The All Progressives Congress has cornered itself on the issue of N5,000 stipend to be paid to 25 million unemployed Nigerians; how the party intends to manipulate itself out of it without losing face will require more tricks than Harry Houdini. The party, in its manifesto, promised the sum as poverty alleviation of sorts but it is turning out to be a tale designed for the simple-minded voter. Anybody who has monitored electioneering knows that the only fairy tale that seduces adults starts with, “If I am elected…”
The Peoples Democratic Party, now on the other side of the divide, taunts the APC as the party faces looming shame over its own hastily crafted promises. Lately, the PDP lawmakers put forward a motion to insist the said sum be paid. This is none other than juvenile mischief. They want to watch their loud-mouthed opponents squirm in shame as they take a dose of their own propaganda medicine.
In a rather amusing plot twist, the APC was the one to resist its own agenda! Apparently to save face, the APC spokesman, now new Minister of Information, Lai Muhammed, insists they will fulfil the promise. How they intend to do this, considering that Nigeria’s dwindling revenues promise a bleak year ahead, nobody is sure.
In a piece I wrote earlier this year during the electioneering entitled, “The trouble with Buhari’s manifesto”, I pointed out the problems with the plans and projections of the APC candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. The ambitious manifesto, an upgrade of the one he ran with in 2011, presumed an unlimited supply of money; as if it was written with a pen independent of the hand that wielded it. The commitments were so many it was obvious the government would lose sight of most of them. Many of these promises were scattered in multiple directions; as I noted then, it would be easier to chase two rats than unify them into a coherent economic plan. A number of those ideas required humongous government spending on projects that are neither profitable nor regenerative.
For instance, we were told that there would be a N5,000 monthly conditional cash transfer to 25 million poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians. How is this possible in a country where the best we know of our own population is a guesstimate? How do you select the recipients? What are the indices for measuring degrees of poverty and vulnerability? Have they developed sophisticated systems for those yet or they will pay first and figure out the logistics later?
Some weeks after the article, Muhammed, in an interview, still insisted they would be paying the stipend. He said the party had projected it would save money if it blocked leakages and stopped corruption. Note that the source of the money was not planked on any certainty; they have yet to unfold this anti-corruption agenda that will bring in the profits they plan to spend on welfare programmes.
This year alone, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has reiterated that N5,000 promise no less than thrice as if that was the only thing in their manifesto. Lately, the First Lady, who prefers to be called simply, the Wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, pleaded with the APC to ensure they kept this promise. One wonders, why the fixation on the cash payout? Each time they insist on the N5,000, I am alarmed the way this “change” government is choosing populism over carefully considered or even practicable solutions. Why run an Almajiri government? Why not learn from the case of Osun State with all its free this and-that, that would eventually face huge embarrassment over unpaid salaries?
Giving welfare funds, I know, is not the worst idea ever. It is indeed desirable only that it requires good planning. Countries that have social welfare programmes are usually advanced enough to build sophisticated surveillance system to check abuse and corruption. In a country where leaders have no qualms throwing around unsubstantiated figures, how do we know who qualifies for “unemployment funds” or not? What constitutes unemployment in Nigeria? Have they defined it?
Before Nigeria begins to talk about cash transfer scheme, it is important to vigorously question why previous poverty alleviation schemes have failed to lift Nigerians out of poverty. Throwing more cash at a depressing poverty situation in Nigeria can only exacerbate things. Anyone who thinks a monthly allowance of N5,000 in Nigeria will empower Nigerians has already misdiagnosed the problem. Distributing such chicken feed is only a little improvement over Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose’s stomach infrastructure; handing out hungry-looking fowls to a people so poor they will peck at the remnants of their own dignity
For the APC, some unsolicited advice: they should rid themselves of their empty propaganda, salvage what is left of their integrity and get to work. In case they missed the news, this is something to obsess over: The same President Buhari who earlier claimed that fuel subsidy was a scam is the same one who just paid a humongous N413bn to sustain the same suspicious arrangement. How does he account for his Paul to Saul transformation? Should that not be what he should be discussing with Nigerians rather than mocking people with a paltry N5,000 that can barely solve anyone’s problems? Nigerians are not poor because of N5,000. They are poor because the country runs a defective system that empowers a few fat cats and their companion mongrels of power while millions are disadvantaged.
While there has been a lot of public attention on the N5,000, to the point that a group wants to take the government to court in a bid to force it to keep that promise to Nigerians, we should not forget that the APC/Buhari promised far more than the stipend. I am not sure why there is far more public awareness on the N5,000 pittance than the more important promises that the APC made and which they have been curiously silent on. Promises such as the N5,000 stipend, school feeding, allowances for the unemployed and the aged, are useless and impracticable considering Nigeria’s present situation.
They also promised to put in place “a N300bn Regional Growth Fund with an average of N50bn in each geopolitical zone to encourage private sector enterprise,” to boost the economy but given the situation of things, it is hard to tell how practicable that is for now.
Some of their ideas are, however, worthwhile and may still be realisable if the government sits up. One is the issue of federalism. The APC also promised accountability, transparency, openness and to fight corruption. They promised to sponsor amendments to remove the immunity clause and also to get local governments to publish their spending and performance. They promised to run an efficient government, a leaner one and improve GDP growth.
In the same manifesto, they also promised to “initiate policies to ensure that Nigerians are free to live and work in any part of the country by removing state of origin, tribe, ethnic and religious affiliations from documentation requirements in our identifications of citizens and replace these with State of Residence and fashion out the appropriate minimum qualification for obtaining such a state of residency, nationwide” (sic).
Buhari’s government has a lot of promises on education, health care, women empowerment, environment and almost every aspect of our national life. We should challenge him on the useful ones. The shortsighted fixation on the N5, 000 stipend that is highly unlikely to materialise is an erosion of our collective dignity.