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TINUBU’S NEW PALLIATIVE PLAN By Keem Abdul

Read Time:7 Minute, 32 Second

 

President Approves N50,000 Uplift Grant for Nigerian Families

 

It is difficult to say at this point whether President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s new palliative plan is the result of a Road-to-Damascus epiphany about the present state of the Nigerian nation and the fortunes of its people – or simply an admission that similar plans and schemes in the past had failed. Whatever it is, there is a palpable sense of deja vu about it. The average Nigerian might be forgiven for shrugging in scepticism as regards this new plan and saying, ‘I’ve seen this movie before.‘ It will be interesting to see how the administration intends to dispel the cynical attitude with which the average Nigerian has come to view government-initiated social welfare schemes of this sort. 

At issue is the announcement that President Tinubu had approved an uplift grant under the National Construction & Household Support Programme for 3.6 million Nigerian families. This initiative, the FG says, would deliver N50,000 to 100,000 families in each of the 36 states of the federation, plus the Abuja FCT, for three months.  According to Chief Ajuri Ngelale,  the presidential spokesman, this disbursement would occur over a three-month period – the objective being to boost agricultural productivity, strengthen the economy by creating opportunities in the real sectors of agriculture, manufacturing, and construction, as well as to provide urgent economic relief for Nigerians. Ngelale revealed that another N155 billion was earmarked for the purchase and distribution of assorted foodstuff across the nation to address concerns about food security and affordability.

According to him, the Programme would cover all geo-political zones in the country. Under it, the Sokoto-Badagry Highway, which will traverse Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Oyo, Ogun, and Lagos, is being prioritized. That project, the spokesman added, was especially prioritized for its importance, as some of the states it will traverse are strategic to the agricultural sustainability of the nation. Within that corridor, there are 216 agricultural communities, 58 large and medium dams spread across six states, seven Special Agro-Industrial Processing Zones (SAPZs), 156 local government areas, 39 commercial cities and towns, and over 1 million hectares of arable land. 

Also to enjoy top priority from the FG are the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway (which is currently underway) as well as the Trans-Saharan Highway linking Enugu, Abakaliki, Ogoja, Benue, Kogi, Nasarawa, and Abuja. 

In addition, the spokesman disclosed that other items under the National Construction and Household Support Programme, include:

  • A one-off allocation to states and the Federal Capital Territory of N10 billion for the procurement of buses and CNG (compressed natural gas) uplift programme; 
  •  Provision for labour unions and civil society organizations; and 
  • The deployment of N155 billion for the purchase and sale of assorted foodstuff to be distributed across the nation.

Ngelale’s disclosure follows the outcome of the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting held last Thursday in Abuja, at which President Tinubu also urged state Governors to work together to meet the needs of their citizens, stating that he was willing to provide the needed support to ensure that Nigerians were relieved of hardship. “We are ready and able,” he had said, “to support you in the form of the mechanization of your agricultural processes and the provision of high-quality seedlings.” Promising to provide solar powered irrigation facilities to support farmers across the seasons of the year, the President had added, “There is nothing we are (going to do)  that is more important than producing high-quality food for our people to consume, buy, and sell … It is not beyond us to achieve this for Nigerians. How much support do you need from me and in what form? I am prepared to provide it.” 

While the infrastructure aspect of the President’s plan is not likely to generate any controversy (beyond the technical back-and-forth associated with the projects under consideration or already underway), the social and household support plan, on the other hand, is where there is likely to be some ruffled feathers – or, at best, a collective shrug of cynicism on the part of the generality of Nigerians – given that the failures of past schemes are still  fresh in the memory. 

The reason is that, though highly laudable in its motivations and conceptualisation, the Household Support plan is fraught with many vexed questions bordering on the source of data used to identify prospective beneficiaries, as well as the overall integrity of the process. It is no surprise, then, that within days of the announcement, the Programme has come under intense scrutiny from a number of stakeholders, including political and economic analysts, many of who have been quick to praise its underlying objectives while also pointing out its defects, and offering their recommendations as to how its implementation can avoid the mistakes that led to the failure of past programmes. 

One of these analysts, Frank Tietie, is a lawyer and human rights activist. In a recent conversation with ARISE News, he acknowledges the ‘political value’ of what the President is trying to do (ie douse the tension in the land arising from the excruciating hardship of the people – along with a growing perception that the fat cats in Abuja are so enconsced in the lap of luxury that they don’t care about the people who elected them into office – with a timely mixture of patronage and paternalism). However, he questions the sustainability of this approach as he puts the issues around the Programme in context by posing a number of critical questions.

First, how will the prospective beneficiaries be identified? Much has been said about the Social Register that was drawn up during the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, and the need to rely on it in disbursing the monies envisaged by the Tinubu plan. Tietie and others, however, note that the Register is incomplete and far from credible. This view had already been echoed in the past by political leaders, including state Governors – and even by leading officials of the present administration when it first took office last year. Remarkably, Ngelale’s announcement last Thursday was silent on how exactly the beneficiaries are to be identified – a silence or oversight which in itself does not exactly bode well for the Programne’s  effectiveness, integrity and ultimate success. 

Second, does it make economic sense? Is it sustainable? On both counts, Tietie’s answer is, No, it doesnt, and it isnt. The FG’s Household Support Programme, he says, is NO substitute for a comprehensive restructuring of the economy in a manner that encourages production (rather than the consumption which is its present orientation). While acknowledging the expected long-term benefits of President Tinubu’s reforms across sectors (such as the 2023 removal of petroleum subsidy payments and the currency floatation policy), he however posits that these reforms have been wrongfooted in the timing of their implementation – as a result of which the masses are now suffering unduly. 

Third, who will drive these disbursements? As Tietie puts it during the ARISE interview, Nigerians generally do not trust government officials or politically-exposed persons to handle monetary disbursements with any measure of integrity or efficiency – given their bitter experience with past attempts at disbursements, most notably during the lockdowns occasioned by the COVID 19 pandemic. Civil society, which ought to be a credible alternative in this regard, is no longer perceived to be above board, either – a vacuum which, Tietie says, has created a crisis of trust and confidence among the people. Government, he suggests, should fill the vacuum by appointing consultants drawn from the private sector (where governance, for the most part, still adheres to much higher standards of accountability, transparency and alignment with global best practices) to drive the proposed disbursements. At all costs, he warns, the Tinubu administration must avoid the disbursements being hijacked by partisanship or seen as yet another ‘us versus them‘ avenue for political patronage. In the current climate, he says, it would create an unacceptable level of tension that could threaten social order and tear apart the country’s fragile unity. 

And fourth, tie any support programmes to JOBS. A good way to start, Tietie says, is by accelerating the National Construction aspect of the Programme, and being intentional about its job-creation potential. Palliatives, by themselves, do not solve any economic problems for the long term (and the announcement by government that the household support disbursements are only for a period of three months underscores the temporary nature of palliatives, no matter how well-intentioned). 

But jobs are sustainable. 

And so, in the end, is a comprehensive economic restructuring agenda that priorities production, manufacturing and export – as well as fostering among our people (especially our young people) a culture of creativity, innovation and hardwork. It is only by so doing, say analysts like Frank Tietie, that Nigeria can build an economic edifice that can stand the test of time, and ensure the welfare and security of her people – and ultimate eliminate the need for palliatives, by whatever name they are called. 

 

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