Cash crunch threatens Buhari’s N500bn social protection scheme

The reduction in Federal Government’s revenue caused by the sharp drop in global oil price is currently threatening the full implementation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned social protection programme,SATURDAY PUNCH has learnt.

A whopping N500bn was allocated to the programme that has six components in the 2016 budget. The sum is about 9 per cent of the Federal Government’s N6.06tn budget.

An office headed by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection Plan, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, was also created in the Office of the Vice-President for the purpose of implementing the plan which formed a major part of the All Progressives Congress’ campaign promises ahead of the 2015 presidential election.

The schemes under the social protection plan are the Micro-Credit Scheme; Teach Nigeria Scheme; the Youth Employment Agency; Conditional Cash Transfer; Home Grown School Feeding and Free Education Scheme for Science Students.

Four months to the end of the year however, SATURDAY PUNCH’s investigation showed that the programme has yet to take off fully except for “preliminary works”.

It was also learnt that only about N20bn has been cash-backed out of the N500bn budgeted for the scheme.

A government official, who spoke with our correspondent on Friday on condition of anonymity, admitted that the drop in government’s revenue “is a huge challenge to the programme.”

Speaking specifically on the Conditional Cash Transfer programme that is designed for government to be paying N5,000 monthly to one million extremely poor Nigerians, the official said arrangements were already at advanced stage.

“We are almost through with our preparations for the scheme to take off. The only thing left is for money to come in. This is why we have not announced when it will start,” the source said.

He said to demonstrate its commitment to the cash transfer programme, the government decided to prioritise the scheme and the development of infrastructure.

He added that while money has been released for infrastructure, the scheme was still awaiting funding.

When reminded that there are only four months left in the year, the source noted that the National Assembly recently approved a full year cycle for the implementation of the budget.

This, he explained, means that since the 2016 budget was signed into law in May, the government will continue to implement the budget till May 2017.

He also explained that although one million people are expected to benefit from the scheme across the country, it would be implemented in phases.

He said the scheme will first take off in 10 states.

In identifying prospective beneficiaries, he said the government was working with the World Bank to create a social register.

He said the plan was to identify four poorest local governments in the states.

The source said beneficiaries would be considered based on the condition that they have children enrolled in school and are immunised.

Efforts to get the reaction of the Office of the Vice-President did not yield result as of the time of filing this report on Tuesday.

But the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said the programme was on course.

Adeosun, who spoke with our correspondent through her spokesman, Mr. Festus Akanbi, however said the N500bn allocated to the scheme could not be released at once.

“The programme is on course. However, the Federal Government should not be expected to release all N500bn in one fell swoop,” he said.

It will be recalled that the House of Representatives had recently taken the government to task on the N500bn earmarked for the scheme.

The House Committee on Legislative Budget/Research and the Committee on Poverty Alleviation queried the non-utilisation of the “huge budget” at a meeting with Uwais.

The lawmakers said they were concerned especially that the year would wind down in about four months.

They said they had observed that the N500bn remained “idle” amid increasing socio-economic pressures on the would-be beneficiaries.

The Chairman, Committee on Legislative Budget/Research, Mr. Golu Timothy, told Uwais that it appeared that her office was overwhelmed by the size of the N500bn and was facing challenges rolling out plans for the implementation.

But, Uwais called for patience as she responded to the queries raised by the lawmakers.

She told the session that a lot of preliminary work and discussions with the various state governments had been done on how the programmes would be executed.

She promised that the programmes would take off fully in September.

Under the Micro-Credit component of the social protections programme, government plans to grant a one-time soft loan of about N60,000 each to one million market women, men and artisans.

This component is expected to gulp about N60bn.

Under the Teach Nigeria Scheme, the Federal Government plans to hire 500,000 graduates as teachers. The process of selecting the beneficiaries that will be trained and deployed to beef up the quality of teachers in public schools across the nation is ongoing.

Under the Youth Employment Agency, between 300,000 and 500,000 non-graduate youths will be taken through skills acquisition programmes and vocational training, for which they would be paid stipends during the training.

The Homegrown School Feeding is expected to cater for public primary school pupils as one decent and nutritious meal per day would be provided for them. The pilot scheme was planned to take off this year.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on June 9 inaugurated the programme which will benefit about 5.5m primary school pupils in the first year of its operation.

According to an overview of the scheme presented at the inauguration, the plan runs till 2020 and forms the cornerstone of the nationwide Home Grown School Feeding programme which when fully realised, would provide a meal a day to over 24 million primary school children.