Allegations of monumental fraud perpetrated at the Social Investment Programmes (SIPs) yesterday drew the ire of the leadership of the National Assembly who queried the N12 billion monthly bill for school feeding project. Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, made their reservations at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq and some top officials of the ministry in Abuja.
The two presiding National Assembly officers called for the immediate suspension of the register used for the scheme when informed by officials that accompanied the minister to the meeting that some N12 billion was being paid monthly for the school feeding programme without verification. Another issue that provoked Lawan and Gbajbabiamila was the N100 million monthly payment to an unnamed consultant that purportedly handles some aspects of the project.
Hajia Farouq, it was learnt, had told the National Assembly leaders that she inherited the “mess.”
The minister was said to have told the lawmakers that she does not understand why the school feeding project was adopted for COVID-19, adding that “even other programmes have so many inadequacies that her ministry is still trying to unravel.”
Struggling to contain his annoyance, Lawan stated: “The way the poverty list was generated has raised all types of problems here. No one believes in the social register. Its a fraud and not fair.” In a statement issued after the meeting by his media office said the National Assembly leadership urged enabling legislation to transform the SIPs in line with global best practices.
The forum was convened by the legislature against the backdrop of the ongoing interventions by the Federal Government to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on most vulnerable Nigerians.
In his opening remarks, Lawan had noted that the two legislative chambers were very much interested in the current initiatives of the ministry particularly the disbursements aimed at assuaging the plight of the poorest of the poor in the wake of the COVID-19 endemic. “We feel that we need to work together to ensure that there are effectiveness and efficiency. We also want to ensure that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly,” he added.
Speaking in the same vein, Gbajabiamila noted: “Your job right now is probably the most important as we speak, because you are saddled with the responsibility of alleviating ‘poverty’ or the hardship, due to no fault of anyone, being thrust upon Nigerians, and I know that you came into a system, or you met a system that has nothing to do with you, but what we will be asking you to do is for you to change that system.” He added: “When you walk into a system, no system is 100 perfect. The word reform is something we use all the time, and this is one time when that word, reform, must be used in the truest sense of it.” The speaker urged the minister to liaise with relevant committees and the National Assembly leadership on the best way to codify the scheme.
Meanwhile, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday alleged that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed Federal Government’s Social Intervention Program (SIP) as a fraud.
It claimed that rather than deploy the program to benefit the Nigerian people, the SIP was being used to fleece the country. In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party claimed that failure of the much-orchestrated COVID-19 social palliatives for Nigerians, contrary to claims by the APC-led administration, also validated allegations that the APC has been using ghost beneficiaries to siphon government’s resources.
It described the scale of deception in the program as alarming adding, “Not even a handful of Nigerians have acknowledged receiving any pittance from government despite claims by officials, of having paid billions of Naira as palliatives to individuals and poor households.” The party urged Nigerians to note how officials of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration fraudulently sidestepped extant financial regulations and illegally resorted to cash disbursements directly by a minister, instead of using the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) cash disbursement facility.
“Such was part of the design to use few unsuspecting Nigerians to circumvent the system, muddle up financial documentations, accountability processes and facilitate siphoning of huge chunks of the palliative fund. Such practice directly points to fraudulent diversion of funds by APC leaders, who have been using the same template of the discredited SIP, which had been exposed by Aisha Buhari as a fraud, when she revealed that the N500b SIP of the Buhari administration was not getting to the intended beneficiaries.
“More embarrassing is the duplicitous inclusion of the scandalous school feeding program, as an expenditure line even when schools are closed following social distancing directives, an alarming development that points to the level of corruption in the APC administration,” the statement reads.
It challenged the APC to speak up in support of transparency and accountability in the social intervention programs, particularly at this perilous time.
The PDP wondered why the APC leaders were falling over themselves and stampeding the National Assembly for anticipatory approval of N500b for yet to be itemised social palliative measures. It restated its call on the National Assembly to properly scrutinise the N500b request, ensure clauses that guarantee that the money and all other social intervention funds get to ordinary Nigerians. “Our party also restates its earlier call on the National Assembly to immediately investigate alleged diversion of funds in the recent disbursement of palliative money by a cabinet minister and recover same for Nigerians,” it added.