By Osobu Suuru Alexander Alexander, North Central Nigeria
It is no longer news that Nigerian leaders loot the country’s treasury in such a competitive manner that most often leads to recession and a state of economic comatose which usually have an untold hardship on the masses.
Since the demise of Abacha, the discoveries of loot by this leader has left many around the world wondering if a single individual could actually indulge in such a massive loot that even after twenty (20) years the country has not yet fully repatriated this maniac loot from foreign accounts where these monies are stacked while million of Nigerians live in abject poverty. It was confirmed recently by World Poverty Clock in Brooklyn Institute where Nigeria is rated as the poorest country with 44% of its population (89 million people) living in abject poverty thereby overtaking India which dropped from 240 million to 71 million people living in abject poverty.
Unfortunately, the common knowledge of the citizens and foreign Governments who assisted in recovery of this loot is that ‘the loot is re-looted,’ which is sadder than the real act of looting. According to Ayodele Atsenuwa, speaking in Abuja at a conference, ‘Tracking Noxious Fund’ organised by MacArthur Foundation and Kent Law School, he said, “adequate steps need to be taken to address the issue of top government officials relooting recovered loots.” Also, this view was corroborated by the human right activist; Femi Falana.
Thus, the Swiss Government brought some conditionalities for the $322 million Abacha loot repatriated recently by signing Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with its Nigerian counterpart; that this money would be transferred into the poorest Nigerians’ accounts. This development was confirmed by Special Assistant to the President on Justice Reforms; Juliet Ibekaku-Nwagwu immediately Nigerian Government received the repatriated fund. However, the Swiss Government never decided that five thousand naira (#5,000) should be given to any individual, it is the decision of Government of the day and this amount of money to be given to an average poor Nigerian is quite insulting than alleviating.
THE USAID-SMILE-CRS APPROACH: WAY FORWARD
United State Agency for International Development (USAID) through its developmental program for developing countries brought Sustainable Mechanism for Improved Livelihood and Household Empowerment (SMILE) which is a policy driven under United State- President Emergency Plan for Aid Relief-2 (PEPFAR-2) and implemented in Nigeria by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Nigeria.
PEPFAR-2 as carried out in Nigeria by CRS is being implemented in five (5) states of the federation which include; Edo, Kogi, Nasarawa, Benue and FCT and it has over Six Hundred Thousand (600,000) beneficiaries which include the Caregivers (CGs) and Vulnerable Children (VC). The entire body of project has its own internal mechanism to design, plan, implement, monitor and evaluate activities/interventions which is not the major focus but I digress.
The USAID-SMILE-CRS project has carried out Cash Transfer to beneficiaries on couple of occasions and the model adopted was almost to a state of perfection however, there were some few challenges which were subsequently improved upon. It is on record that thousands of Caregivers have benefitted from this well organised and coordinated project.
In the first tranche of Cash Transfer; banks were consulted and some means of identification and verifications were carried out through ID Cards, BVN etc and this helped in curbing out some sharp practices. In other cases, mobile cash disbursement was encouraged knowing the fact that the truly poor Nigerians might likely not have ID cards and bank accounts therefore, it becomes paramount to identify, locate and bring the cash to them at their door step. Will Government go to this length?
WHO ARE THE POOREST NIGERIANS AND HOW WOULD GOVERNMENT COLLATE THEIR DATA?
In the MoU signed with Swiss Government; the money is to be transferred to the poorest Nigerians’ accounts and how does Government know the Poorest Nigerians? Like in the USAID-SMILE-CRS approach, there was a Database which was put together overtime with the aid of software called National OVC Management Information System (NOMIS). With the data on this software you could easily generate information of any kind to make decisions and policies therefore, in those states where the project was carried out, you could generate those who are business people or the most vulnerable through NOMIS.
Therefore, it is pertinent for Government to begin looking into partnership with some of these reputable NGOs who already have Database of some of these poor and most vulnerable Nigerians who could benefit from Abacha loots. More so, a step Nigerian Government must take to begin to build its own Database for necessary decisions and policies in the nearest future.
Success stories have been coming forth on the Cash Transfer of USAID-SMILE-CRS project as the genuinely poor and vulnerable were the ones truly targeted. Some were able to pay school fees, some started petty business and these vulnerable households could now afford to do business with this cash and doing it with options of where and whom to buy from.
AVOIDANCE OF ABACHA LOOTS RELOOTED
There have been many criticisms in the political space we all share as many believe that this is a way of relooting the Abacha loots especially as general elections and electioneering is around the corner. Some are of the opinion that with the idea of transferring this money to the poorest Nigerians accounts, our political leaders will simply transfer this money to cronies’ accounts, pseudo accounts where this money will in turn be used by them for electioneering purposes.
It is also a general fact that Nigerian Government doesn’t have any known viable Database where the bio-data of the poorest Nigerians could be easily retrieved which is a cogent reason for the sceptism within the political system which to a very large extent is justifiable. However, it is advisable to abide by the MoU signed with Swiss Government by transferring this money to the poorest Nigerians, and this must be done with utmost transparency, integrity, and sincerity of purpose by truly having the NGOs that are genuine not NGOs from the blues that are owned by political allies and cronies of the people in corridor of power.
- Partnership with NGOs such as CRS, Actionaid, Save the Children, Action Against Hunger, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, USAID etc who have the needed Database of poor Nigerians
- Priority should be given to people with chronic diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS, Cancer, Diabetes etc
- Orphans , vulnerable children and their Caregivers should also be captured in this Cash Transfer exercise
- Vocational skills and start-up equipment as condition for Cash Transfers to school drop-out citizens
- Vocational skills and start-up equipment should be targeted at prison inmates
- Unemployed Nigerian graduates should benefit immensely from this Cash Transfer
- No beneficiaries should get less than fifty thousand naira (#50, 000)
In conclusion, Nigerian Government should learn from the success recorded on the SMILE project by adopting some of the methodologies. The Government should hand over these cash to NGOs to handle the disbursement to the poorest Nigerians while the Government provides guidelines, modalities and timeframe policies for the exercise to be carried out. Moreover, quality of the money should be put into consideration by disbursing tangible amount to beneficiaries who could use it for good business start up instead of looking at number of people who will get this money and it is not useful to them, at the end of the day the money ends up in beer parlour, betting centres and one day stomach infrastructure.
Osobu Suuru Alexander
Political Scientist, Social/Development Worker,
Public Affair Analyst & writer