Nigeria's Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme looks to have become yet another source of mismanagement and inefficiency.
At the start of 2012, mass protests - tagged 'Occupy Nigeria' - broke out across the country as thousands took the streets to demonstrate against the government's sudden removal of fuel subsidies. Overnight, the cost of petrol had more than doubled and in the following days Nigeria began witnessing its biggest act of civil disobedience since the return to multiparty elections in 1999.
The government claimed that the subsidy removal was necessary to end the vast corruption that taking place under the subsidy regime, and promised to reinvest the saved money into infrastructure, health and education.
But with the cost of living abruptly surging and many Nigerians seeing cheap fuel as the only benefit that trickled down to them from their country's enormous oil wealth, protests continued and the government had to soften its stance.
The government reintroduced a partial subsidy and set up a fund into which the saved money from the partial subsidy removal would be funnelled.
This fund was called the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and it was charged with using the subsidy savings to invest in infrastructural projects and social empowerment initiatives that, in theory, would benefit all Nigerians.
But over a year and a half on from its establishment and with $2.5 billion having flowed into its coffers - and a further $1.6 billion coming its way in 2014 - what has SURE-P actually achieved?
A sure thing?
SURE-P's funds are split between the Federal Government and States and Local Government, and are meant to be used in two ways: to help fund infrastructural development; and to support social security programmes related to issues such as women and youth empowerment, unemployment, and community service.
But how exactly SURE-P's money is being spent remains unclear.
For example, when the National Assembly asked SURE in November 2012 to produce its 2012 budget expenditure analysis, lawmakers were dismayed to hear that lots of the things SURE committee members pointed to were projects already being carried out by the Federal Government.
For instance, the SURE board claimed to have spent N16 billion ($100 million) on the Benin Ore Shagamu road - a project for which the Federal Government had already awarded a N65.2 billion ($400 million) contract in September 2012 - and said it had contributed N9.3 billion ($57 million) to the Lagos-to-Ibadan railway - a development for which a $1.4 billion contract was signed between the Federal Government and the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) in August 2012.
"In all of these you will see that they are not in any way financing any new projects", lamented Senator Danjuma Goje, a member of the Senate Committee on Petroleum. "They are not initiating any new projects, they only put money into existing projects."
Meanwhile SURE-P has also come under suspicion of succumbing to corruption. In June this year, for example, the Kaduna State House Assembly ordered the suspension of SURE-P in the state and constituted a nine-man committee to investigate the implementation of SURE-P's state projects and activities.
Allegations of dubious transactions and high-level misappropriation were levelled against the programme coordinators with a reported N560 million ($3.1 million) missing from the Kaduna State SURE coffers.
Indeed, while hopes were high when SURE was implemented that it would funnel resources into much-needed projects to help Nigeria's economic and social development, many now fear it has fallen victim to Nigeria's culture of corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency.
"The SURE-P programme appeared well thought through", Olumide Abimbola, Nigerian anthropologist and editor of Nigerians Talk, told Think Africa Press. "The list of projects they are supposed to tackle looked impressive, but the problem in Nigeria is often not the lack of good ideas and policies, but their execution".
Political analyst Raymond Eyo agrees with this final assessment but believes the seeds of SURE's disappointment were sown from the start. "SURE-P was a hastily-packaged initiative, designed to assuage the masses' hard feelings against the fuel subsidy removal", he said. "It wasn't well thought out and its implementation has been unsurprisingly inefficient".
Asked if SURE-P can succeed in Nigeria's current socio-political climate Eyo responded: "Absolutely not. If pension funds or aid money for basic education or healthcare cannot survive in Nigeria's web of corruption, what more can be expected of funds freely, and ambiguously, disbursed to the various governments from programmes such as SURE?"
An unsure future
While attempts have been made by government officials to trumpet the achievements made by SURE-P since its inception, the truth of its lacklustre performance is becoming ever more apparent.
A senate ad-hoc committee on September 22 once again summoned the Chairman of SURE, Christopher Kolade, and expressed its concern at the implementation of SURE programmes.
"All of you in the committee were appointed because there was the need to commit the huge funds towards projects", Chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Abdul Ningi, said to representatives of SURE. "However, as it is now, Nigerians can only see your efforts, they cannot see results."
It has thus become increasingly clear to politicians and the public that despite the large amounts of funds being ploughed into it by the government, SURE is lacking in direction, oversight and accountability.
As Dele Olawole, founder of social media site Nigerians Against Corruption, told Think Africa Press: "We have a government that talks big and Nigerians have heard it all before yet we continue to suffer. There are no records of money being spent on projects and you hardly see the implementation or physical structure. All we ask for is honesty and transparency."
Indeed, with the government seemingly unable to plug financial leakages in the various sectors of the economy, it seems that SURE-P simply provides yet another crack to tape over.
Lagun Akinloye, a British Nigerian, studied Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds. He is particularly interested in the history and politics of West Africa, specifically Nigeria.
In addition to his role at Think Africa Press, Lagun is an executive member of the Central Association of Nigerians in the the(CANUK)Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @L_Akinloye.