Kamardeen Ogundele, Olalekan Adetayo, Success Nwogu, Kayode Idowu andArmstrong Bakam
The hope of the poorest and most vulnerable to experience a change in their standard of living since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari in May 2015 may have been dashed, following an alleged hijack of the Federal Government’s monthly stipend meant for them.
The Presidency had two weeks ago announced the payment of the stipends to the poor through the Conditional Cash Transfer of its Social Investment Programmes.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, who disclosed this, explained that under the CCT, one million Nigerians would receive the stipend as a form of social safety net.
Akande said the exercise had commenced with the first batch of beneficiaries from three out of nine states the pilot scheme would cover already collecting the money.
Under the arrangement, he explained that Borno, Kwara and Bauchi states had started paying the money, while beneficiaries in Cross River, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti states would smile soon.
However, investigations by SUNDAY PUNCH correspondents in Borno, Kwara and Bauchi showed that top politicians were the ones choosing people to benefit from the scheme.
Potential beneficiaries also alleged during separate interviews with our correspondents that they were not carried along, despite the fact that they fall within the catchment area.
Also, contrary to widespread belief that the N5,000 will be shared per person, the administrators of the scheme in Kwara were observed giving N5,000 to an entire household.
In Kwara, government had said 10,700 ‘households’ were currently benefitting from the first phase of the programme in the state.
But two factional Chairmen of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state, Mr. Iyiola Oyedepo and Mr. Sunday Fagbemi, said they were not aware that anybody or any of their party members had got the stipends.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Kwara State Governor on Media and Communication, Dr. Muyideen Akorede, however, insisted that 12 local government areas were participating in the first phase, while the remaining four LGAs would be considered for the second phase.
Akorede said the Kwara State Government was fully involved in selecting the beneficiaries.
He said the selection process was based on data collected for the World Bank-supported Youth Employment and Social Support Operation, where each community identified those considered as poor.
But Oyedepo said he was not aware that the payment had commenced in the state, adding that PDP was not carried along in the selection of the beneficiaries.
Expressing a similar opinion, Fagbemi said, “I have not heard of a single fellow from PDP that benefitted from such. The scheme should be for everybody.”
According to the state government, beneficiaries in the 12 councils of Asa, Ilorin West, Ilorin East, Ilorin South, Oke-Ero, Isin, Ifelodun, Offa, Edu, Patigi, Kaiama and Moro, have started benefitting from the scheme.
But some indigenes of Offa said they were not aware of the stipends being paid.
Among those who spoke on the issue with one of our correspondents were a 40-year-old commercial motorcycle rider, Omoboriola Abiodun; a 52-year-old petty trader, Mrs. Yusuf Adijatu; a 62-year-old grinding machine operator, Mrs. Lydia Oladele; a 50-year-old bread seller, Mrs. Racheal Olayemi; a 55-year-old bread seller, Mrs. Taibat Omojasola; and a 54-year-old motorcycle rider, Mr. Musliu Rahman.
Rahman said, “I have not heard of the scheme or the payment. I am not aware of any list of poor people in Offa. I don’t think poor people in Offa have received it and I have not been contacted by anybody over the payment of any stipend.”
A recharge card seller at the Muritala Muhammed Way, Ilorin, also stated that he had not benefitted from the scheme.
Likewise, a foodstuff seller at Oja-Oba (market), Mrs. Sadikat Monruf, and a street trader, Saka, said they had not been contacted by any government official concerning the scheme and that none of them had received any stipend.
The situation got worse in Borno State as top politicians, including a prominent member of the Senate and a highly placed presidency official from the state, disagreed openly over the beneficiary list.
Few persons were said to have collected the stipend shortly before payment was suspended following a ‘fight’ between the two politicians.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that a manual social register was generated for the scheme which gave room for manipulation.
A top government official, on condition of anonymity, said, “It was the pressure mounted on the state government by the two political gladiators that made us settle for manual registration.”
Efforts to get the reaction of the state government failed as calls made to both the mobiles of the Secretary to the State Government, Usman Shuwa, and the Commissioner for Information, Dr. Mohammed Bulama, were not responded to as of the time of filing the report.
A social activist, Mr. Grema Terab, complained that the administration of the scheme was faulty from the initial stage in Borno.
He said, “The whole exercise was faulty from the inception in Borno; there was no way for many to be registered as there was no formal registration office or centre.
“The state was only able to initially register 6,000 out of its quota of 13,000 due to complacency on the part of those given the task of handling the registration.
“People have no easy access to the form as it was politicised by the coordinators in the state.
“There was no clear information on what they (the applicants) should do or how to go about it was given.”
Many Maiduguri residents also expressed dissatisfaction with the manner in which the scheme was being carried out in the state.
A resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “My name is on the register but I’ve not received payment. When some of us that had not been paid made enquiries last week, we were told we had a problem with our registration.”
Another resident, who also craved anonymity, asked the Federal Government to stop politicians from interfering with the beneficiaries’ list.
He said, “I am aware that two big politicians determined the list and with this, the real poor people won’t benefit. The government officials will keep the money and give out peanuts to those who go to their house.”
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that the payment of the N5,000 monthly stipend had yet to commence in Bauchi State, contrary to the presidency’s claims.
The Special Assistant to the Bauchi State Governor on Development Partners and Non-Governmental Organisations, Manu Soro, however, said his office had received confirmation from the Federal Government that the money had been disbursed to the state accounts.
He stated that 10,800 beneficiaries drawn from 12 out of the 20 local government areas had been captured in the scheme.
“We have received confirmation from the office of the Social Safety Net that payment has been effected by the Federal Government to the Interbank settlement system for onward transmission to the government-approved bank, which is Guaranty Trust Bank.
“Biometrics are being concluded and as soon as the internal processes in GTBank are concluded, beneficiaries will receive their money. Any moment from now, these funds will be available for them to access.”
Asked how the list was drawn, Manu said the state used a National Poverty Map as a guide to draw up the list.
He said officials carefully selected by the government went round the communities to get the list of the vulnerable and poor people.
He said, “The state Planning Commission, through the State Coordinating Unit, was saddled with the responsibility of generating what is called ‘single social register,’ which was generated in collaboration with the World Bank officials in the state.”
The Special Adviser denied allegations that only APC members were being considered for the scheme, stating that all those who qualified, irrespective of party affiliations, would benefit.
“We have no political interference in this scheme,” he said.
However, a stalwart of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in Bauchi State, Yusuf Alkaleri, who spoke to our correspondent on the phone, said PDP members were not considered for the scheme.
He said the members were shocked to hear that the list had already been drawn.
He said, “To be very honest with you, no PDP member who is poor and vulnerable has been captured to benefit from this scheme.
“All we know is that a list was drawn and taken to President Buhari and he approved it. We didn’t know when they drew the list because it was done secretly. We don’t even know how it was drawn. They’ve made it an APC affair.”
A cross-section of poor and homeless people in the state capital told SUNDAY PUNCH that only people with links to politicians were beneficiaries of the stipend.
One of them, Abdu Hassan, said, “It is for only people who are connected to influential politicians. I have no salary, no pension, nothing. When I heard of the policy, I was happy because I felt I would enjoy it, but unfortunately, it was not so.”
Another respondent, Datua Manga, said, “I looked for the form to fill so I can be enrolled but didn’t get. I went to the National Identity Management Commission office three different times hoping that I will get the form but my efforts were fruitless.”
As of Friday morning, over 700 out of the 3,600 beneficiaries on the list had received the N5,000 monthly stipend in Ekiti State, according to the Special Assistant to Governor Ayodele Fayose on New Media and Public Communications, Mr. Lere Olayinka.
But the state Commissioner for Information, Youths and Sports, Mr. Lanre Ogunsuyi, faulted the list being used by the Federal Government to pay the money, and insisted that it was different from that compiled two years ago by the World Bank.
Besides, he said, anyone operating a bank account should not be categorised as a poor person which the scheme was meant for.
According to him, the programme is bereft of definition and is deceitful as to who is qualified.
“It is highly politicised by the federal agencies handling it. The first set of states that qualified did so because they have a social register. But in the case of Ekiti, they jettisoned the social register.
“They are compiling their own list in the air. The modus operandi is also faulty because you can’t have a bank account if you are indeed poverty stricken. It is spurious that through out 2016 the Federal Government did not commit money to the scheme even after withdrawing from the account.
The people receiving the money are not the same people compiled by the World Bank; probably their names were compiled in a political meeting. It is possible that somebody benefiting from the state social scheme will still benefit from the Federal Government’s N5,000.
“We have 10,000 people benefitting under the state scheme with data capture and finger printing. We see their faces and pay them by hand. Whoever has a bank account cannot qualify to be a poor person because keeping a bank account pre-supposes you are saving some money for future needs.”
We’re using Jonathan’s register for disbursement – Presidency
The Presidency insisted that the disbursement of the fund was not designed to benefit only members of the ruling All Progressives Congress.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said this in an interview with one of our correspondents.
Akande said the social registers being used to determine beneficiaries in the states were prepared about three years ago, “long before the inception of the present administration.”
He said, “The CCT was not designed with partisan consideration. The social registers being used were prepared by the World Bank about three years ago.
“We understand that some Nigerians will doubt the government’s intention because of their past experiences.”
Akande also disclosed that money had been released for all the nine states that were pencilled down for the pilot scheme of the programme.
The states are Borno, Kwara, Bauchi, Cross River, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti.
He said the current challenge in some states was how beneficiaries without Bank Verification Numbers would be able to access the fund.
He however said arrangements were being made with banks to ensure that the money got to the beneficiaries irrespective of where they reside.