10 February 2013

Nigeria: 2015 - Jonathan Men Take Over Sure-P

Katsina, Ibadan, Abuja, Lafia, Jos, Gombe, Maiduguri, Ado-Ekiti, Calabar — The takeover of the Social Safety Net Programmes of SURE-P by the coordinators of Jonathan 2011 Presidential campaign across the states and the empowerment of youths loyal to the party, sell the impression that the president has set up a structure for his 2015 presidential dream.

Among unemployed school leavers in many rural communities across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), there is renewed excitement at the prospect of becoming gainfully employed - thanks to SURE-P. However, mixed feelings are being expressed about the scheme because the facilitators of the project are the same persons who coordinated the Goodluck Jonathan/Namadi Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisations in the states in 2011. Again, there are indications that youths from opposition blocs in the states are glaringly excluded from benefitting from the project - unless they are converted to the PDP. Thirdly, even within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there is the suspicion that the campaign coordinators intend to set up grassroots structure for the 2015 campaign for Jonathan presidency. Angry PDP chieftains, local government chairmen and elements close to some state governors have begun to ask why the employment scheme is not channelled through them. Under this atmosphere, the programme is received with suspicion.

The aspect of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) which has generated these mixed reactions 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%). It is for this reason that SURE-P has boasted that it could create employment for over a hundred thousand youths in one year. 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. (See table on Rationale for Community Services Scheme (CSS) on Page 10.

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.

The main criticism against the project is that President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign coordinators in the 2011 elections have taken charge of it, giving the signal that they have oiled their machinery to facilitate Jonathan victory in 2015 presidential polls. The coordinators, according to our investigation, 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.

The Community Service Scheme is just one of the eight categories of services provided by SURE-P, which is headed by an eminent Nigerian, Dr Christopher Kolade. Other projects of SURE-P, which are not under the state co-ordinators include the following: Mass Transit, Roads and Bridges, Niger Delta Project (East-West Road), and Railways.

Speaking on how the project is being executed in Lagos, Alhaji Bode Oyedele told Sunday Trust that his committee has succeeded in identifying 3,000 Lagosians who are in dire need of the intervention programme. According to Oyedele, the list comprises basically vulnerable youths and women who have lost their husbands (widows).

"We have succeeded in identifying 3,000 people who are in urgent need of the SURE-P programme across the 20 LGAs in the state. They include vulnerable youths and women who have lost their husbands (widow). The stage we are now is that we are capturing their data, taking their photographs, finger prints and other necessary information needed for computation," Oyedele said.

Also, in Nasarawa State, Mr Joseph Ishekpa, who was the coordinator of Jonathan's presidential campaign in the state in 2011, heads that aspect of SURE-P. The politician said: "The selection of beneficiaries is ongoing. Only then will we know the exact amount of money to be approved from the federal government". He explained that the design of the project entails that bank accounts will be opened for beneficiaries after their biometric data have been captured, to open the way for them to access funds for them. He said the project is yet to reach funding level, as his team in the state was still carrying out the online registration of unemployed school leavers, as well as the selection of women and youths for unskilled labour."

It is the same story in all the states where Sunday Trust reports have carried out investigations into the project. However, while the project's coordinators savour the glory for raising the hopes of the young minds, opposition parties have complained that they have been left behind. In his reaction, the spokesperson for the ACN in Ekiti State, Akogun Tai Oguntayo, described the SURE-P programme as purely a PDP affairs with no contribution or inputs from the opposition political parties.

Oguntayo alleged that the Chairman of the scheme in Ekiti, Rt. Hon. Femi Akinyemi, gave out fake employment forms to members of the opposition while PDP members got original forms for employment.

Oguntayo added, " It is a PDP affair, it is supposed to be a national affair to be executed by the state governor but by the way it is, it is for PDP members in the country.

Oguntayo accused the SURE-P chairman of using the palace of the Ewi of Ado, Oba Rufus Adejugbe, to carry out the activities of the scheme without the knowledge of the monarch.

In Calabar Cross River State also, the project is viewed with suspicion. Condemning the scheme, the gubernatorial candidate of the Hope Democratic Party in the state, Dr Theo Onyuku, said everything about the scheme is PDP.

"SURE-P is a total failure; complete fraud. It is for PDP thugs, hit-men and cronies to get them empowered towards 2015, and not for the people. It is a charade - normal PDP cartel arrangement for the boys. It is like the NAPEP. It will not achieve anything. To me, it is a waste of national resources. Even the state coordinator of the so-called SURE P, one Jarigbe Jarigbe, a crony of Gov Imoke, he has no requisite knowledge about the kind of task he is saddled with. They are just paying him back for helping to work for the return of Imoke and Goodluck Jonathan. It is payback time. You will also notice that the entire gamut of the appointees is just PDP people. You will also see that even the N10,000 they say would be paid to beneficiaries would be used for womanizing, drug-taking and drinking. It is a circle of wastage!"

Also reacting in the same manner, a noted human activist and lawyer, Barrister Obono Obla said Sure-P is all about corruption that has plagued this country and that it is another way of enforcing it.

"All those money billed for the execution of the programme will end up as usual in private foreign accounts. I don't think SURE- P is a way of expanding the economy. The most effective way of utilizing this subsidy funds would have been to plunge it into building infrastructures like roads, railways, beautifying our cities. Sure-P will not work. This government is practically corrupt."

Barrister Obla argued that Sure-P has been hijacked by the PDP politicians likening it to the programme called Poverty Alleviating Programme.

He said, "Benefits of the SURE P will not go round. You will see that if you do not belong or associate with the PDP, you cannot benefit. It has always been like that. The money will end up in the pockets of bureaucrats, PDP people. It is a way of mobilizing people to support the PDP."

The strongest criticism of the project, so far, has come from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). The ACN warned that the Federal Government's current abuse of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), set up in the wake of last year's partial removal of fuel subsidy, amounts to a gross violation of the country's constitution and constitutes an impeachable offence.

National publicity secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said recently in a statement that the PDP-controlled federal government is now using part of the funds accruing to the programme to empower the party's cronies ahead of the 2015 general elections, instead of using it for the benefit of all Nigerians.

Alhaji Lai Mohammed argued thus: "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 (SICs) 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," Mohammed said.

While reminding the FG that only bodies created by law can disburse funds accruing to the Federation Account, and warned that since the SICs are not recognized by the law, it is an illegal body and its operations violate the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he added that money being spent on fuel subsidies was in the past taken out of the Federation Account, hence it is money that would have been divided among the three tiers of government in accordance with the revenue allocation formula.

He said, "But by virtue of the SURE-P arrangement, the funds are now available for the FG to share freely by approving contracts, programmes and activities in accordance with its whims and caprices. The PDP-controlled FG has now seen the accruing huge funds as money which may well be spent with special favour for its cronies and party affiliates.

"This is very dangerous for the polity as the funds are now being used to empower PDP and its points men to commence early preparations for the 2015 elections. It risks undulating the playing field ahead of the 2015 general elections, thus giving the ruling party an edge over the others."

He also lamented that the abuse of SURE-P will create monumental corruption, since accountability and transparency are being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

He therefore advised SURE-P's head, Dr Christopher Kolade not to allow the skewed and partisan implementation of the programme by the FG to tarnish his hard-earned reputation.

However, many coordinators have dismissed the speculation by ACN. Alhaji Garba Kurfi, the coordinator of the programme in Katsina State, and former coordinator of Jonathan campaign in 2011, popularly known as Garus told Sunday Trust yesterday on phone that SURE-P has nothing to do with President Jonathan's campaign for 2015 general elections, saying "the programme was designed to empower youths with sole aim to reduce unemployment among them."

Alhaji Kurfi added that "our people don't understand things. Rather, they always politicize issues even if the issues in question are far away from politics. The programme is a national one and the north must participate in it because the region is part of the country."

"The money set aside for the programme is our money. Therefore, there is nothing wrong for us to participate in the programme. The programme is a national cake and all Nigerians should have their own shares. We should put politics aside and participate in the national programme, such as SURE-P," he said.

Kurfi added that "though I served as President Jonathan's Campaign Coordinator in 2011 in Katsina State and now appointed coordinator of SURE-P in the state that does not mean the programme is political. When the time of politics comes, everybody will decide whom he/she would vote for. After all, the 2015's campaign has not commenced."

"We will ensure a full implementation of the programme in Katsina State as soon as possible, because our preparations have reached advance stage. We are hoping to make a serious impact on the lives of the common man through the programme, as far as empowerment is concerned," he assured.

However, Sunday Trust gathered that the state's PDP chairman, local government chairmen, members of the state House of Assembly, commissioners and special advisers, most of whom are card carrying members of the PDP, are the members of various committees set for the screening of beneficiaries of the programme at local government, ward and community levels.

Confirming this to Sunday Trust, Kurfi said religious and traditional leaders were also incorporated into the programme, as according to him they are the representatives of the people at their own levels.

Reacting to the barrage of criticisms over the supposed politicisation of the project, Dr Christopher Kolade, the head of SURE-P, told journalists last week that such comments were political. He referred to the railway project, in which case the Lagos - Abuja rail line has been revived under SURE-P, after many years of abandonment, and the massive road repairs carried out by the agency before last Christmas. Giving his report card to Jonathan recently, Dr Kolade said, "We have been doing the work that (you) expected us to do according to the mandate and there are different areas of work: infrastructure, building roads, rails, mass transit and also maternal and child healthcare. We have been active in all those areas and we gave an update of what we have done." He added that in some of those areas, SURE-P could actually point to thousands of young Nigerians that were now benefiting from its employment programme, vocational training programme, and the graduate internship scheme. In 2012, the intervention agency spent N70 billion on various projects. However, in recent times, members of the National Assembly have accused SURE-P of carrying out tasks that other government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) should have executed. Also, a former deputy governor of Edo State, Chief Lucky Imasuen, took on the ACN over the comments, describing them as frivolous.

However, Sunday Trust gathered that the appointment of state coordinators of SURE-P project created a cold war between President Jonathan and Vice-President Namadi Sambo. The Vice-President, who is the chairman of SURE-P, initially produced a list of chairmen of the state implementation committees. President Jonathan was said to have dropped the list because it was suspected contained elements that belonged to the shadowy Sambo 2015 presidential campaign foot soldiers. The revised list produced from the President's office gave the job to his campaign coordinators in the 2015 elections.

Theophilus Abbah, Hir Joseph, Nurudeen Oyewole, Dele Ogunyemi, Onimisi Alao, Adamu Sale, Hamza Idris, Doyin Adebusuyi, Eyo Charles, Abas Jimoh, Yushau Adamu

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