President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila have expressed worries that the federal government’s Social Investment Programme, geared towards reducing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic leaves out the poorest of the poor in the country.
These worries were raised by the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representative, Idris Wasa who represented the senate president and the speaker at a meeting held with the minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq.
The two presiding officers at the meeting which had in attendance top officials of the ministry stressed that the Social Investment Programme which was established in 2016 under the presidency but now domiciles with the Humanitarian Affairs ministry needs the necessary legislative backing to make it function effectively and efficiently.
Lawan in his opening remarks hinted on the need to work in collaboration with the national assembly.
“We feel that we need to work together with you to ensure that there is effectiveness, there is efficiency, that those who are supposed to benefit, benefit directly,” Lawan said.
He stressed that theNational Assembly is concerned about the conditions and guidelines for the intervention programmes which are specifically directed at the most vulnerable Nigerians.
“When for example, some conditions are set, that those who will benefit will have to go online, through the internet or BVN and the rest of it.
“I want to tell you that the majority of those who are supposed to benefit have no access to power. They have no access to Internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN.
“Infact, many of them don’t even have phones and these are the poorest of the poor. Yet, some of the conditions or guidelines which you set inadvertently leaves them out,” Lawan said.
The Senate President said the poorest of the poor have not been sufficiently captured by the programme.
“We believe that when we work together, the Executive side of government and the National Assembly as representatives of the people, we will be able to reach much more of these people who are in serious distress even before the Coronavirus.
“Now with Coronavirus, they need our attention more than ever before. The time has come that we review the ways and manner we use to deliver the services under the SIP to Nigerians.
“We need to be better in terms of strategy for delivery and definitely, what we have been doing in the past cannot deliver exactly what will solve the challenges of the most ordinary and most vulnerable Nigerians.
“So we need to put on our thinking cap and work out some strategies on how to identify the poorest persons in Nigeria. I think we have not been able to reach far out there to get them properly captured,” Lawan said.
In his comments, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila reminded the minister that she is presently in the eye of the storm and Nigerians are watching how she goes about reaching out to the most vulnerable section of the society.
“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”.
“When you walk into a system, no system is 100 perfect. The word reform is something we use all the time, and this is the one time when that word reform must be used in the truest sense of that word”.
“The questions are going to be asked, how do you come about your list, how comprehensive is your distribution list? What are the parameters? What is the geographical spread? So these are tough questions that are going to be asked but I want you to look at them as frank questions that we need to ask”.
“If you really want to define the meaning of representation, if that was being practiced in the real meaning of representation, then we shouldn’t be here. Because all the questions we want to ask, we should already have the answers. We should be providing those answers to the Nigerian people we represent”.
“But if they ask me, as the speaker of the House, or ask the Senate President or any of my colleagues here, we are going to be struggling for answers. If we were really representing, then we will not need to ask because we will have the answers,” Gbajabiamila said.
The Speaker informed the minister that relevant Committees in the House have been complaining bitterly even before the Minister took over the scheme about the inability to access information about the scheme.
Gbajabiamila likened Nigeria’s SIP to the Unemployment Insurance Act in the UK and the Social Security Act in the US.
“There is a lot of take away from this COVID-19. One of them is the International Best Practices. My point is that these things are backed by law. They are codified by the legislature so that these issues and these questions will not arise,” he said.
The Speaker urged the minister to talk with the relevant Committees and the National Assembly leadership on the best way to codify the scheme.
In her response, the minister said the SIP was moved to her ministry for “sustainability and institutionalisation,”
“I am very pleased to hear that we are going to work together to see that we give a legal backing to this programme because that is the only way to go,” the minister said.