Nigeria’s National Economic Council (NEC) has unanimously resolved not to use the national social register used by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to implement its conditional cash transfer.
Rising from its monthly meeting at the State House, Abuja on Thursday, the Council stressed that the register had integrity issues as the criteria for its compilation was unclear.
Briefing newsmen after the meeting presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima, Governor Charles Soludo of Anambra State said contrary to what the previous administration projected, it is not possible to digitally transfer money to the poorest of the poor the majority of whom are unbankable.
This is just as the Federal Government announced that it will distribute 252,000 metric tons of grains to states at a subsidised rate to cushion the effect of hardship occasioned by the petrol subsidy removal.
The NEC meeting presided over by Vice President Kashim Shettima at the Council Chamber of the State House, Abuja said the register used by the immediate past administration at the center had integrity issues as the criteria for its compilation was unclear.
Briefing newsmen at the end of the meeting, Governor Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State said contrary to what the previous administration projected, it is not possible to digitally transfer money to the poorest of the poor the majority of whom are unbankable.
He said it was agreed that states should generate registers that are comprehensive and ensures that it will be for the vulnerable people only.
Soludo, who spoke in the company of his Bauchi and Ogun State counterparts, Bala Mohammed and Dapo Abiodun, respectively, noted that beneficiaries of the supposedly transferred cash could not be identified in the villages.
His words: “I’d like to respond to the social register that has been mentioned. I think at the council today, there was almost near unanimity among members. That there’s a big question mark about the integrity of the so called National Social Register.
“We have questions about how those names in the register were brought about and I’m sure one question I hear asked is where it is for the most vulnerable group, and so on and so forth.
“Let’s talk about a social register. And then distributing things through the social register by digital means, implying that these people already have account numbers and they have phone numbers. Maybe we are talking about some other people and not Nigerians. The poorest 25 percent of Nigerians are likely, if not totally unbanked, and don’t have access to telephone.
“Now in thinking through that, we felt that sitting in Abuja and calling on somebody in Anambra to compile a list and send it to you and then the person depends on who he brings, and the registers are generated and people go to those villages and ask where are those people? And they don’t show up. This is stress testing. And we think that we need to go down back to the drawing board.
“If you are delivering any such national or federal programme from Abuja, it needs to be delivered via the governments that are there using their own format and mechanisms to generate the register that is comprehensive.
“That meets certain criteria, that you can stress test and you can call out the people in the village and everyone will confirm that these are the vulnerable people, if you are targeting vulnerable people, as it were.
“So the integrity test is what is missing with that register. Many have just described what is being counted as National Register as bogus, some describe it as phantom, some in all manner of terms. So we need to face the problem, the fact that we don’t have a credible register and get back to work on this”.
According to him, NEC resolved that the states should come up with their own registers using formal and informal means to develop it, assuring that all beneficiaries at the subnational level could easily been accessed that way.
Soludo affirmed that NEC deliberated on ways to cushion the impact of the recent petroleum subsidy removal including reduction in cost of governance.
He said: “The first question that was raised is in relation to cost of governance. I think it’s an omnibus concept, and it’s not something you sit down in a meeting to legislate for each and every state.
“But the fact that the council recognizes that this is an issue that each tier of government should now focus on as an area of concern. That we mustn’t live… even the cost of running the state, the way we even live, so,some gave an example of a state governor going with 20 something vehicles in a convoy and all these have to be fueled, and so on and so forth. And the fact that we’re even amongst ourselves almost like in a peer review, kind of setting talking for ourselves.
“We need to be sensitive to the times, we need to live within the average of the people that we’re governing and so on and so forth. And knockoff the waste and the irrelevance so to speak.
“I will like to give you a simple example, When I assumed office, it was costing about N137 million every month to clean up public offices, and so on. Today, in Anambra we’re doing N11 million a month from N137 million on a monthly basis, just an illustration.
And it’s a thing that we’re persuading each and every one of us to look into, check into our books and look ourselves in the mirror and move with the times.
“And by the way, there’s something that I think my colleagues missed out as part of those recommendations over the medium, longer term, and that is the possibility of negotiating a new minimum wage. That obviously will be on the table. But that has to be negotiated through the appropriate structures for doing that over time.”
Soludo explained packages to serve as palliatives were marshalled out to encourage the tiers of government to implement in accordance with their respective fiscal space and fiscal capacities”.
He said, “The federal, state and local governments. I want to highlight as well, but that is quite some fiscal surplus that will be coming to the states and local government and the federal government and we suggested that it will be nice that you can implement cash transfers, subject to your financial capacity based on peculiarities.
“Some might be able to do one, some might be able to do 10. Some might be able to do 20 as the case maybe. It depends on their own capacity. Maybe a state, maybe some that are not even in a position to do that now.
“For example, if you have a state that has been owing salary arrears, workers have been owed for three years, or for four years. The priority now is to even start paying some of the salary arrears or where pensioners have been owed their pension and gratuity for seven years for example, the priority now might be to use part of the surplus to pay them.
“Then, there are also states that are with bumper harvests and that will say you know what I want to deploy a chunk of this to implementing cash transfer and several of the other immediate programs and that’s why we couched this point, that this is ultimately still a federation. And the various states and local governments and federal government are at different levels in terms of their fiscal space and fiscal capacity.
So states, local government, federal government, depending on the resource if the federal government decides to do the same cash transfers for example, we are recommending that they should do so using the framework of the states and local government that are nearer to the people so to speak.
That’s basically that. We didn’t sit down there to begin to say, oh, okay, this one your transfer will be like what is being bandied around in the media, whether it’s 8000 or 10,000, or 1000, or whatever. It will depend on what the state… if the state can afford it, and what they can afford. And I guess this is it’s very important that we communicate this clearly.
On his part, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi state said the Federal Government will distribute 252 thousand metric tons of grains to states at a subsidised rate to cushion the effect or subsidy removal.
Mohammed said the National Emergency Management Agency will also make available to the people its package.
Also speaking, Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State said though the hardship the masses are facing as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy was not the doing of the government as the market forces determines the price, efforts were being made to cushion its effect.
Some of the packages, he stated, include cash transfer to the poorest of the poor by the states, cash award policy for all public servants which should be implemented for six months in first instance, payment to public servants on outstanding liabilities such as pension, allowances among others.
According to him, government is looking at the possibility of funding Micro Small and Medium Enterprises.MSME, which he said are the engine room of business.
He further said government was planning immediate implementation of energy transition plants, converting mass transit buses to Compressed Natural Gas, CNG, adding that the long term vision was to establish electric automobile plants.
His words: “As a responsible government, we extensively deliberated on immediate steps in appreciation of the fact that our people are already feeling the pains of these very laudable and noble steps and have been very patient with this administration.
“To that extent a subcommittee of the National Economic Council was set up and that subcommittee reported some of the things that the governor of Anambra has shared with us and their report is now the proposal of the National Economic Council and amongst what the governor of Anambra has shared with us.
“We also proposed accordingly that each state should begin to plan towards implementing a cash transfer program that will be based on the social registers of the states because it is the states that are better positioned to do that enumeration so you can ensure the integrity of the social register.
“Again, it was also proposed by the Council that we should implement a Cash Award Policy for all public servants. What’s a Cash Award Policy? That would be a policy that allows each sub-national to actually pay the public servants a certain prescribed amount of cash on a monthly basis and was prescribed that that should be implemented for six months in the first instance.
“You’ll wondering why six months. The idea is that as much as we’re also particular about ameliorating the pains of our people immediately, a lot of sustainable measures are being put in place and it’s our hope that within now and the next six months, those sustainable measures would have begun to be visible and then we can begin to taper down these cash awards. These cash awards, by the way, would be funds that will be placed in the hands of civil servants that will be tax-exempt.”
Also contributing, the acting Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr Folashodun Shonubi, said the Federal Inland Revenue Service, briefed the council and announced that it was ahead of the half year target. According to him, “Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue making a presentation on what they have done so far, the level of collections.
It was nice to know that they are ahead of their target for half year. And we expect that before or by the time the year ends they would exceed.
“They also gave us some idea of what next year should be like from them. And from this year, we hope to make some N10 trillion. It is planning that next year, we should be able working with all the agencies provide N25 trillion as their contribution to the national coffers.”