When the now-rested Action Congress of Nigeria in February this year intimated us that the Federal Government was diverting the SURE-P money towards prosecuting Project 2015, many dismissed the allegation as another political statement lacking in substance. But now, we know better.
The loquacious spokesman of the defunct party, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, then said: “Ordinarily, SURE-P seems laudable as it is aimed at the empowerment of the citizens through job creation and infrastructure development, but in reality, PDP apparatchiks have hijacked it for the purpose of empowering only the party’s members. They have created State Implementation Committees to handle the disbursement of SURE-P cash to party members as a strategy to arm them with a war chest ahead of the 2015 elections. To make matters worse, the PDP is denigrating the traditional institution by using traditional rulers in some states as the conduit to distribute SURE-P funds, ostensibly to empower Nigerians but in reality to put money in the pockets of PDP supporters.”
Though this disclosure was made over eight months ago, the substance in it became evident to us last Thursday when the Presidential Committee on Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, told the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on SURE-P in Abuja that it may lay off 111,000 workers by September 30 if additional funds were not made available to it.
SURE-P Chairman, Dr. Christopher Kolade, informed the Senator Abdul Ningi-led committee that out of its budget of N27 billion earmarked as workers’ salaries which was captured under its employment generation scheme that comprised 3,000 workers from each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, only a paltry N9 billion was approved in the 2013 budget.
With this development, Dr. Kolade told the senators that SURE-P wouldn’t be able to meet its commitment to the 111,000 youths already engaged under the programme, stressing that the cut in its budget had also compromised its target of employing 5,000 workers per state and the FCT on a monthly allowance of N10,000 apiece. Inherent in the preceding are evidences of what we have to sacrifice for them to have their 2015.
To be ernest, I find it difficult to swallow the fact that this ubiquitous project 2015 also laid its larceny hand on the funds meant for SURE-P. This is as I had always been under the illusion that both SURE-P and the money meant to execute it are sacred, far-removed from the reach of our stealing politicians. Pray, must 2015 rob us of everything? Having successfully despoiled us of the attention our leaders should accord pressing state matters, must it also short change us of the dividends of SURE-P which are supposed to be inviolable?
Inviolable, because it is that same initiative that saved the current government from the fuel subsidy removal conflagration which almost snuffed life out of it at the birth of 2012. It was also courtesy of SURE-P that Nigerians gave up their quest for the return of the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit, PMS, to N65 accepting to buy same for N97. Indeed, the event of SURE-P it was that calmed frayed nerves which were flared by government’s cavalier total removal of fuel subsidy at a time it was least expected.
It then becomes unthinkable for anyone to tinker with this all-important peace broker just because he wants to have 2015 go his way. What an affront on Nigerians! It’s not even up to two full years since SURE-P quenched the fire ignited by the fuel subsidy removal, still they are already misusing its money. See how they like taking advantage of us. They must have reasoned that by now Nigerians ought to have become used to buying PMS at N97 to the extent that they would no longer remember events that preceded the extant pump price of petrol.
But if they can’t respect we the living by allowing SURE-P do for us what it is intended, can’t they spare some for those who died in the course of the oil subsidy removal imbroglio? Why treat with contempt one major gain produced by the struggle for which compatriots gave up their lives? Do they think the dead are as forgetful as we the living? Everyone of us are mortals after all, so when we go the way of all mortals, those abusing this essential fruit of the sacrifice of the dead should be ready to square up with them even before facing the judgment throne.
I bet that many Nigerians wouldn’t be so surprise at what government have made of the SURE-P funds and of the programme itself. For they know it is archetypal of an average Nigerian politician to throw everything into his quest to remain in power. If they steal when they apparently don’t have need for money like Farida Waziri made us to understand, imagine what they would do when they have a capital-intensive project like a re-election bid to accomplish.
Given that seven rebel governors and other aggrieved elements have taken it upon themselves to see to it that the powerful seat is taken away from them what wouldn’t they do to retain that seat. In such scenario, money becomes in high demand such that every money in sight gets conscripted into the war chest. Don’t forget that we live in a country where money buys endorsements and votes and in the end delivers the desired election result. Hence, money has to be recalled even from the most sacred vault.
But here is where our fear should lie: if they could deplete the SURE-P budget from N27 billion to N9 billion with almost two years to the 2015 general elections, what would become of the budget as the elections draw closer? I suspect that by then, Dr. Kolade would have had no job for himself let alone have some with which to engage Nigerian youths!
The painful aspect is that what they are stealing or perverting now isn’t our oil wealth so to say, it is our personal money! I’m talking of the extra N32 we pay for every litre of PMS bought. If it were to be the money we get from our natural endowments, it won’t be that sore since they are nature’s free gift yielding money that isn’t coming from our wallets. But in this case where they have to use our money to water the ground for their 2015 to materialise, it become the height of capitalization.
It will be recalled that it was on this money that all manner of promises were hinged on in the heat of the January 2012 impasse. We were regaled to tales of how it would be used to guarantee stable electricity, efficient health care delivery, well-tarred roads, jobs creation and so on. Now, instead of SURE-P creating jobs, it is decimating them with plans afoot to wipe out the ones so far created not just in thousands nor tens of thousands but in excess of a hundred thousand!
Not yet sated, their looting of our collective N32 is also spoiling to engender a snafu in the additional 2000 jobs that should be created in each of the 36 states and the FCT (that is 74,000 jobs). What a heavy price we pay for having the kind of thieving politicians we are cursed with. Try to consider the fact that for their egoistic interest to prevail, a monstrous 74,000 jobs have to give way! A case of a handful of politicians pilfering our collective waiver at the expense of the dire need of 74,000 people.
Thank heavens we at least prevented them from totally removing the subsidy on PMS, else we would have been giving their 2015 and other profligate demands of theirs as much as N76 for every litre of PMS we buy. Thus, inadvertently funding their continued stay in power with our hard earned money when their current tenure is more of an albatross than a benefaction.
As of now, unconfirmed sources say over 40 million Nigerians are unemployed. When you add a whopping 111,000 to this figure, then would know whether we’re making progress or regress as a nation? In better organised societies, should a relatively lower 50,000 job cuts occur in circumstances like ours, then would there be intense calls for the resignation of whoever is at the helms. Most times the call wouldn’t even come before the president or prime minister honourably resigns. But not in Nigeria!
It is hoped that both the federal government and the National Assembly would desist from tampering with the money Nigerians have agreed to pay and are paying to help government fulfil its contract with the people. Given that there are various sources of finance available to government, it is expected those operating it would steer clear of the SURE-P funds.
Ordinarily, the monies Nigerians pay as taxes should go a long way in assisting government create jobs. Their going the extra mile of paying N32 for every litre of PMS bought leaves government with no excuse to warrant the loss of 111,000 jobs. It also makes the retraction of the proposed creation of 74,000 jobs unacceptable. All government needs to do is to let SURE-P funds be for SURE-P and not for 2015.
Ugochukwu is a public affairs analyst. To follow him on twitter, use: @ugsylvester. For reactions, use: [email protected]