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Ghost participants, fund diversion rock multi-billion naira N-Power programme

By News Express on 11/08/2019

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One of President Muhammadu Buhari’s social empowerment programmes, N-Power, may soon be rested due to implementation setbacks said to have been caused by alleged corruption. N-Power is the job creation and empowerment programme of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) of the administration.

A reliable source close to the programme told The Guardian that poor sustainability plan and gross mismanagement of resources by programme managers were threatening its continued implementation. The source, an economist and former Managing Director of a deposit money bank, highlighted what he termed “the ghost participants syndrome” as another key challenge plaguing the programme, describing the development as a situation where officials and those in the corridors of power send names of family members, spouses and friends to collect allowances meant for youths the programme intended to empower.

The source said: “Let me tell you in confidence, the NSIP Programme, particularly the N-Power, is doomed to crash very soon due to two major reasons. The first is the poor sustainability model of the programme, which proposes that the Federal Government would continue to finance the programme. Now, where is the money, when government itself is broke and borrowing money everywhere? That is why out of the sum of N500 billion budgeted for the programme since 2016 when it began, government has been dithering and has reimbursed only about 35 per cent of the amount cumulatively.

“The second reason is the ghost working syndrome besetting the programme, with officials fielding non-existing participants, just to collect money using their names. Privileged government officials are the real persons collecting the funds.” But reacting to the allegation of ghost participation in the N-Power Programme, the Senior Special Assistant on National Social Empowerment Programme to President Buhari and chief driver of the Programme, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, described the allegation as “untrue and very callous.”

She said that allowances under the programme were paid through the bank and only after a Bank Verification Number certification; hence it was impossible for ghost participation for purposes of defrauding the system. A development economist and presidential candidate in the last general election, Mr. Tope Fasua, however, echoed the concerns expressed by the earlier source, saying the N-Power programme was a jamboree and was susceptible to failure from the beginning. He explained that during the campaigns, which took him round the country, he made several enquiries as to the whereabouts of the N-Power beneficiaries but was always told they were not around.

This phenomenon, which, according to him, happened in quite a number of places, confirmed to him that the ghost beneficiary syndrome bogged the programme. Fasua said though the FG may have good intention, the programme appeared to be driven by corrupt operators. He advised that closer monitoring be undertaken by the government. Another development economist, Mr. Odilim Enwegbara, said the N-Power programme’s challenge stemmed from its conception, as it didn’t provide that it be designed and driven by economic experts for sustainable financing.

He bemoaned the situation where such lofty programme was handed over to friends of the President, not minding whether they had the capacity to drive it to achieve the core objectives. Enwegbara said, “For instance, the operators of the N-Power are yet to address the basic challenge of opening or securing access to markets for beneficiaries, as well as helping them in getting financing for start-up, which renders whatever training they may have obtained useless.

“Therefore, what we require is a complete review of the whole concept of the Social Investment Programme in the country. And this must be done and run by economists. Otherwise, let us be prepared for the doomsday of repercussion of unemployment.’’ Uwais, however, insisted that there were no ghost participants in N-Power, declaring that the programme had registered over 700,000 youths and only recently sacked some participants for absenteeism and negligence. She said: “Those disengaged were removed over time, not as a consequence of your report, but because we have monitors and encourage whistleblowers to report. There are no ghost N-Power beneficiaries.

“We run the successful applicants by NIBSS, to verify, before we submit the lists to each state for deployment. NIBSS is the custodian of the BVN register. N-Power beneficiaries submit their BVN with their applications. So, this assists in ensuring the authentication of their identities. NIBSS remains our enterprise project management office and are our first port of call for our beneficiary check, to-date. Please ask them directly if you disbelieve me.”

Uwais disclosed that the beneficiaries on the programme currently included 500,000 graduates, 26,000 non-graduates, and 3,000 independent N-Power monitors. She stressed that operators had a system in place to check irregularities or corrupt practices. “We have independent monitors in all the local council areas in the country and they all have devices with a monitoring template. They report to us each month, across all the programmes. We have men of the Department of State Service (DSS) that have been trained on our programme.

They give us regular reports on activities in the field. “We have Actionaid also, who have selected Civil Society Organisations (with proven CBO affiliates) in every state. They also collate reports and provide regular updates to us. We continue to welcome feedback and are open to constructive updates, as this has to be a continuous process, especially because quite a number voluntarily resign after securing permanent jobs or starting their own businesses.”

Uwais, however, confirmed that there have been delays in funding. She explained that the development relates to fund releases that affect all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and States, and not the NSIP alone.

MEANWHILE, beneficiaries of the scheme in Ebonyi State say the programme has made significant impact on their lives, and those who benefit from the services they render at their various Places of Primary Assignment (PPA).Speaking from their PPAs via individual video recordings made available to The Guardian in Abuja, the beneficiaries, many of whom were enlisted in 2016, expressed gratitude to the Federal Government for the scheme and implementation of the youth oriented job enhancement programme, which according to them, is making a difference in their lives.

Okuchi Okechukwu, an N-Power beneficiary deployed to Urban Community Primary School in Abakiliki, said beyond the knowledge and experience gained by being engaged to teach, she has also been able to deploy resources earned to improve her small scale business. “I teach Primary Two pupils who are mostly from the Hausa Community. Since I resumed here, I have made a lot of positive impact on the lives of these pupils. I am most grateful for this opportunity. The program has changed my financial status and improved my bakery business. Thank you Mr President for this opportunity,” she said.

Ude Victoria, another N-Power beneficiary said the monthly stipends she receives as a beneficiary of the program have in no small measure boosted her soya beans trade. “I learnt how to make soya beans a long time ago, but due to lack of funds, I couldn’t do anything. Thank God for this N-Power job, which has helped me raise some money to invest in my business,” Victoria remarked.

For Igwe Jude, an N-Power Volunteer Batch A (2016) in Abakiliki, said the experience of being enlisted in the programme has been worthwhile, noting that the scheme provides a platform to sharpen his skills for higher responsibilities in future. “I teach Chemistry here in Urban Modern Secondary School in Abakiliki. This school is the biggest secondary school in Ebonyi State so they have a lot of students. When we came in, they didn’t have enough teachers, and so our deployment helped a great deal. It’s been a good experience because as we teach the students, we also learn from them as well,” Jude said.

Obodo Anthony, one of the N-build volunteers working in one of the automobile servicing companies in Ebonyi State, said within a short period of his internship as an automobile trainee, he has covered enough grounds, and is gradually becoming an expert in car maintenance services.

•Text (excluding headline): The Guardian on Sunday.

Source News Express

Posted 11/08/2019 11:24:09 AM





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