RE: THOUGHTS ON THE NATIONAL SOCIAL INVESTMENT PROGRAMMES [NSIPs]
This piece of writing has become imperative due to the ambiguities arising from the implementation of NSIPs and to address specific parts of the recent correspondences between the leadership of the National Assembly and Mrs. Maryam Uwais who headed the NSIO from 2016 to 2019 when it was handed over to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. Mrs. Uwais is now the Special Advisor to President Buhari on Social Investments.
Broadly, there are four  National Social Investment Programmes [NSIP] established in 2016 under the National Social Investment Office [NSIO] supervised by the Office of the Vice President now managed by the National Social Safety-Net Coordinating Office (NASSCO) — under the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. They include; The N-power programme (N-Power), The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), The Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), and The Home Grown School Feeding Programme (HGSF) — all of which are not "expressly" backed by any known law — and thus, subjecting their implementation to the whims of members of the executive and legislative branches of government.
The following represent my position and concerns:
NEED FOR SPECIFIC AND ELABORATE LAW ENABLING THE NSIPs
While the combined effect of the provisions of Sections 3 and 15 of the Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education "UBEC" Act, 2004, including Chapter 2.4 of the National School Health Policy, 2006 gives "vague" statutory enablement to the Home Grown School Feeding Programmes, this enablement is, however, weak.
More so, a policy is not a law and in most cases, serves as a prelude to a law. Policies are merely directives, guides and plan of action of a government or its ministry, department or agency [MDA]. It does not have the binding force of a law and does not create enforceable rights and obligations in the social contract.
Hence, for the programmes to achieve their aims of economic inclusion and stimulation, there is a dire need for an express, specific and elaborate, enabling law(s) for the programmes. Either individually or collectively.
This necessary action would not only remedy the aforementioned legal lacuna but will also entrench transparency and accountability in accordance with global best practices on social intervention schemes.
CONDITIONAL RELEASE OF PRIVATE INFORMATION "BENEFICIARY IDENTITIES"
This is, perhaps, the most controversial of the four programmes. This programme has attracted overwhelming media and public scrutiny especially during this COVID-19 pandemic where the programme has been broadened to allegedly reach more poor and vulnerable people who would be worse hit by the economic effects of the pandemic — by handing out cash to the tune of N20,000.00.
It is true, as stated by Mrs. Uwais, that Section 14[a] of the Freedom of Information Act prohibits the disclosure of personal information "identities" of persons who are beneficiaries of the social grant. However, this provision is not absolute. It is subject to:
- Consent of the beneficiaries - S. 14[a] - begs the question where consent can be sought and obtained by the public in this context.
- Where the information is publicly available - S. 14[b]
- Overriding public interest - S. 14
Even though the Freedom of information act and the Interpretation Act does not define Public Interest, the Blacks Law Dictionary, 10th Edition, Pg. 1425 defines "Public Interest" as;
- The general welfare of a populace considered as warranting recognition and protection.
- Something in which the public as a whole has a stake; esp., an interest that justifies governmental regulation.
From the second definition, there is no doubt that the Nigerian public as a whole has a stake in the NSIPs operating on public fund. There is a national outcry for transparency of the scheme. Hence, the public necessity for disclosure outweighs that for non-disclosure.
Furthermore, pursuant to the aforementioned S.14[a], it is no different from beneficiaries of government scholarships and other services which are publicly ascertainable. An example is the Lagos State Scholarship Board that publishes the names and details of scholarship beneficiaries on its website. Alternatively, the details of these CCT beneficiaries should be made available for inspection at the local government level. These methods build public confidence and trust in the process, and entrenches transparency.
PUBLIC AVAILABILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY OF THE ENABLING FINANCE AGREEMENT AND MOU
From our findings, it appears that the Finance Agreement and MoU between Nigeria, the World Bank and the Swiss Government which, inter alia, sets the terms and conditions for the release and utilisation of the World Bank Credit and recovered Abacha loot which are used to fund the Programme(s) are not in the public domain.
It is imperative that details of these documents be in the public domain to enable Nigerians better understand the arrangement, trust and support the process, and constructively engage.
PROCEDURE FOR PUBLIC ACCESSIBILITY OF THE DATABASE FOR POOR AND VULNERABLE HOUSEHOLDS OR NATIONAL SOCIAL REGISTER
The National Social Safety Nets Coordinating Office (NASSCO) under the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs which has the mandate of building a database for poor and vulnerable households through a tripartite process, and coordinates social protection programs in Nigeria posted on its official Twitter handle on April 7th, 2020 that; "The National Social Register is available to be mined for #COVID19 response measures targeting the poor and vulnerable…"
I, however, could not ascertain nor access this Database as have been purportedly made public by NASSCO.
May I also remind Mrs. Uwais and every stakeholder that Section 2[C][V] of the Freedom of Information Act mandates a public institution to publish - "information relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds of the institution".
Hence, one cannot claim obligatory absolution from one section of the law (as done by Mrs. Uwais) yet turn a blind eye to another section of the same law that mandates that obligation in furtherance of democratic tenets. Perhaps, this would be better left in the confines of a judicial review and indubitably, further underscores the dire need for an express legislative remedy by the National Assembly.
It is noteworthy that while I seek for a more transparent and accountable polity; I do not, however, seek to jeopardise the rights, safety and privacy of these indigent persons which may result from making their identities unduly publicized or politicised. Nevertheless, I hope that a framework that makes the identities of the CCT beneficiaries publicly yet securely verifiable and ascertainable are developed.
Finally, I wish to sternly caution against undue political interference, breach of the contractual sanctity and integrity of the NSIP scheme which may compromise the true, welfarist purpose of the scheme. I, however, call for progressive reforms that strengthen the scheme, especially the antiquated CCT which leaves little or no accountability trail, as this would ultimately and firmly set Nigeria on the path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
In conclusion, it is crucial that all relevant stakeholders key into a strengthened, transparent and socially auditable NSIPs in furtherance of building public trust, enhancing public service delivery, curbing fake news, entrenching transparency and accountability and ensuring thatthe growing inequality and poverty is reversed. I hope that a thorough investigation and public hearing into the implementation of the NSIPs and fund disbursements are conducted post-COVID-19, and findings made public.