RE: FG’s Failed Social Investment Programmes

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A few scholarly definitions of a Newspaper Editorial are, perhaps, necessary to set the tone for this piece, which ordinarily would not have been necessary but for the compelling need to empower members of the public with the right information and ward off falsehood, which unfortunately, is fast becoming a threat to contemporary journalism practice in Nigeria.

William Allen White, the legendary American Newspaper Editor, author and politician defines an editorial as ‘’an expression of opinion based upon a selection of facts which present a truth in a new light-something that everyone knows which no one ever before thought of’’.

For lyle M. Spencer, another American Scholar and Philanthropist, ‘’an editorial may also be a presentation of facts and opinion in concise, logical and pleasing order for the sake of entertaining, influencing opinion, or of interpreting significant news in a such a way that its importance to the average reader will be clear’’.

The above submissions, which also highlight key attributes of a good Editorial piece, no doubt place a huge burden on a Newspaper outfit, particularly its Editorial Team, which (among other things) is saddled with the responsibility of taking a position on behalf of the news medium on matters of public interest.

Editorials, though subjective in nature, are also expected to conform to the principles that have come to define media practice the world over. Just like news, an editorial piece must be factual, truthful, objective, accurate and devoid of fabrications.

Sadly, the ethical considerations that should guide the conduct of members of the Fourth Estate Of the Realm, were thrown to the dogs by Tribune, a National Daily, in its Editorial Titled ‘’FG’S Failed Social Investment Programs’’ published on Friday, October 25, 2019.

It was to say the least very surprising, if not embarrassing, that an Editorial, which ought to be a ‘’Flagship’’ piece of a Newspaper, could be laced with fabrications, falsehood and distortion of facts.

More disturbing is how such a malicious and unprofessional piece could have been endorsed by Tribune’s Editorial Board, which expectedly should consist of seasoned professionals, with many years of field and administrative experience in Journalism and Media Practice.

First, those behind the Editorial claimed that the Federal Government has slashed the budgetary allocation to the Social Investment Programs SIPS by 94% in the proposed 2020 budget. The budgetary slash, according to the write up, is a demonstration by the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari that its SIPS have failed.

This position by the Paper is not only misleading but amounts to searching for fault, where there is none.  Tribune misfired. We wish to state categorically that nothing has changed in the budgeting cyccle as it relates to the SIPS. Budgetary allocations to the National Social Investment Programmes have always been pegged at N400 Billion Naira. [Four Hundred Billion Naira] since 2017. This, is in addition to another N100 billion naira [Hundred billion naira Only], that has been domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Finance as counterpart of the Social Housing Fund.

What was reviewed downwards in the SIP 2020 budget estimates is the Social Housing Fund that was cut to N30 Billion From N100 billion.

Another brazen attempt by Tribune to rubbish efforts by the Federal Government to alleviate poverty in Nigeria through its Social Intervention Programmes was evidenced in the bare faced lies told about the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme NHGSFP.

According to the Editorial, “The cash transfer and school feeding programme sought to promote school enrolment and reduce absenteeism in school or promote health through immunizations. Unfortunately, they never went beyond the pilot stage in States….’’ 

If not that it was written and published in black and white, one would not have believed that a reputable National daily in the class of Tribune cannot distinguish between the objectives of the National Cash Transfer Programme and the School Feeding Programme despite sufficient information on these schemes in the public domain.  The cash transfer programme being implemented seeks to primarily address consumption in poor households, even as it has had the secondary effect of  promoting school enrolment. Notably, neither is the school-feeding programme aimed at promoting health through immunization as insinuated in the editorial.

Indeed, it is the school feeding programme that seeks to promote school enrolment, while addressing nutrition, amongst other key objectives.
For the benefit of members of the public, who we owe a duty to keep educating on the SIPs and their impact, it is imperative that the distinction is made as part of our public enlightenment strategy.

The National Cash Transfer Programme targets the poorest of the poor and most vulnerable citizens of the country. The foundation for the Cash Transfer Programme is a National Social Register [NSR] (comprising Social Registers from each State and the FCT), and consisting of poor and vulnerable households identified directly by the members of the communities.

The cash transfer programme is partly funded with the $322million recovered from the Abacha family as well as the World bank IDA Credit. Under the cash transfer programme, beneficiaries receive N5,000 monthly to address consumption needs and stimulate productivity, while a handful of them get a top up of an additional N5000 to enable them take care of other needs such as health, education and environmental concerns, where the States select and meet the criteria for the identified pre-conditions.

As at September 2019, there were 1,491, 296 poor and vulnerable households, comprising 6,056, 872 individuals on the National Social Register [NSR] across 33 States, while the process for enumeration and identification has commenced in the remaining States and are at various stages of completion.

It is also pertinent to correct the erroneous impression created by Tribune that the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme ended after the pilot phase. On the contrary, the programme, which ensures one nutritious meal per day for every public primary pupil in classes 1 & 3 (currently across 33 States), has the objective to improve child nutrition and school enrolment at those levels. The remaining 3 States and the FCT are due on board before the end of the first quarter in 2020. The programme has continued to make a huge impact since its introduction and launch in 2016. 

A little above 9.9 million pupils are currently being fed in public primary schools across 33 States of the Federation.  For a Newspaper Editorial to claim that the programme ended in its pilot phase, whereas it is evident that children are currently being served nutritious meals every school day, is regrettable and highly unpatriotic.

Perhaps, a major sour point in Tribune’s editorial on the SIPS is that the Tradermoni initiative became notorious during the last general elections with a false claim that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was seen visiting local markets and sharing money to select traders during election season. 

Indeed, ignorance is a disease, especially for those who are in a position to know and inform others.

The Vice President did not use the instrument of TraderMoni, as a ‘’vote buying strategy’’ neither was he seen distributing money to traders in markets. Osinbajo’s occasional visits to the markets were primarily to flag off the interest-free loan scheme in several locations across the country. TraderMoni, which is a sub-component of the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme  [GEEP], has a structured way of identifying beneficiaries across selected markets, without any relation to political affiliation. It is not embroiled in corruption or used to gratify traders to vote in a particular direction.

Indeed, a backend technology exists at the Bank of Industry Command Centre (in Abuja and Lagos), which provides the context and content of the Tradermoni product, demonstrating the objectivity, transparency, spread. identities and profiles of each of the almost 2 million beneficiaries across the country.

We make bold to state and maintain that the National Social investment Programme N-SIP of the Federal Government remains the largest and most successful Social Intervention Programme in Africa, considering its broad scope and number of people being impacted by the initiative. In addition to the key achievements already highlighted in the Cash Transfer and School Feeding Programmes, there are over 548,000 graduate and non-graduate beneficiaries under the N-Power Programme, a job enhancement scheme that exposes young Nigerians to the work environment to acquire experience for a more sustainable economic future. Beneficiaries under the graduate category receive a monthly stipend of thirty thousand naira monthly, alongside gadgets that help them function optimally in their Primary of Primary Assignment (PPA).

GEEP, being coordinated by the Bank Of Industry BOI, has over 2.1 million beneficiaries from TraderMoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni. This initiative has given a lifeline to a number of micro, small and medium scale enterprises due to lack of access of finance.

The public outcry over the need for the government to take decisive and urgent steps to address the suffocating poverty situation in the country is quite understandable. There is need for patience, as a short-term government initiative cannot tackle a longstanding problem overnight.  Government’s decision to keep funding the SIPS is inspired by the outpouring of testimonies by millions of poor and vulnerable Nigerians whose lives have been touched by N-SIP.

The doors of the National Social Investment Office NSIO, are always open to members of the public seeking information on the status, structure and implementation processes of the SIPs. We urge the Media, particularly, Tribune to always research thoroughly and seek the right information before engaging the public on issues relating to matters of National importance.

– Justice Tienabeso Bibiye is the Communications Manager at the National Social Investment Office NSIO

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