Sure-P: Sure pit for Nigeria’s fiscal drain pipes

Alhaji Lai Muhammed, APC spokesman06 October 2013, Lagos – Interim National Publicity Secretary of All Progressive Congress, APC, in this piece, dissects the Federal Government’s Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P.

As if the drain pipes instituted by this PDP government to siphon the commonwealth of the people of Nigeria are not enough, the Federal Government, in the wake of the people’s revolt over the sudden removal of fuel subsidy, hurriedly put together an idea for empowering presidential cronies and set the template for amassing the 2015 campaign war chests.

The concept was sweetly christened SURE-P, acronym for Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme. But just exactly as the Presidency’s double standard was demonstrated by the flagrant flouting of its own promise not to remove fuel subsidy, and then presenting Nigerians with a sordid New Year gift of a N141 per liter pump price in 2012; the same helmsman has demonstrated that proceeds from the withdrawal – total or partial – of subsidy will translate to nothingness for Nigerians. This is because the SURE-P Committee of 21 President’s hand-picked, chaired by Dr Christopher Kolade, has proved to be another massive fiscal siphon. The committee is busy duplicating projects and paying for projects already embarked upon and financed by the various ministries, departments and agencies.

To start with, in contrast to the first term of reference of the SURE-P committee, which is “to determine in liaison with the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Petroleum Resources the subsidy savings estimates for each preceding month and ensure that such funds are transferred to the Funds’ Special Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria,” the Committee now waits for monthly ‘handouts’ from the Central Bank.

This much was revealed by Dr Kolade when he recently led his Committee to a review visit to the newly constituted Senate Committee on SURE-P. He told the Senate Committee that the SURE-P Committee receives a monthly sum of N15billion from the CBN. He said that his Committee does not award contracts but just intervenes in projects that are deemed to be of national importance by the Federal Government.

It is the duty of the Project Implementation Units, PIUs, of the SURE-P, which are in all the federal ministries and agencies, to map out the area of the interventions; what the cost will be, and then use the already existing Federal Government contractors to implement the identified projects. The PIUs will then raise certificates with which SURE-P pays the contractors.

N248.85bn spent
Within the first seven months, the Federal Government had spent a whopping N248.85billion, the savings made from the partial fuel subsidy removal. It was shared among the three tiers of government. The amount was based on the budgeted monthly provision of N35.55billion credited to the SURE-P account by the Federation Account Allocation Committee. Of the N248.44bn, the Federal Government got N105bn, representing a monthly allocation of N15bn for the seven months; while the balance of N143.55bn was shared by the states and local governments.

A breakdown of the N35.55bn shared by the states in July 2012revealed that Akwa Ibom got the highest amount of N1.83bn; while Rivers got N1.46bn; Delta, N1.40bn; and Bayelsa, N1.09bn.Abia got N364.9m; Adamawa, N393.3m; Anambra, N394.08m; Bauchi, N456.52m; Benue, N439.43m; Borno, N494m; Cross River, N389.13m; Ebonyi N285.76m; Edo N446.3m; and Ekiti, N301.1m.Others are Enugu, N347.1m; Gombe, N297.42m; Imo, N469.75m; Jigawa, N454.62m; Kaduna, N504.13m; Kano, N718.6m; Katsina, N535.7m; Kebbi, N390.29m; Kogi, N395.9m; Kwara, N335.93m; Lagos, N540.48m; and Nasarawa, N296.6m. Similarly, Niger State got N475.26m; Ogun, N376.59m; Ondo, N533.08m; Osun, N406.47m; Oyo, N515.89m; Plateau, N364.73m; Sokoto, N415.93m; Taraba, N366.13m; Yobe, N360.05m; Zamfara, N352.01m; and the Federal Capital Territory, N56.77m. Since then, no matter the amount of money earned as per the excess accruing from the new petroleum pump price, the allocation has remained more or less fixed as the above.

Real money saved
SURE-P is not a centrally coordinated project. The National Office of the project only intervenes in national projects at the federal level, while leaving the states to run the state SURE-P committees. The state committees are known as State Implementation Committees (SICs). The Federal Government, at the outset of the programme, immediately after it reduced the pump price of petroleum as a result of the pressure from Nigerians during the January 2012 protests, said the SURE-P funds dropped from the expected N1.134 trillion to N426 billion following the reduction of PMS pump price from N141 per liter to N97 per litre. But since the inception of the programme, it has not deemed it necessary to brief Nigerians on the real money saved in the first year from the added pump price.

Controversial segment
The aspect of SURE-P, which is patently controversial is the segment entitled, “Community Services, Women and Youth Employment.” Under this scheme, at least 3,000 secondary school leavers, holders of National Diploma and the Nigerian Certificate in Education, NCE, are employed in each state and Abuja in the following fractions: women (30%), disabled (20%), and others (50%).

The employment scheme is at three levels. While those employed under the Federal Government’s scheme get N10,000 stipend per month, those who get SURE-P jobs under states get N6,000, while those who are employed under the local governments scheme will be paid N4,000.00 each. In addition to this, many youths would be given the opportunity to acquire skills in various vocations with which they could be self-employed.

Under the arrangement, beneficiaries are selected based on wards, while a desk officer is appointed for each local government. This officer keeps the data of the beneficiaries, ensures they carried out the community service which they were assigned to do, and approve the payment of the stipends to them. Each beneficiary opens a bank account, with the United Bank for Africa Plc, for the payment of the stipend on a monthly basis.

Party patronage
Investigations have however confirmed that President Goodluck Jonathan’s campaign coordinators in the 2011 elections have taken charge of the scheme, giving the signal that they have oiled their machinery to facilitate Jonathan victory in 2015 presidential poll. The coordinators include the following persons who worked for Jonathan in 2011: Alhaji Bode Oyedele(Lagos), Mr Joseph Ishekpa (Nasarawa), Alhaji Garba A. Kurfi (Katsina), Alhaji Aliyu Mamman (Niger), Alhaji Adamu Yaro Gombe (Gombe), Hon Femi Akinyemi (Ekiti), Jarigbe Agbom Jarigbe (Cross River), Chief Abdullahi Ohioma (Kogi), Dare Adeleke (Oyo), Alhaji Al-Kasim Madoka (Kano), and Mr Bulus Daren (Plateau). To buttress this suspicion is the accusation that non-PDP elements are not involved in the process of executing the projects. Although SURE –P maintains that they do not award contracts, the projects executed are based on party patronage.

In December 2012 during a presentation to the Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources at the National Assembly, Dr. Kolade, presented documents to the lawmakers which showed that N2.2billion had been spent on a line item called “secretariat services” and another N75 million on “tours” inspecting projects nationwide within a period of four months. It was also during that hearing that it was revealed that SURE-P received funds from donor agencies. Dr Kolade could not totally explain the expenses and promised to furnish the Joint Committee with more details at a later time.

That later time may never come as it is becoming obvious by the day that the SURE-P programme is as rotten at the national level as it is in the states, and explanations are no longer enough to justify the waste of our commonwealth.

Earlier this year, the Plateau State House of Assembly began the probe of over N5billion suspected to be missing from the state government’s account. The money is the state’s share of the SURE-P, which the Jonah Jang administration reportedly received for the state’s SURE-P implementation; and the lawmakers said the probe became necessary following public outcry that the funds might have been misappropriated.

When the probe started, the ad hoc committee, chaired by Dalyop Mancha, raised its voice concerning the refusal of government officials who appeared before it to give details of the bank accounts of the SURE-P funds. The state government has been receiving N218 million monthly, to an accumulated amount of N3billion at the time of the probe, while it has been receiving N146 million monthly on behalf of its 17 local governments to an accumulated sum of N2 billion.

War of attrition
Similarly, in Kaduna State, the State Executive and the Legislature are pitched in a war of attrition as the Kaduna State House of Assembly had earlier this year taken the State Government to task over the composition and implementation of SURE-P in the state. The Chairman of the House Ad-hoc committee on investigation into the implementation of SURE-P programmes, projects and activities in the state, Kentiok Irimiya Ishaku, said the actual receipts by the Kaduna State Government of its share of revenue from subsidy reduction for 2012 stood at N2,243,188,906.24 at a monthly rate of N280,398,613.80 from May to December, 2012.

He said no receipts for the months of January to March, 2012, and no mention was made with regards to the month of April, 2012; while records showed that a lump sum of N560 million was said to have been received with no further details. The committee then recommended that the implementation of the SURE-P Committee be composed of technocrats and people of proven integrity, and a dedicated account be opened in any commercial bank where the SURE-P funds would be lodged, while the implementation of all SURE-P programmes, projects, activities and all expenditures related thereto be subject to approval of the State Executive Council. It is however no wonder that, at the time of writing this piece, the recommendations are yet to be implemented, no doubt for the singular truth that the PDP government would not want anything to rock the SURE-P gravy train.

At the national level, the legislators are also kicking at this mother of all drain pipes. From Senator Ita Enang, who lamented that for SURE-P to be funding only peripheral projects and leave the vital issue of funding the establishment of functional refineries, it is a failure; to members of the Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) who had rubbished the programme and called for its scrapping, while affirming that it “lacks a clear sense of purpose”.

They questioned the relevance of the programme and said it was fulfilling the desires of the Federal Government for more capital funding through the back door. The committee members were also furious that the programme had no clear mandate, as some of the projects undertaken by it were already provided for in the budgets of ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government.

Social welfare schemes
Furthermore, the SURE-P programme was supposed to provide funds for the implementation of short-term social welfare schemes to alleviate the impact of subsidy removal on Nigerians, and some of these are the construction, completion and rehabilitation of rail, refineries, key federal high ways, hydro stations, information technology and water projects. It was also to fund mass transit, public works, training for unskilled youths and social services to reduce high maternal and infant mortality rates.

But the reality, regrettably,is that the undefined model for appointment of the implementing officers has nipped the success of all these high sounding projects in the bud. The people handpicked by the PDP government to disburse the vaguely allocated funds are not there to serve the country but themselves and their masters who did them the favour.

Dr Kolade, when he appeared before the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on SURE-P, chaired by Senator Abdul Ningi, disclosed that over 110,000 youths employed under the empowerment programme of SURE-P will be disengaged because of paucity of funds. Over 3000 youths were engaged from each of the 36 states of the federation and the FCT and were being paid N10,000 monthly.

Kolade said that the money approved by the National Assembly was inadequate to continue paying the youths. Replying him, senators on the committee alleged that there was duplication of contracts between SURE-P and the Federal Ministry of Works on some road projects which have been provided for in the 2012 and 2013 budgets.

Senator Kabiru Garba Marfa said that documents available to him indicated that whereas there were allocations for some federal roads in the budget under the works ministry, SURE-P went ahead to award contracts for same both in 2012 and 2013. Marafa cited the Abuja airport link road, Kano-Maiduguri road, Abuja-Lokoja road and some roads in the Niger Delta region as examples of duplicated contracts. Committee Chairman, Senator Ningi asked how the government arrived at N15 billion monthly accruals to the programme whereas the funding was supposed to be based on each litre of petrol sold in Nigeria.

Economic interests
The truth is that various so-called poverty alleviation programmes embarked upon by the PDP led government right from 1999 has always been based on political patronage. Starting from the dysfunctional National Poverty Alleviation Programme, NAPEP, they were deliberately designed to service the economic interests of the political class of the ruling party rather than the interest of the poor in the society.

According to Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Argentina, Professor Edet Okon Uya, “If you are not a member of the political party, then you are definitely not part of the programmes.” This is exactly the reason all the so-called intervention projects are marred by administrative perfidy and corruption. There is therefore no surprise that the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, Human Development Index for 2012 indicated a damning result for Nigeria, signifying that most of the Nigerian people are excluded from the PDP government’s much-touted ‘impressive growth’.

The UNDP report placed Nigeria amongst the last countries of the world that recorded achievement in the upgrade of the welfare of their citizens – the Low Human Development category where mostly poor nations or low-income countries belong.

Poor rating
Despite having spent at least N18.844trillion generated between 2011 and last year, as reported by the Budget Office of the Federation, Nigeria, on the rating table, attracted an overall placement of 153 out of a total number of 186 countries around the world where the survey was conducted. It is a shame that after the welter of rackets ravaging the NAPEP having thrown billions of naira down the drain, the Federal Government has decided to scrap it. Unfortunately, SURE-P has become the victim – or more aptly the next scam – of the same government failure.

Whereas the recurrent expenditure for such an intervention programme is not supposed to exceed 10 per cent, a check on SURE-P’s travelling expenses alone is so mind-boggling that the Senate had to query the agency’s leadership. Therefore, Nigerians should not expect anything good from a phantom poverty alleviation programme which is a paradigm to give jobs to the boys and loot the national patrimony for campaign funding.

About the Author