Barring any policy rethink, ‘poor homes’ in 19 states of Nigeria will any moment from now receive the sum of N500O( five thousand Naira) each from the Federal Government to ‘cushion’ the effect of poverty and ‘empower’ them to move up the socio-economic ladder. Spoke persons for theBuhari administration say the money will come from the $322m ( three hundred and twenty two million United States dollars) recovered from the monies stashed abroad by former military head of state SaniAbacha. One TukurRumar of the National Cash Transfer Office said the benefitting households were derived from the National Social Register that the 19 states are already on.
We want to commend President Mohammed Buhari and his team for the efforts so far in recovering ill-gotten wealth by past government functionaries. Indeed President Buhari made the fight against corruption and the recovery of stolen funds one of the kernels of his administration if elected during the campaigns leading to the 2015 elections. Truth is that the Buhari has remained on course on this score even though the critics of the administration say the fight against corruption is not far reaching or is ‘one sided’.
Early in the life of this administration in January 2016, Nigeria signed a bilateral agreement with the United Arab Emirates for trade, finance and judicial matters. While the agreement on trade was to promote investment and business dealings among the two countries, the judicial agreement would enable Nigeria to extradite or transfer sentenced persons and repatriate stolen funds. Lots of monies have been recovered both locally and abroad. The many seizures and recovery of cash, movable and immovable assets from former Petroleum Minister Deiziani Allison-Madueke running into billions of Naira, the 43 million United States dollars recovered from the Osborne apartment in Ikoyi Lagos, etc are some of the tangible trophies in the cabinet of the Buhari administration. The implementation of the TSA has also helped in pooling wild, hitherto unknown , unaccounted for funds into a central account under the watch of the CBN.
But we find it difficult to agree with this government that the best way to spend part of the recovered loot is to share it to some “poorest of the poor families”. Reactions have come from diverse quarters both high and low: the National Assembly, the opposition parties and even some members of the ruling party. Ordinary Nigerians have also spoken via different media channels. Like many opponents (and they are in millions) of this policy have argued, it beggars any economic sense to share N5000 (equivalent of $13) to a family as a means of alleviating poverty or empowerment. What can that do to a family of four( mother, father and two children). Even if isto buy garri, and make a modest pot of soup, how far can N5000 go in a week?
Inadvertently, the Buhari administration has opened itself to suspicion. There is the talk and general believe that the sharing of the $322m is another avenue to re-loot the Abacha loot by the political class and their cronies. One Naydoo wrote on his twitter account: “suddenly the homes of ministers, past ministers, legislators, past legislators, politicians and connected people ,etc will turn to poor homes”. For Mr. Jahmal still on twitter: “ same politicians are about to share the Abacha loot amongst themselves and to fund the election campaigns”.
Clearly this policy is fraught with so many loopholes. How for instance will you identify objectively the “poorest of the poor” to benefit from this policy. If previous experiences is our guide, it is the same politicians and political office holders that will compile and forward the list to the government. In the end only or majority of the beneficiaries will be members of the ruling party, friends , associates and family members.
We believe that the best way to utilize the money recovered is to use them to build legacy projects that will have utilitarian value to the poor and to the rich. These include building modern Farm Settlements that will enable many rural dwellers who constitute majority of the poor to farm and live decent lives. In addition, functional primary health centres can be built in the rural areas to provide access to affordable health care and reduce mortality of all ages to the barest minimum. It is also ironic that the largest singular housing estate in sub Saharan Africa: Gwarimpa Housing Estate, Abuja was built by the Abachaadministration.Today it houses majority of federal civil servants and other residents.Another large housing estate: Festac Town in Lagos is a legacy project , so is the Third Mainland Bridge. At a time several infrastructure is crying for adequate funding, such recovered money can be effectively deployed. For instance, the East-West roads in the Niger Delta, Kano-Maiduguri road, Second Niger bridge, Lagos-Kano railway line, etc. The poor will benefit more from these projects because jobs will be created , life will be more meaningful and we can point to totems of performance after the life of this administration. In any case the Holy Book has said that the poor will not cease in the land.
We urge the Buhari administration to rethink this policy and apply these funds judiciously. If this fund is atomized it will not make impact in the life of even the people it was intended and it will be wasted. We are also not in support for the money to be shared among states as it will go unaccounted for like the several oil wind falls we have had in the past. There is no shame in saying that we did not think through this policy properly hence we want to reconsider it. On the contrary it is a sign of strength and not weakness to admit your mistake and seek ways to remedy them. Let’s not make ourselves a laughing stock in the comity of civilized nations