JUST BEFORE THEY SHARE THAT $800 MILLION WORLD BANK LOAN

By Dr. Simeon Igbinedion

Arguably, one of the ways the government of President Buhari passionately cares for the poorest of the poor Nigerians is by distributing money to them. The government did so with part of Abacha loot repatriated to the country by Switzerland and with COVID-19 funds. And now the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has graciously announced another round of naira distribution to 50 million vulnerable Nigerians. The money is to be sourced from the $800 million World Bank grant (nay, loan) intended to alleviate the pain that would be associated with fuel subsidy removal around the middle of this year.

Those who are moved by sight would easily credit this government with rare benevolence for its communitarian consideration for the vulnerable in our world that has been ravaged by capitalist ideology. But some introspection would reveal the hollowness of the government’s so-called commitment to helping the poor. By the way, it is worth noting that this government is one which, despite its electoral promises, failed to revamp our decrepit refineries, the government on whose watch the pump price per litre of fuel skyrocketed from N97 to the current N185, and the government whose departure from office is less than 6 weeks away. Perhaps most important is the fact that the subsidy removal is scheduled to commence around June 2023, that is, when its successor would have assumed power.

But who are these vulnerable, poorest of the poor Nigerians?

In 2016, during the tripartite negotiation for Swiss return of the last tranche of Abacha loot of $322.5 million, President Buhari requested that the money be added to the pool of resources (including the N500 million credit facility from the World Bank) it earmarked for investment and distribution as part of its National Social Investments Programmes (NSIP) meant to generally tackle poverty and hunger across the country and specifically to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women. Some of NSIP sub-programmes include, inter alia, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme.

The government had under the CCT programme disbursed Abacha loot and COVID-19 funds through the medium of National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO) to beneficiaries whose names are in the National Social Register (NSR). The NSR is said to be a record of vulnerable or the poorest of the poor Nigerians rendered so eligible by reason of their biodata, vocation, educational qualification, and access to social amenities, roads, potable water, toilet facilities, dwelling places, etc. A spokesperson for the brains behind the NSR talked gleefully about how his team created a register – the largest in the world – vulnerable Nigerians as if the country has ceased to be the poverty capital of the world.

Although the parameters for enlisting people into the register appear to be reasonable, using the register as a basis for distributing our collective patrimony is unconscionable for so many reasons. First, it fails to reflect the harsh reality of those whose economic misfortunes have risen astronomically because of the government’s general mismanagement of the economy and pauperisation of Nigerians through its failure to effectively alleviate the misery associated with prohibitive costs of basic goods and services, COVID-19 lockdown, Naira Redesign Policy, etc. Such governmental failure has created a large army of vulnerable persons that the NSR fail to capture. Second, utilizing the register as a reference point in the distribution of resources tends to reward poverty and punish industry. Plausibly, those in the NSR became eligible because of so many reasons including the uneconomic decisions they might have taken in bygone years. Meanwhile, there are their counterparts who have become relatively better off because they were more economical and prudent. In as much as it is appropriate to help the former, it is inequitable for the NSR to freeze the economic fate of the latter. Does the government realise that the rich also cry, that there is no more middle class in Nigeria, that we have become a country of miserably and intolerably poor citizens?
In the third place, through the NSR, the government appears to be embarking on a mission of wealth redistribution. But it sounds more like robbing Peter to pay Paul. Quite unlike Robin Hood who stole from the rich to distribute to the poor, the government is by means of the NSR taking from a part of the family of the poor to another part of the same family. Although the government describes such payments as a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, it is inequitable to the excluded save the clan of the few politicians and their hangers-on whose wealth increase proportionately to the poverty of the rest of us. In any case, it is worrisome that all these are happening in a supposed capitalist economy where hard work has its reward.
Moreover, the idea of distributing capital for feeding Nigerians is appalling. It is tolerable for such money to be channelled towards skill acquisition but a policy that promotes the consumption of capital is a prodigal blueprint for mortgaging our future. Therefore, while it was quite apt to share from COVID-19 funds, it was ridiculous to have distributed Abacha loot to poor households. And now it is preposterous to earmark the World Bank loan for another round of distribution.

Significantly, there are no verifiable records to demonstrate government’s adherence to the rules of transparency and accountability in the previous distributions. Notably, for example, during COVID-19 lockdown when children or wards were with their parents or guardians, school children were still being fed under the Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF)! When one looks around, it is inescapable to conclude that the government’s mantra of commitment to transparency and accountability in the handling of collective resources is a ruse. Some exemplars: fuel subsidy payments, remittances from the NNPC, crude oil theft, President Buhari’s government’s borrowing of about $73 billion with the imprimatur of a rubber stamp Lawan-led Senate, etc. And we are talking of a government that was catapulted to power because of its claim of antagonism to corruption. I think Nigerians deserve a break.

In view of the out-going government’s opaque handling of our resources, especially the mountainous debts it has acquired for the present and successive generations of Nigerians, one would have expected the World Bank to be more circumspect in advancing further credit facility to it. But the World Bank could not have acted otherwise based on its questionable pedigree. Afterall, was it not the institution in conjunction with the IMF and the West that continued to fund African governments with dismally poor human rights records, ignoble democratic habits and intolerably kleptocratic manipulation of our wealth to the detriment of African citizens?

The government’s audacity in negotiating a loan amidst its insensitive handling of ways to create the enabling environment for the country to be able to refine much of its crude oil is outrageous and ought to be a wake up call for everyone including civil society, labour, National Assembly, etc to do whatever is necessary to make the executive branch of government think right. If to take the loan we must then the funds must be properly channelled towards ventures that would equitably benefit Nigerians. Enough of the patrimonial and inequitable sharing of our collective resources!
Dr. Igbinedion is an Associate Professor in the Department of Jurisprudence & International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.

They want to perpetrate our servitude or make us objects of history. Below the poverty line, made much more so by governmental policies that dispossess Nigerians of their meagre earnings? There are parlous conditions that would enlist Nigerians therein. More still to come. Fortunes are plummeting parlous economic reality of those who are daily falling from grace to grass simply because they still manage to manifest some vestiges of their past economic glory, by reason of governmental failure to efficiently manage COVID-19 lockdown, Naira Redesign Policy, etc. These circumstances have created a large army of vulnerable persons that the NSR fail to include.
What does the system have for the latter whose fortunes are dwindling everyday? Was it inapt for the latter to have been more prudent? But the focus of the government on the vulnerable has left him behind. The government is not looking at the fact that the harsh economy has also dealt a big blow on him.

We have acquired so much debt in opaque circumstances . Consultancy fee.

aims to deliver school feeding to young children with a specific focus on increasing school enrollment, reducing the incidence of malnutrition (especially among the poor and those ordinarily unable to eat a meal-a-day), empowering community women as cooks and by supporting small farmers that help stimulate economic growth.

N-power programme, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programme, Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) and Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF). On paper, these programmes are laudable but what or where is the report thereon? Where is the physical return on investment?

Do a programme that will benefit all,
The social investment includes the scheme of conditional cash transfer to the most vulnerable Nigerians who have been identified and documented in National Social Register (NSR) as “the poorest of the poor” Nigerians…..

The Federal Government of Nigeria 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. Since 2016, these programmes combined have supported more than 4 million beneficiaries country-wide through a fair and transparent process supported by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning (MBNP) and other notable MDAs with aligned goals.
In view of the way and manner Abacha and his criminal organisation plundered our treasury and the stress and strain Nigeria went through in the hands of the custodial states before we won the Pyrrhic victory in getting back a fraction of the loot, no part of the recovered funds ought to go into recurrent expenditure. Rather, such funds were supposed to be ploughed into dedicated capital legacy projects that would tell a brief story of the evil or criminality of the loot and the morale of why history should not repeat itself. But on the directive of the President, some people were meant to eat our capital.

Then when COVID-19 pandemic necessitated the lockdown of people’s lives and businesses, the government initially had no intention to ameliorate the pain on the citizens despite the funds and assets it was receiving from within and abroad. It was the outcry of Nigerians that jolted the government to do something. And in doing so it dusted up the National Social Register and used it as a template to distribute palliatives in form of conditional cash payments to the vulnerable.

There are matters arising from the distribution of our assets to the vulnerable In these two epochs (sharing of Abacha loot and COVID-19 funds distribution) transparency and accountability has been lacking. It is worth emphasizing because for a government that rode to power on the crest of antagonism to corruption to ignore these critical elements of assets management it should be taken to say what it does not mean. And the traces of these manifest in payments revolving around fuel subsidy, turn around maintenance of our refineries, etc.

My main worry is in the lack of transparency, accountability and equity in including the names of eligible Nigerians in the register. First the poverty rate should be known. Second, the government’s mismanagement of funds and assets associated with COVID-19 pandemic, the monumental losses that Nigerians sustained as a result of the government’s gargantuan failure in implementing the Naira Redesign Policy and other economic policies that have worsened the financial fortunes of Nigerians have increased the rank and file of the poor in Nigeria. So poverty is relative and dynamic. So what are the parameters for preparing that register. And why should amelioration be done by the sharing money?

In his second broadcast, the President announced the increase of beneficiaries of cash transfers from 2.6 million households (comprising about 11 million people) to 3.6 households. It is bad enough that modalities for mapping out or identifying households that belong to the league of the poorest of the poor remain opaque, nebulous and controversial. It is worse that the government still relies on it to make payments within the context of COVID-19 pandemic. Instructively, the figure of 3.6 million is a far cry from the 89 million Nigerians entrapped by poverty. Therefore, the government effort to increase the number of beneficiaries is highly unimpressive. Also, it is worth recalling that the modalities for the inclusion of persons into the social register were quite unclear. The Presidential statement as to the addition of 1 million households gives the impression that the creation of the register is arbitrary, subjective and vulnerable to manipulation. It becomes worrisome against the background of the fact that the President has, by his conduct over time, left no one in doubt that his official conduct is swayed more by his primordial roots than any nationalistic feelings.
Again, it is important to note the government’s frequent use of the term ‘vulnerable’ to describe those eligible for palliatives. The term is highly subjective. Perhaps in demonstration of its inability to devise an objective or a fairer means of paying palliatives, it simply relied on the NSR and approximates the most vulnerable to the “poorest of the poor.” But does the government refer to the word within the context of pre-lockdown or during lockdown? If it is the former, there may be less argument about the identity of the vulnerable. But if it in the sense of the latter, then the meaning or description of the term ought to change in order to reflect the fact that the lockdown has made many people, who were hitherto outside the radar of vulnerability, vulnerable. According to WHO, “vulnerability is the degree to which a population, individual or organization is unable to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of disasters.” Eranga explains that vulnerability arises when an individual is unable to cater for himself/herself or family as a result of a prevailing situation he/she is being faced with and therefore concludes that the vulnerable would necessarily include persons who have been asked to remain indoors; lost their jobs; locked behind bars; and those having health challenges, etc. Therefore, it is patently unfair for the government to denominate or delimit vulnerability by reference only to the pre-pandemic circumstances of the “poorest of the poor.”

Such context was clarified when he made his second broadcast (extending the lockdown) on 13 April 2020. Therein, he, inter alia, said that:
I have also directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks. This means we will support an additional one million homes with our social investment programs. A technical committee is working on this and will submit a report to me by the end of this week.

In 2016, during the tripartite negotiation for Swiss return of the last tranche of Abacha loot of $322.5 million, President Buhari requested that the money be utilized for social investment. The social investment includes the scheme of conditional cash transfer to the most vulnerable Nigerians who have been identified and documented in National Social Register (NSR) as “the poorest of the poor” Nigerians. However, on the occasion of the lockdown amidst the outcry of Nigerians for lifeline supplies from the government, the government which had no intention to fulfil its duty to cater for the welfare needs of Nigerians decided to make Nigeria believe it was doing something: it passed off conditional cash payments to the vulnerable which began in 2016 as payments to persons rendered vulnerable by the lockdown associated with COVID-19 pandemic. It was a smart but ambivalent way to play on the intelligence of the people.
Nevertheless, on 1 April 2020, following the presidential directive, the humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq, said that the government has commenced immediate conditional cash transfer of N20,000 to the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country.
In his second broadcast, the President announced the increase of beneficiaries of cash transfers from 2.6 million households (comprising about 11 million people) to 3.6 households. It is bad enough that modalities for mapping out or identifying households that belong to the league of the poorest of the poor remain opaque, nebulous and controversial. It is worse that the government still relies on it to make payments within the context of COVID-19 pandemic. Instructively, the figure of 3.6 million is a far cry from the 89 million Nigerians entrapped by poverty. Therefore, the government effort to increase the number of beneficiaries is highly unimpressive. Also, it is worth recalling that the modalities for the inclusion of persons into the social register were quite unclear. The Presidential statement as to the addition of 1 million households gives the impression that the creation of the register is arbitrary, subjective and vulnerable to manipulation. It becomes worrisome against the background of the fact that the President has, by his conduct over time, left no one in doubt that his official conduct is swayed more by his primordial roots than any nationalistic feelings.
Again, it is important to note the government’s frequent use of the term ‘vulnerable’ to describe those eligible for palliatives. The term is highly subjective. Perhaps in demonstration of its inability to devise an objective or a fairer means of paying palliatives, it simply relied on the NSR and approximates the most vulnerable to the “poorest of the poor.” But does the government refer to the word within the context of pre-lockdown or during lockdown? If it is the former, there may be less argument about the identity of the vulnerable. But if it in the sense of the latter, then the meaning or description of the term ought to change in order to reflect the fact that the lockdown has made many people, who were hitherto outside the radar of vulnerability, vulnerable. According to WHO, “vulnerability is the degree to which a population, individual or organization is unable to anticipate, cope with, resist and recover from the impacts of disasters.” Eranga explains that vulnerability arises when an individual is unable to cater for himself/herself or family as a result of a prevailing situation he/she is being faced with and therefore concludes that the vulnerable would necessarily include persons who have been asked to remain indoors; lost their jobs; locked behind bars; and those having health challenges, etc. Therefore, it is patently unfair for the government to denominate or delimit vulnerability by reference only to the pre-pandemic circumstances of the “poorest of the poor.”

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