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Socialist Democracy April May 2017


30 March 2017

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BUHARI'S SOCIAL WELFARE PROGRAMME: A Tiny Drop in the Ocean of Misery

By Abbey Trotsky

President Muhammadu Buhari promised during his campaign in 2015 that his government would implement a broad range of Social Investment Programme (SIP) to cushion the effects of excruciating poverty on the poorest section of the Nigeria population. This programme includes a monthly Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) of N5, 000 each to one million vulnerable Nigerians and a job creation scheme called N-Power Volunteers Corps which is sub-divided into N-Power Teacher Corps, N-Power Knowledge and N-Power Build.

According to an online news site, Naij.com, N-Power Teacher Corps will engage and train 500,000 young unemployed graduates. It is a volunteering programme of 2-year duration. Participants will provide teaching, instructional, and advisory solutions in 4 key areas: primary and secondary education, agriculture, public health and community education (civic and adult education). N-Power Knowledge will work alongside the planned eight innovation hubs across the country to provide incubation and acceleration of the technology and creative industries. The programme is training to jobs initiative, essentially ensuring that participants can get engaged in the marketplace in an outsourcing capacity, as freelancers, as employees and entrepreneurs. N-Power Build is an accelerated training and certification (skills to job/enterprise) programme that will engage and train 75,000 young unemployed Nigerians in order to build a new crop of skilled and highly competent workforce of technicians, artisans and service professionals. (https://politics.naij.com/853295-no-youwin-federal-government-launches-n-power.html).

The SIP also includes a micro-credit scheme which would see about one million small scale traders, artisans and market women get a one-time soft loan of N60, 000 through the Bank of Industry, free feeding for school children and a free education plan that will involve free tuition for 100,000 students studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

According to a media report, a huge sum of N500 billion was provided for the SIP in 2016 budget to take care of these schemes and a similar vote is also embedded in the 2017 budget currently before the National Assembly for the continuation.

There were recent arrays of media report that the Federal Government has commenced the implementation of monthly payment of N5, 000 stipends to each of those categorised as vulnerable Nigerians in three out of the 36 existing states in the country. These states which include Borno, Bauchi and Kwara are said to be the first set of beneficiaries in a pilot project that spans nine states in the first instance. Other states where the payments are reported to follow soon are Cross River, Niger, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun and Ekiti.

Given the level of economic hardship in the country today, it cannot be completely ruled out that the N5, 000 stipends could be seen by many, including the beneficiaries, as little relief to some of the over 80 million or 64 per cent of the population who according to recent UN's report live below poverty line. In particular many beneficiaries will see the N5, 000 as the only thing they can ever hope to benefit from corrupt capitalist politicians whose stock-in-trade is to make promises during electioneering campaigns to invest in public education, health and infrastructures only to come to power and totally renege on the promises.

However, it will amount to illusion or a mere deceit to think that the monthly N5, 000 stipends could make any difference. Considering the current prevailing economic reality in the country, there is no way the monthly payment of N5, 000 can guarantee decent living especially in a terrible situation whereby the official inflationary rate in Nigeria today is 17.78% and prices of some basic commodities have gone up by more than one hundred per cent. For instance, a bag of rice is now sold above N19, 000; Kerosene and diesel are now about N290 and N300 per litre respectively despite the fact that we were told some time ago that deregulation will bring down the price. The price of 12kg of cooking gas has gone up from N3, 200 to N4, 500 and up to N6, 000 in some states of the federation.

Another component of the President Buhari-led FG social intervention programme is the National Home Grown School Feeding (HGSF) programme. It was reported that the HGSF was formally inaugurated on June 9, 2016 while effectively kicking off in October in five states across the federation. These states include: Anambra, Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ebonyi.

However this, just like the rest of the intervention programme, is merely a tokenist measure that does not address the question of how to ensure an all-round improvement of the sordid conditions of public education. While free feeding is good, may help to alleviate hunger among school children and stem the tide of truancy, it would amount to nothing in the long run when school pupils are well fed but have no adequate facilities to learn. The same regime implementing free feeding has cut education budget to a level below 10%. It would have been more appropriate for the government to combine the introduction of free meals with the provision of basic learning amenities. It is so shocking to state that there still exist in this modern age so many communities without both primary and secondary schools such that children travel miles to neighbouring communities in order to obtain basic education.

Things are so bad to the extent that where schools are available, many are like shanties and therefore not conducive for learning. Most of the school buildings across the country today are in decrepit conditions. The classrooms are also often over populated. Above all is the fact that teachers in most of these schools are also part of workers in about 27 states across the countries who are being owed salaries of up to 7 months. Unless all these are tackled, the free feeding programme will not have any significant impact on the education sector.

Again, the reported plan by the Federal Government to empower 500, 000 unemployed youths is also a part of a new job creation scheme known as the N-Power initiative of President Buhari/APC-led FG social intervention programme. The first batch of 200, 000 have reportedly been recruited and deployed. The real implication of the N-Power initiative is that instead of creation of decent full-time jobs, 500,000 out of over 40 million of the existing unemployed youth would be "trained and deployed as volunteer to work in different sectors of the economy while still prospecting for jobs in their chosen professions". This would mean they would be paid stipends as monthly salary with no condition of service and trade union rights. In other words, they certainly would have no job security. The N-Build scheme in particular is also designed to feed many private companies free labour and guaranteeing easy profit. Moreso, the construction industry is dominated by big private companies who employ workers on a temporary, casual and lowly paid contract and this is the fate of the "lucky" scheme participants after the scheme.

Therefore, this social welfare programme even if implemented, a very big "if", will end up being a tiny drop in the ocean of misery! This is because the implementation of this social programme in the face of the current growing economic hardship will fall too short of what is required to begin to address the fundamental crisis of poverty, unemployment and destitution. On the basis of capitalism, this social welfare programme will end up as a farce. Tragically, for the regime, the unstable situation of oil price will mean that it may not even be able to fully implement the programme. Many aspects of the programme may be suspended while those being implemented will run into crises of all sorts.

Already some of the first batch beneficiaries of the N-Power scheme have protested in a number of states like Oyo state over non-payment of their N30, 000 monthly stipends for upward of three months. The protesters also complained of corruption, nepotism and underhand dealings in the scheme. These were the same complaints that marred the 10, 000 police recruitment exercise which was once a flagship job creation programme of the regime but is now not even mentioned in the media at all for the obvious reason that it failed.

Under a different situation where the working people are in power, it would be actually possible to pay a decent monthly allowance better than the N5, 000 promised by Buhari, to all vulnerable Nigerians while setting aside an adequate unemployment benefit payable to all unemployed persons. It would be also be possible to: create decent jobs and wages with right to unionism for millions of unemployed youths; provision of decent free school feeding with payment of living wage and pension.

This is not a utopia, but to achieve this requires a working peoples' government armed with socialist programme that will be prepared to mobilize all of the society's wealth to democratically plan the country's transformation into a modern society. A key part of this would be massive public works programme to rebuild failing infrastructures like roads, rail, potable water and hospitals, build homes for the homeless, schools for the 10.5 million out of school children; and improve generation and supply of electricity but also expand access to thousands of homes in the countryside that are still without electricity half a century after independence.

The agricultural sector which used to be Nigeria's key foreign exchange earner will be subjected to a general overhauling through intensive state intervention. Such state intervention would include the provision of cheap credit, fertilizers, pesticide, seeds and equipment to farmers, a fair redistribution of land and establishment of model large scale farms to demonstrate the advantage of large holdings over tillage of small plots and to accelerate sustenance in food production and cash crops and this will in turn create jobs on a massive scale while revolutionising the agricultural industry.

However, for a government to succeed in doing all these, it must be ready to do away with pro-market policies like privatization and deregulation and also the illusion that it is possible to create some kind of 'welfare friendly capitalism'. If a working peoples' government carried through such a fundamental change, it would mean that the country's resources would be used in the interests of the majority, not for the profit of the few. To achieve this would entail taking into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy starting with the oil industry, banks and the financial system and placing these under democratic control and management of the working people.