The decision of the federal government to set aside the sum of N500 billion to pay unemployed Nigerian graduates and feed school children amongst other social welfare programmes in the N6.07 trillion budget for 2016 came as a welcome relieve for millions of Nigerians. In the letter to the Senate, President Muhammadu Buhari said “phased” social welfare programmes would be created to cater for a large population of the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians upon the evidence of children’s enrolment in school and evidence of immunisation.
On the social welfare programme, Buhari stated, “the federal government will collaborate with state governments to institute well-structured social welfare intervention programmes such as: school feeding programme initiatives, conditional cash transfer to the most vulnerable, and post-NYSC grant.
“N500 billion has been provisioned in the 2016 budget as social investments for these programmes. These interventions will start as a pilot scheme and we’ll work towards securing the support of donor agencies and our development partners in order to minimise potential risks.”
According to the president, “Job creation and social inclusion are key to the administration’s development programme, as a means to reducing the rates of unemployment, poverty and inequality.”
The move by the Buhari administration to fulfill his campaign promise of giving relieve to vulnerable Nigerians came after several months of arguments, denials and debates over what APC actually promised Nigerians during the electioneering campaign.
Last month the Senate witnessed rowdy session when some Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, lawmakers attempted to move motion to compel the presidency to fulfill its promise to give N5, 000 monthly stipend to 25 million vulnerable Nigerians.
The uproar started following prayer by Senator Philips Aduda, urging the Federal Government to immediately commence the implementation of the N5, 000 unemployment benefit promised by the ruling party during the last presidential election campaign in the motion on urgent need to curb the soaring rate of unemployment in Nigeria by Senator Bassey Albert Akpan.
The development did not go down well with the APC, who started shouting no, no, no. When eventually the Senate President put prayer into vote, there was a resounding “nay” from the APC Senators and “Aye” from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Senators, but the Senate President ruled that the “nays” had it.
Expectedly, the opposition PDP used the drama in the Senate to tear the APC to shred and declared that the rejection by the APC senators of N5,000 monthly stipend, underscored the “monumental hypocrisy” of their party in getting to power by means of deceit and false promises to Nigerians.
PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh, in a statement said the development was a clear confirmation that the APC was a party of “hypocrites, who never had the intentions of honouring any of their campaign promises.
“The PDP declares that it is absolutely obvious to all that the APC came to power riding on monumental lies and deceit in making promises they had no intentions to keep.
“All they wanted was to get into power and they achieved this with their lying tongues.
“Indeed, the unanimity displayed by the APC senators in rejecting the promised N5, 000 monthly welfare package, especially coming after their party and the presidency had made futile efforts to distance themselves from it, further stresses the duplicitous spirit of the APC and its reprehensible insensitivity to the feelings and aspirations of Nigerians, especially the unsuspecting youths, women and the indigent, who they shamelessly swindled with false promises.
“From the foregoing therefore, Nigerians should not expect any sincere action from the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government on the other promises including monthly allowance to discharged but unemployed NYSC members, free meals and scholarship to school children, free houses, bringing the naira to the same value with the dollar,” Metuh said.
While the ding-dong over APC’s campaign promises was raging, the wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari issued a press statement out of the blues where she charged the APC to stop reneging and fulfill their campaign promises to Nigerians, especially the payment of N5, 000 to 25 million unemployed Nigerians.
According to a statement signed by her Special Assistant on Media, Adebisi Ajayi, Hajiya Aisha Buhari also urged the party to fulfill its promise of giving schoolchildren one free meal a day.
Hajiya Buhari said in the statement that the APC must keep its word.
“The APC is a party of integrity and has assured Nigerians during the campaign that it will pay N5, 000 each month to 25 million most vulnerable citizens.
“Nigerians should be patient with the APC government as the change they had been yearning for has come to stay,” she said.
Though the press statement by the President’s wife was a short one, the impact is so strong that it took the sail from PDP that was making capital out of the drama in the Senate. Nobody expected the surprise message from Hajiya Aisha Buhari and it is widely believed in several quarters that she is instrumental to the N500 billion social welfare package in the 2016 budget proposal.
The APC also got the clear message from the President’s wife that she will not be party to any deceit or attempt to renege on campaign promises after Nigerians had given the party their mandate. If the party initially had intention to dance around their campaign promises, the strong signal from the President’s wife made them beat a hasty retreat. Last month, the party officially came out to assure Nigerians that it would not renege on its campaign promise to pay N5, 000 each monthly to 25 million most vulnerable Nigerians.
In a statement issued in Abuja, on Friday, by its former National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, the APC said it has devised creative means not only to pay the money but also to fulfill its other campaign promises to Nigerians.
It said the non-implementation of the payment policy so far is because it was not included in the 2015 budget, which was prepared by the PDP-led administration, and because of the need to first block all financial leaks.
“Now, the Buhari administration has been busy putting into place measures that will make it possible to start the implementation of this project. Such measures include the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, TSA.
The APC said the Buhari administration is also embarking on a massive infrastructure renewal programme in the areas of roads, rail and power, for which a 2.5-billion-dollar Infrastructure Fund is being put in place.
”Contrary to the disinformation being peddled by the PDP, the Buhari administration is poised to lift millions of Nigerians out of extreme poverty by providing social protection and safety nets with another N2.5 trillion Special Intervention Fund,” the party said.
Political observers are of the view that though the office of the first lady has been scrapped by the present administration, the President’s wife is exacting positive influence on the government to do the needful and meet the yearnings of Nigerians that voted for change during the last general election.
However, with the expected implementation of the social welfare programmes at the federal level, concerned Nigerians are of the view that Hajia Aisha Buhari should take a step further and nudge the wife of the governors in the 36 states to prevail on their husbands to start implementation of similar schemes at the state level.
The federal government alone cannot carry the burden and greater number of Nigerians will benefit from the social welfare programmes if they are domesticated at the state level.