President Muhammadu Buhari’s wife, Aisha, has fiercely criticised the social investment programmes (SIP) of the administration, saying there was little evidence to show that a good chunk of its budget was judiciously utilised.
Ms Buhari said the initiative has failed to reach its intended beneficiaries in at least Adamawa and Kano. Although the programme was designed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who has continued to coordinate its implementation, Mrs Buhari blamed a presidential aide, Maryam Uwais, for its shortcoming.
“I am sure that my husband decided to put somebody from Kano because of the population and political impact it made,” Mrs Buhari was reported as saying during a State House function with women last weekend.
She said she learnt from other administration officials that 30,000 women in Adamawa would receive N10,000 each, but only a few people have benefitted despite the programme being in its third year.
Mrs Buhari said she had long been uncomfortable with the programme’s implementation, but she had been reluctant to speak up about it for fear of being labelled a talkative.
But when she made findings, she discovered that key aspects of the programme were not properly implemented in Adamawa and Kano, she said.
“Recently, I saw a 74-year-old man selling petty things in Kano. I asked him how much is his capital. He told me between N3,000 and N4,000. Do not forget that we have campaigned to give the poorest of the poor N5,000 every month.
“So I don’t know where the social investment..maybe it worked out in some states. In my own state, only a local government benefited out of the 22.
“I did not ask what happened and I do not want to know but for it to fail woefully in Kano, it is not a good sign and it is not a good thing,” Mrs Buhari said.
She also criticised ‘government’s claim’ that $16 million and N12 billion had been spent on mosquito nets and trauma equipment, respectively. She asked women in the audience to hold public officials accountable for their handling of developmental funds.
The scheme was launched by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in 2016 as a palliative for poverty and unemployment. At least four programmes, N-Power, microcredit, conditional cash transfer and home-grown school feeding, have been launched under the policy.
Mrs Uwais was appointed in January 2016 as a special adviser for social protection policy of the government. She has worked closely with Mr Osinbajo for implementation.
She pushed back on Mrs Buhari’s allegation during a Channels TV appearance on Monday morning, saying the president’s wife appeared uninformed about the scheme.
“I believe that if she were to listen to the information they have there, if she were to check on our data, she would be able to track all the beneficiaries,” Mrs Uwais said.
Mrs Uwais said at least 12 local government areas in Adamawa have benefitted from at least one part of the scheme, while some had benefitted from all the aspects, contrary to Mrs Buhari’s allegations.
“We have at least 290,000 beneficiaries directly that we are paying in Adamawa State,” she added. “We have over 11,000 graduates recruited and working in her home state. We have non-graduates, 440.”
“We started the school feeding programme in October 2018, we are in 1,054 public primary schools,” she said.
The presidential aide said Mrs Buhari’s lack of absolute understanding of the projects could be excused, especially as poor funding had made it difficult for the programme to be implemented.
“I believe we could do so much more if we have sufficient funding,” she said. “We have only scratched the surface in the sense that we do not have the sufficient funding to address.”
The programme has secured N500 billion annually in national budgets over the past three cycles, but releases have consistently fallen well below the allocation, leaving a good chunk of the project unimplemented.
As of April 2018, the administration had spent only N175 billion in three years, an amount significantly shy of the N1.5 trillion that was appropriated within the same period. The vice president’s office said the government would continue to budget N500 billion annually for the project.