Nigerian soldiers were killed, Boko Haram slaughtered 90 Chadian soldiers. Idris Deby, President of Chad, took quick charge.

He moved to the fronts, and the Chadian military launched a scorched earth retributory attack on Boko Haram locations. The last report is that the Chadians killed over 1, 000 of the insurgents, scattered their ranks, and sent them fleeing and are in hot pursuit. Folks, guess where these Boko Haram insurgents are escaping to? That’s right, Nigeria.

The president of Chad made a very unambiguous public statement too. Nigeria, he said, was not in the game – it was absent in the fight against Boko Haram. This giant shit of Africa is on the slope! And it stinks to heaven. No, Mr Deby, Nigeria is in the game.

She is rehabilitating and recruiting the fleeing, penitent Boko Haram into her military, and intelligence services. And soon enough, the Nigerian military and secret services, operating under the doctrine set by this administration, will become the Boko Haram Army in full strength.

God help us then. And God helps us now, from this know-nothing administration. Just imagine the Secretary to the Federal Government, Mr Boss Mustapha, admitting publicly for the first time, on Thursday, that he did not know that Nigeria’s health infrastructure was in such a sorry state.

But how could he know? I doubt that Mr Mustapha has entered any Nigerian hospital for treatment in the last decade or so. Nor has President Buhari and his top echelon of hawks for that matter. They flew quickly at the sign of a twitch, to foreign hospitals built by the taxpayers of other nations for treatment.

Not until COVID-19 levelled it all, and everybody now has to pay attention. The truth is, under Buhari, Nigeria went to the dogs. I mean, truth be told: Nigeria has been moving towards this disaster of self-destruction, long before Buhari’s second coming. But Nigeria actually is in its worsts state since 1960 under Buhari. It is being led back to the stone ages by this terribly incompetent administration.

One area of incipient outrage is the current distribution under this government of the poverty alleviation dole which it calls “conditional cash transfer.”

Like everything Nigerian, this social programme is also now incompetently designed and run, and might crumble under the weight of controversy. I mean, who did not watch Maryam Uwais, President Buhari’s adviser on Humanitarian services on Arise TV claim that a provision of the FOI Act prevents government from seeking disclosure of the identity of recipients of public funds? Better still, aside from the fact that these recipients of government funds do not want to be publicly identified as poor, “they are invisible and dwell where conventional society cannot see them…”

This, at best is convoluted, self-serving thinking! The first controversy was the claim that the cash disbursement was selective on a North/South basis.

Thankfully, the Minister for Humanitarian Services, Mr Sadiya Umar Farouq, denied this and set the records straight. Second, was the claim that 2.6 Million Nigerian households were already beneficiaries of this public fund. Again, following some public outcry for accounting, this claim was denied by the ministry.

It published what it called a register of vulnerable Nigerians in need of the alleviation fund. This is a very skewered list. The first problem is that the Federal government must describe poverty. What is the benchmark? Should the beneficiary index be households or individuals?

Where does one place a 25-year-old jobless University graduate who does not live at home? There has to be clear standards. And all Nigerians without discrimination must be accounted for by this use of public funds. If truth be told about 75 per cent of Nigerians are poor and vulnerable, and the fallouts of the shutdown of the global economy will worsen this condition by over 200 per cent. I’ve watched Mrs Sadiya Umar Farouq lug bags of raw cash which she distributes.

Well, this is so inelegant, and so backward. South Africa runs one of the largest social benefit programs in the world that identifies and reaches even the remotest and most illiterate and vulnerable members of that society. An electronic banking footprint that identifies every recipient in a government data will eliminate, one, the personalization of this program.

It is the inefficient use of taxpayers time and resources for the minister to be travelling and handing out cash like Eru, the goddess of fortune.

Two, it will eliminate the current controversy about accounting. By establishing a digital footprint for collecting this hand-to-mouth pay, the government would have solved the problem of an aspect of the census; there will be a clearer picture of Nigeria’s demography, and there will be a systematized transfer of social benefits.

It is time for Nigeria to design its Social Security Programme that will define and systematize the conditions and criteria of beneficiary status. It will require technical infrastructure, and not this “Almajirin-style” distribution of slush. But I’m afraid this government does not have the capacity to design, sustain, and construct something more systematic.

It is far too incompetent. But let us remind them: it is corruption to personalise and misuse public funds. There will always be a day of reckoning.