OPINION: 500 Billion Conditional Cash transfer: Let the poor breathe

By Oke Godwin Olaoluwa

President Bola Ahmed Tinubu

The Great depression of the 1930s was one of the worst economic crisis to hit world economy. The existing economic theory of laissez-faire was unable to either explain the cause or proffer a sustainable solution to the crisis. The idea behind the theory is that the market should be allowed find it’s footings. In the long run the market will self regulate and things will be back to normal.

The British economist John Maynard Keynes spearheaded a revolution to challenge the prevalent economic thinking of free market. This brought the idea of his famous quote “But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead”. His idea of economic thinking is to clamour of government intervention in the time of crisis to restore full employment in the economy.

So many arguments have been advanced against the conditional cash transfer of 8,000 naira to 12 million poor households by the current administration. In truth, all the arguments are valid. I will highlight the prominent among issues raised

Many well meaning Nigerians have suggested that the government should invest the 500 billion CCT on critical infrastructure. The arguments support the narrative that the country is dire need of infrastructure development necessary for improved basic living of the citizens. According to the world bank, Nigeria required an investment of 100 billion dollars annually for a period of over 10 years for close its infrastructure deficit. if the government decides to invest the entire 4 trillion naira ($4.5 billion) expected to be saved from fuel subsidy removal on infrastructure, it is still a drop in the Ocean.

Also, it may take a period of almost three years to complete a project from procurement stage to project implementation.

Many commentators have suggested the sum be invested in the road transport sector. According to industry operators, only 37% of Nigeria’s 195,000 kilometres of roads are in good condition, while majority of the 63% roads in disrepair are located in rural areas. There about 98 million Nigerians residing in rural areas. Majority of rural dwellers do not regularly commute in buses. They probably ride their bicycles and motorbikes to their farms or workplaces.

Also, investing in buses will require employing more hands to our already overbloated public service. Past experience with the similar initiative has proven government to be poor managers of such venture. Assuming the government agrees to purchase mass transit buses with the 500 billion naira. It will take a minimum period of 2 years to procure and put those buses on the road.

Few weeks ago, this administration introduced some necessary but painful economic reforms albeit in a knee jerk approach. The outcome of the policies is expected to add another 5 million to the 133 million Nigerians living in multidimensional poverty. These poor Nigerians are more concerned about subsistence level of living than any brick and mortar infrastructure.

The arguments for investment in infrastructure and transport system are valid. The perception of the commentators on poverty is probably from the lives of their domestic servants, cooks, drivers and security guards. There are Nigerians that relies on zero income and without any means of survival. They operate from ground zero level of income, they have few weeks lifeline for survival. Their source of hope will be the 8,000 naira cash transfer.

If 8,000 naira is paid to 10,000 people in a small poor community. it will drive some level of economic activities in such community. These set of Nigerians are voiceless and deserve to be heard. In the long-run, they will be dead. The 500 billion naira conditional cash transfer is their lifeline of survival.

I want to suggest that agitation of well meaning Nigerians should be focus on probing the social register. We should demand transparency and accountability from the government. The register must be subjected to integrity test by independent auditors, the government must ensure that the utmost beneficiary are the vulnerable poor Nigerians. We should encourage our CSOs and the media to follow the money

Lastly, while we are all distracted by comments against the CCT policy, the national assembly has slotted a largesse of 70 billion naira for their 469 members. I guess this is of less concern to the Nigerian elites. The poor are choked already, in the long-run, they will be dead. Let’s help them to breathe.

Oke Godwin Olaoluwa (OGO), writes from Ikorodu

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