FG’s N5,000 SWP: Questions, questions

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NIGERIA waited impatiently for the All Progressives Congress, APC, Federal Government to come forward and tell the nation when it is going to implement one of its controversial campaign promises – payment of
N5,000 monthly stipends to poor Nigerians.

You will recall that the party, which dethroned the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, at the 2015 general elections, had listed an unprecedented litany of 81 campaign pledges, of which this welfare stipend was number 15. It specifically states as follows: “Creation of a Social Welfare Programme, SWP, of at least five thousand naira (N5,000) that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians upon demonstration of their children’s enrolment in school and evidence of immunisation to help promote family stability”.

When the opposition PDP senators raised a motion some weeks ago, compelling the APC Federal Government to start implementing this campaign promise, their counterparts of the ruling party used their numerical majority to quash the motion, thus setting the public agitated as to whether the government was interested in carrying out its promise to Nigerians.

People feared that the APC might have backed out of this, like it has attempted to disown some of its other campaign pledges.

However, at another forum, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo reiterated the intention of the Federal Government to implement it. Wife of President
Muhammadu Buhari, Hajiya Aisha, called on the APC Federal Government to pay the money as promised.

The most recent indication that the SWP stipend is still very much on the cards was the announcement by the new Minister of Youth and Sports, Solomon Dalong, who, on a condolence visit to the National Chairman of the APC, Dr John Oyegun, disclosed that the N5,000 SWP stipend will be provided for in the 2016 federal budget, meaning
that the payment will start next year.

The imminence of this programme is now beyond question, so it seems. But the “how” and “wherefore” of it are very hazy. Questions are waiting to be answered if this programme is going to work at this juncture of our queasy economic standing.

Number one: WHO are the beneficiaries of this programme? Who are these “25 million poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians” and HOW do you determine it? This alone is going to cause a lot of trouble unless it is properly addressed.

The World Bank, in 2014, put the number of “poor” Nigerians (those living on about two US Dollars or below a day) conservatively at 58 million people. Vice President Osinbajo, however, paints a gloomier picture of the situation.

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When a delegation of the Alumni Association of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, NIPSS, paid him a courtesy visit in his office at the State House Abuja. Osinbajo who (like his party) likes to dramatise the “parlous” state of affairs that this administration inherited from the last regime, said that 110 million Nigerians are living below the poverty line.

This was a rehash of the 2008/2009 figure published by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, NBS, which the World Bank figures of 2014 had adjusted to 58 million.

Whether it is the World Bank’s 58 million or Osinbajo’s 110 million, the truth is that the APC’s 25 million target for payment of the stipend is a far cry from the number of Nigerians waiting to collect it.

If you give the stipend to some and leave out the others, that is a recipe for disaster.

You will be creating a problem where none existed, all in the name of winning an election.

Now, let us look more closely at APC’s 25 million people. Contrary to popular expectations that this “windfall” is targeted at “the unemployed youth”, the APC says it will be paid to the poor who show evidence of enrolling their children in school and presenting them for vaccination. In other words, the beneficiaries must be parents (whether married or single, I presume).

If you have no child to show evidence of school enrolment and vaccination you may not qualify, unless, of course, the government decides to waive the proviso.

Obviously, this campaign promise had the intention of encouraging the section of the country with high rates of out-ofschool children and reluctance to embrace vaccination in mind – the North East and North West. It is also in these areas that people get married and start having children even as unemployed youth, mendicant, disabled or destitute citizens.

The noble intention of encouraging more people in these areas to send their children to school and get them vaccinated cannot be overlooked. The hallmark of a sound government policy is that they are used to solve problems in society. But where you pay this stipend only to married people ignoring the unmarried, unemployed youth struggling to cope with poverty, two unsavoury outcomes are inevitable.

Number one is that those excluded because they are not married will be up in arms.

Number two is that the youth who are living in unemployment and poverty might be encouraged to become parents in order to qualify for the stipend, thus perpetuating poverty.

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Now comes the next question: Will the APC Federal Government also provide free education to the children of these desperately poor parents? Or will they (the parents) be expected to pay for the children’s school bills from this paltry sum?

More questions. Where will the government get this huge amount from at a time that governors are trying to back out of paying the minimum wage to their workers due to lack of funds? My layman’s math tells me the Federal Government will need a hefty N1.5 trillion annually to offset the bill.

This is more than the amount that former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government paid as fuel subsidy in 2013. Some people will argue with sentiment and say why not?

If trillions can be spent to enrich a few members of the petroleum “cabal”, why worry about a welfare programme for the poor? The difference is that while the subsidy actually enriches the “cabal” the stipend will merely tranquilise the poor while keeping them poor. Few will be able to ride on their N5,000 out of poverty.

If this amount of money is available to be doled out, why not put it into policies that will multiply benefits and actually give the more enterprising jobless a chance to escape poverty?

Why not invest it in agriculture and associated value chain, mining, real estate, capacity building, entrepreneurship training and entrenchment, infrastructure and such other areas that create gainful employment on a massive scale? Why give fish to the “poorest and most vulnerable” Nigerians rather than teach them how to fish? Why foist this form of undignifying dependency on our youth?

The APC Federal Government is really confusing us with their conflicting signals.

The President is shouting it on the rooftops of world capitals that the country is “broke” and unable to pay its ministers, but his VP and one of the ministers are telling us that implementation of this controversial and improperly chewed Social Welfare Programme that will gulp trillions annually is around the corner. I smell trouble.

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