The leadership of the National Assembly has criticised the approach adopted by the federal government to distribute social grant to Nigerians who suffer the impact of the coronavirus lockdown.
It called for legislation for the programme in line with global best practices.
The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, expressed their concerns at a meeting with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, and some top officials of the ministry on Tuesday.
The meeting, convened by the leadership of the National Assembly, was against the backdrop of the ongoing federal government intervention initiatives aimed at reducing the impact of the pandemic on the most vulnerable Nigerians, following the lockdown order given by the President Muhammadu Buhari on March 29.
The president ordered a 14-day lockdown in Abuja as well as Lagos and Ogun States. Mr Buhari had announced that the most vulnerable affected by the lockdown will be compensated.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs has since announced the distribution of the first tranche of N5 billion.
Messrs Lawan and Gbajabiamila noted that the programme needed a reform to make it more efficient and effective.
Vulnerable Nigerians not properly captured
Mr Lawan expressed concerns about the conditions and guidelines for the intervention programmes.
“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 the Internet. They have no bank account, so no BVN.
“In fact, 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 leave them out,” he said.
He added that the poorest of the poor have not been sufficiently captured by the programme.
More of these people who are in serious distress even before the coronavirus can be reached if both parties work together, he said as he called for a review of the process.
“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.”
Minister tasked with changing the system
In the same vein, Mr Gbajabiamila charged the minister to change the system she met because all eyes are on her.
“I know that you came into a system, or you get 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 per cent 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.”
He emphasised the need to provide Nigerians with the information and answers to questions.
The speaker said the relevant committees in the House have complained even before the Minister took over the scheme about the inability of Nigerians to access information about the scheme.
“There is a lot of takeaway 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.
He also 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 pledged cooperation to ensure that a legal backing is given to the programme.