OPINION

Re- Aisha Buhari Right On NSIP, By Justice Bibiye

The leadership Newspaper article with the caption ”AISHA BUHARI RIGHT ON THE NSIP” published on Tuesday, July 23, 2019, represents nothing but a hatchet job executed in the guise of investigative journalism to smear the image of an unquestionable character in the person of Mrs Maryam Uwais MFR.

It is becoming clearer that those opposed to sound reforms that insist on strict adherence to best practices in the implementation of the National Social Investment Program NSIP have intensified their hate campaign aimed at provoking a transition that could pave way for a new dispensation which might be favorably disposed to processes that encourage shady deals at the NSIO.

At a time when there is seeming vacancy in most public offices, one is not surprised at such antics by a few desperate people who would go to any length to secure appointments or government contracts to satisfy their selfish interest. But what is mind boggling is perhaps the fact that Leadership, one of Nigeria’s leading National dailies, could allow its medium to be used by detractors to propagate outright falsehood with the evil intention of tarnishing the reputation of a highly respected Nigerian who has over the years maintained an unblemished record in both private and public practice.

Basic media concepts presuppose that a good piece of journalistic work must be guided by certain key elements including objectivity, fairness, accuracy, balance and factuality. Unfortunately, Leadership Newspaper sacrificed these ethical considerations on the alter of mediocrity just to protect a narrow interest.

It is, therefore, sad and most regrettable that such wild allegations against seasoned government officials who have exhibited strong character, diligence, integrity, honesty and transparency in their service to the Nation could be fabricated and made public without any concrete evidence to back up what we consider a hoax. How can a supposed investigative report, which ideally should be an outcome of in depth research, draw hasty conclusions based on hearsay?

It is also pertinent to reinforce the fact that Mrs Maryam Uwais, a brilliant lawyer and human rights activist was among credible Nigerians called to National Service to help drive the change Agenda of the APC government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari .

In 2016, Mrs Uwais was sworn in by President Buhari as the Presidential Adviser on Social Investments. By virtue of this portfolio, she automatically took charge of the National Social Investment office NSIO, which coordinates all components of the Social Intervention Programs of Government. The NSIO is domiciled in the office of the Vice President, who has strictly supervised the implementation of the SIPs since inception three years ago.

Unlike some public officials who see government appointment as an opportunity to feather their nests and serve personal interest, the appointment, for Mrs Uwais, was a rare privilege to effectively deploy public resources to a project that was borne out of genuine concern for the poor and most vulnerable people in the country. The ultimate goal of the program is to close the poverty gap in the country through financial inclusion for rapid economic growth.

To ensure that those in whose interest the Program was designed feel the impact of the social intervention initiative, Mrs Uwais upon assumption of office, put in place structures as well as instituted reforms aimed at promoting transparency, probity and accountability in the execution of the SIPs. The outcome of this laudable leadership approach is evidenced in the outpouring of testimonies by those whose lives have been transformed positively by government’s social safety net schemes.

Millions of Nigerians have been taken off the poverty line due to smooth and transparent implementation of the SIPs, which remain a major success story of the current democratic dispensation.

The NSIO, under the supervision of Mrs Uwais was structured in manner that eliminates all forms of sharp practices, corruption and abuse of due process in resource distribution to beneficiaries or award of contracts. The program execution template set by Mrs Uwais while she was in office as Special Adviser on SIP places the NSIO, which she directly coordinates in a position where it cannot award contracts or make payments directly to beneficiaries or contractors. Till date, payments and contracts award are done by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning with several local and international institutions and groups, including the World Bank, working as partners and monitors of the program. Indeed, the template placed to safeguard transparency appears to have incensed certain individuals, who were unable to access the funds or provide favors to a privileged few, is the primary reason why some individuals appear intent on replacing Mrs Uwais with one of their own. Change never comes easy.

To say that Mrs Uwais has manipulated the process for selfish interest is rather unfortunate and a disservice to a woman who has devoted her time, energy and intellect to the service of her father land.

It is important to state that the National Social safety Net Project NASSNP is a World Bank Assisted initiative. What this implies is that its execution and implementation processes and procedures must follow laid down guidelines of the World Bank known for operating in line with International Best Practices. One would then wonder how a single government official could influence the World Bank to compromise its work ethics by recruiting an “unqualified ” official to occupy a sensitive position in a project it supports.

Mr Apera Iorwa who succeeded Mr Peter Pakpa as the Coordinator of the National Social Safety Net Office got the job after meeting the necessary requirements of the NSIO and World Bank for that position. Mr Apera came first amongst those who applied and got interviewed for the job, otherwise the World Bank wouldn’t have accepted him as the National Coordinator. He is not a stooge of the former Special Adviser, neither was he brought in to carry out any hatchet job for anyone as alleged in the Leadership report.

The report alleged that Mr Peter Pakpa was frustrated out of office because he refused to, among other things, compromise the World Bank Procurement due process, which according the reporter was not in the interest of the former SA. The same report also claimed that Mrs Uwais, with the help of some World Bank Staff foisted Mr Iorwa on NASSCO. The question Leadership and its sponsors should answer is: How possible is it for the World Bank to assist in bringing on board an “unqualified” candidate to replace a senior government official who had refused to undermine its guidelines for procurement?

The allegation that Mr Iorwa prefers to work with consultants instead of career civil servants holds no water as recruiting consultants to perform specific tasks for government is a routine practice which does not breach any public service rule. The NASSCO Coordinator made this clear in his response when contacted to react to these bogus allegations.

According to him:

“The Federal Government of Nigeria appreciates the fact that there might be certain skills set that might not be readily available within the civil service; and in such instances, consultants could be employed to fill such gaps.”

Regrettably, the falsehood being spread by Leadership Newspaper and its cohorts runs contrary to reports by the various independent monitoring groups beaming their searchlights on the SIPs.

For instance, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), a Non-Governmental Organization which is working with six other NGOs and over 500 monitors has been monitoring the disbursement of the Abacha loot after it entered an agreement with the Federal Government to do so. The group after its review dialogue summit in May this year, reported that disbursement of the funds under the National Conditional Cash Transfer Program NCTP has been successful.

It further states:

“Spot checks had been conducted on 30,778 beneficiaries relating to funds disbursed in the August-September payment cycle in 11 States, with the exercise spanning over a period of two weeks. Findings are that 78% of the respondents reported receiving the base amounts of N5,000 (Five Thousand Naira Only), whereas only 20.4% had not been paid, for sundry reasons. The funds were however, fully accounted for. Furthermore, 96.4% of the beneficiaries interviewed confirmed that they were satisfied with the grievance redress process, even though delays were reported in the feedback timeline, in a few instances.

Recommendations for further improving the processes were included, and ANEEJ commended the excellent cooperation and working relationship between the Office of the Vice President (through the National Social Investment Office), the Federal Ministry of Justice and civil society, which had contributed to the high level of transparency in disclosure, in line with the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) principles and commitments. This was a welcome departure from the past experiences, in respect of efforts at monitoring assets recovered in 2005 and 2006….”

Another report published in June 2019, by Action Aid Nigeria, one of the independent groups monitoring the NSIPs also confirmed the huge impact the various components of the Program is having on the beneficiaries.

“ActionAid Nigeria acknowledges that the N-SIP contributes in addressing the problems of out-of-school children and youth unemployment in Nigeria and knows the programmes are impacting on the lives of Nigerians albeit at different levels. We believe more Nigerians can be reached if the voted funds are released, because the intentions are good and commend the highly competent technical staff of the NSIO led by Mrs. Maryam Uwais for the job done so far. Based on our experience, the National Social Investment Office listens to feedback from the CSOs and many other stakeholders, that is why AAN is happy to be part of the process and encourage all Nigerians to take interest in how the programmes are being implemented in their locality….”

ANEEJ and Action Aid Nigeria reports align with the recommendations of several other independent monitoring groups that have been following the implementation of the SIPs since 2016.

Expectedly, detractors would not take cognizance of the success stories emerging as a result of the professional and transparent approach adopted in the management of the Social intervention programs in the last three years. They have instead, chosen the path of shame and dishonor to pick holes even in areas where there is resounding success.

But the consolation for those being persecuted unjustly is the fact that TRUTH is like LIGHT which will always PREVAIL over DARKNESS.

Justice Bibiye is the communications manager at the National Social Investment office NSIO.

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