By Chijioke Okoronkwo
The Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs Maryam Uwais, says the National Social Investment Office(NSIO) ensures a level playing field for all Nigerians in the execution of Federal Government’s Social intervention Programmes(SIPs).
Uwais, in a statement by Justice Bibiye, Communications Manager, NSIO, on Sunday in Abuja, said structures had been put in place to ensure that those who benefited from SIPs were captured based on merit.
The presidential aide addressed the Course II participants of the Kasshim Ibrahim Fellowship in kaduna, a mentorship programme designed to groom future leaders in Nigeria.
She told the group of budding leaders drawn from various parts of the country that gone were the days when a privileged few in the society benefited from a government empowerment initiative designed to reach out to the poor.
“All applicants are encouraged to engage with the processes in place if they need a job; the programmes are open to everybody.
“You don’t need to know anybody to get enrolled into N-Power, for instance.
“Same procedure applies to the cash transfer programme and other components.
“We have done similar programmes in the past but such efforts were not as effective because the drivers at the time did not establish mechanisms and structures that aim at targeting the poorest of the poor.”
Uwais revealed that the process of developing a reliable Social Register in each state of the federation and the FCT was ongoing.
She said that that well-trained people were being sent to the various communities to identify the socio-economic needs of the people based on their circumstances and peculiarities.
Uwais said that for the first time in a long while, a government in Nigeria had consistently budgeted definite amounts of money for its poor and vulnerable citizens, irrespective of their party affiliations and ethno-religious differences.
She said that poverty did not know culture, party affiliation, ethnicity or religion.
“ Majority of Nigerians who are poor don’t even have voters card or know what is happening in the political circles; but government has a responsibility to each and every one of them; you need to see how beneficiaries appreciate what we are doing.
“ A woman came with a big bag to collect just ten thousand naira; when we asked why, she told us she hasn’t had such an amount of money before and needed to be sure she could carry her money home, after payment.
“The cash transfer programme goes beyond cash payments, as community facilitators, who are staff within the LGAs, are trained to visit them every week, to teach them how to form savings groups, life skills, sanitation, nutrition and hygiene.
“Indeed, due to the fact that the mentoring and support is embedded within the communities, we have confirmed that these beneficiaries have so far saved over N500 million, and are investing their energy and monies in productive activities such as farming, animal husbandry, poultry farming and rehabilitating community infrastructure.”
She, however, regretted reported cases of extortion of a few cash transfer beneficiaries by people who take undue advantage of their vulnerability, limited knowledge of banking procedures and use of gadgets to defraud them.
Uwais said that because cash payments come with several hazards, steps were being taken to address this challenge.
According to her, the NSIO has started the process of mapping, to identify money agents and financial institutions that will facilitate the transfer of cash directly to the beneficiaries.
Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, thanked Uwais for honouring the invitation to speak to the young ones.
El-Rufai described her as a woman of great conscience and one of the few accomplished women in Northern Nigeria, who had made outstanding contributions towards humanitarian efforts and social justice in the country.
The Kasshim Ibrahim Fellowship, a brainchild of Gov.El-Rufai, is a nonpartisan initiative with a mission to raise the next generation of leaders and prepare them for leadership through mentorship and a long period of exposure to the work environment.(NAN)