10 December 2013, Lagos – “I have built my reputation over the years. I am satisfied with how God has blessed me and I will not compromise my reputation, not for anything. Accountability, transparency and performance remain our guiding principle.” That was one of the statements of Dr. Christopher Kolade, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, in the course of his tour of duty as chairman of the federal government interventionist agency, the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, better known by its acronym, SURE-P. Dr. Kolade is a folk hero of sort, a symbol of integrity and excellence. But as he put in his letter of resignation last week on ground of age, he was evidently not happy with the public perception and swamp of misgivings surrounding the agency that he chaired for about one and a half years.
The SURE-P was a federal government response to the public demand for judicious utilisation of the savings from the partial removal of petrol subsidy in January last year. The call was predicated on the perceived integrity deficits of the government, as well as the need to cushion some of the worst negative economic fallout of the new policy. SURE-P was to create jobs, empower the people in a sustainable manner. Unfortunately, the programme expenditures, including some funds reportedly disbursed to ‘youths’ in some parts of the country can be conveniently written off even today as money blown under capital consumption. Meanwhile the SURE-P initiative is supposed to be part of a cocktail of measures designed to improve the lot of Nigerians in a systematic and organised manner.
Even if Dr. Kolade, a much respected man whose integrity is beyond question, cannot be blamed for the rot within the SURE-P, it is now becoming increasingly clear that the whole idea is not working. As it seems, the agency, in the minds of many, could not break the mould of corruption and snail speed that afflict MDAs’ execution of projects, the very reason for which SURE-P was set up. Indeed the impression out there is that the agency is being manipulated from within by some unscrupulous persons out to fill their private pockets, while others are bent on using it for political ends.
The problem of SURE-P started from inception when the agency reportedly blew some N2 billion to set up a secretariat, and another N75 million on local travels within the first six months. That, to a large extent, poisoned the minds of many about the seriousness of the agency to tackle the problems of infrastructural deficits and unemployment. As far as many states are concerned, the funds are being spent with little regard for its lofty objectives.
There have been questions about the contracts awarded under the SURE-P with regard to process, residual powers of administration and final authority and clearing house for the expenses. Sadly, our earlier submission that while Nigerians needed all the benefits promised by the intervention, the platform the government was designing would become another drainpipe has proven to be true in several respects. There are already stories that the programme has been hijacked in many states by some Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) kingpins who exploit it to further their political goals.
Whereas the SURE-P effort may have been well intentioned, experience has not shown that it is a credible platform for delivering its objectives. A government that claims to be reducing waste and eliminating institutions with overlapping functions should at least take even a pediatric doze of its own medicine. Now that Dr. Kolade has left, compounded by the fact that his deputy, Major General Hassan Kotangora, died not long ago, there is the urgent need to restore credibility and trust to SURE-P. And the time to do it is now!
– This Day