NSIPs: Can EFCC, ICPC ensure transparency of independent monitors?

The National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs) of the federal government is presently witnessing the training of Independent Monitors across the states. However, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, has threatened to unleash the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and the Department of State Service (DSS) on the Independent Monitors should they be found wanting. PAUL OKAH reports.

Since its introduction in 2016, by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government, the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs), including the N-Power programme, National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Programme and Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) have always generated controversies.

The common complaint trailing the NSIPs bothers on transparency as many Nigerians allege that the programmes constitute a conduit pipe through which many civil servants, especially top government officials, divert public funds into private pockets.

Consequently, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, recently read the riot act to the programmes’ independent monitors.

Minister’s warnings

On February 4, 2021, the federal government flagged off the training of 5,000 independent monitors for the NSIPs to supervise the implementation of the programmes in communities across the country.

As at the time of filing in this report, many independent monitors had been trained in the states; they include: Kano (372), Osun (56), Ekiti (45), Ebonyi (53), Enugu (93), Anambra (150), Akwa Ibom (59), Delta (83), Ondo (86), Taraba (57), Cross River (49), Kogi (90), Gombe (87), Jigawa (68), Katsina (117), among others.

Speaking at the at the inaugural ceremony in Abuja on February 4, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, said the scopes of the programmes were large, with at least 13 million citizens across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) benefitting from the intervention.

She said: “Today, we are commencing the training of 5,000 independent monitors that will monitor the programme at the community level. The independent monitors will be assigned to monitor programme beneficiaries within their locality in schools, households, and market clusters with the focus of ensuring that the primary objectives of these programmes are achieved.

“This training follows an intensive two-week workshop at the National level by the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee set up by the ministry to develop a Framework and Data Collection Tools for effective monitoring process. While this is the initial training to get you acquainted with the schedule of duties, the ministry will ensure you continue to receive regular training and guidance for effective monitoring within the communities assigned to.

“You will be closely supervised by officials of the ministry and your activities will also be monitored by the ministry and other stakeholders at the state level.

Please be informed that the ministry will not hesitate to take you off the Programme if you are found violating the terms of your engagement. We are also working with security agencies like the EFCC and the ICPC to monitor these programmes. If you are found engaging in any form of malpractice or fraud, you will be handed over to them for investigation and prosecution.”

Interestingly, the warning has been repeated by representatives of the minister in states across the federation.

In fact, during the training of 86 Independent Monitors in Akure on Saturday, Farouq, who was represented by her technical assistant on social protection, Mrs. Kemisola Olasetemi, said they would be reporting to the ministry once every month as “there are bound to be people who will lack integrity, and may want to divert money meant for the people or food meant for the children for their personal use.”

She said: “The NSIP is being expanded. So, for effectiveness, we need more hands to monitor the people carrying out the intervention with a view to giving us robust feedback. When you are dealing with a large spectrum of people, as many as 20 to 26 million Nigerians, there are bound to be people who will lack integrity, and may want to divert money meant for the people or food meant for the children for their personal use.

“To guide against this, we are bringing on board the independent monitors to ensure that they properly monitor the people that will be carrying out this government intervention to the people. And we have warned the monitors not to collaborate with the people to perpetrate any kind of fraud, as the consequence will be severe on anyone caught with fraudulent acts.”

An expert’s view

Speaking with this reporter, a public affairs analyst and social commentator, Mr. Musa Yakubu, said the ministry has always faced criticism from Nigerians with regards to the implementation of the NSIPs and beckoned on the EFCC, ICPC and security agencies to beam its searchlight on the programmes executed by the ministry, especially as the minister was extending the invitation to them.

“It is no longer news that the ministry of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development has been one of the controversial ministries created by President Muhammadu Buhari, especially as it has been at the helm of affairs since the Covid-19 virus broke and had to distribute food to Nigerians during the lockdown, including the old, women and vulnerable.

“I remember some CSOs writing petitions against the ministry, demanding for accountability, especially with regards to the money expended in the Home Grown School Feeding Programme during the closure of schools and other issues bordering on the transparency of the ministry’s programmes.

“Perhaps, the minister is now tired of the criticism and wants to go the extra length in ensuring transparency or assuring transparency of the programmes of the ministry; hence this invitation to the EFCC, ICPC, DSS and the others in monitoring the activities of the Independent Monitors currently being trained in all the states of Nigeria.

“It is the job of EFCC, ICPC and others to ensure a corruption-free Nigeria. So, they’re welcome to investigate the ministry and prosecute those found wanting in the implementation of the federal government’s programmes. What we desire is a better Nigeria for all of us, no matter whose ox is gored.”

Similarly, a primary school teacher in Ebonyi state, Mrs. Regina Chukwu, confirmed that many of the independent monitors are corrupt, but hopes that the intervention of law enforcement agencies will bring about positive changes.

She said: “The truth is that many facilitators of the NSIPs use their positions to extort beneficiaries, especially the ignorant ones. At least, there are pockets of pockets to that effect. For instance, in the CCT, there are those who charge money from the beneficiaries to register bank accounts for them to receive money from the federal government.

“Also, some cooks for the school feeding programme are reportedly conniving with some monitors to shortchange the pupils, among others, which have led to the concern of many, especially the minister of humanitarian affairs.

“Nevertheless, my advice to the independent monitors is to ensure that they’re transparent in discharging the functions of their duties and not sabotage the efforts of the federal government in ensuring that millions of Nigerians are rescued from the clutches of poverty. Encouragingly, the minister has revealed plans to hand defaulters to law enforcement authorities, so we are in for positive changes.”

EFCC’s take

Speaking in a telephone interview with this reporter on Tuesday morning, the spokesman for EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said the Commission is not ready to join issues with the minister with regards to the prosecution of defaulters of the NSIPS.

“I acknowledge your WhatsApp messages soliciting EFCC’s reaction on the statement by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, that defaulting Independent Monitors of the NSIPs will be prosecuted by us.

“However, it is not possible to grant an interview on the opinion of the Minister, maybe in the future. So, the statement is the position of the minister. We will not join issues with her or corroborate what she said. EFCC doesn’t need to comment on that,” he said.

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