Dr Temitope Sinkaiye is the National Programme Coordinator at the National Cash Transfer Office (NCTO). In this interview with MAKINDE OLUWAROTIMI, she speaks on the purpose of the NCTO, how it works among other things
Tell us about the conditional cash transfer program?
The conditional cash transfer program is also known as household uplifting program. It is known as a household-uplifting program because it is targeted at the poorest homes, it is actually targeted at the bottom of the poor. When we talk of poverty, we have different categories, referring to those that cannot tackle malnutrition in their homes. Government looked at this and decided to come with a program that would help this set of people to start doing things for themselves. The community identifies the poorest of the poor and they are being supported with N5, 000.00 monthly to enhance their living standards. So, these are the issues that have to be addressed and the government is not stopping at the N5, 000, rather, the government has gone ahead to build their capacity so that after meeting their daily feeding requirements, they will be able to do something valuable for themselves and even contributing to national development. These are the key components of the social investment program of the present administration.
What are the criteria for choosing the poor people to attend to?
The National Cash Transfer Program (NCTP) is the only one that has targeted the poorest of the poor and the criteria for selecting the poorest of the poor is dependent on the community because each community has decided to select its people because they know those who are not able to meet their needs, they know those who are destitute, they know those who can go from house to house to borrow and beg for food and in the poorest communities, these sets of people are usually dependent on people as a means of survival. The national cash transfer is different from the other programs like N-power in which you have to apply for it but the national cash transfer program, is strictly on community approval. If the community approves that you are one of the poor persons who need assistance, then you will be engaged.
Another agency, which is known as the National Safety Net, collects the social characteristics of the particular household approved, referring to the type of assets and when we talk of assets, we are looking at issues like torch light, radio, bed, what kind of farm size, farmland, as well as crops, whether they go to school, etc. These are the kinds of things considered.
We collect these characteristics and do what we call proxy testing. From there, we look at the number of houses the communities have identified, determine their level of poverty and those who fall below the poverty line are the ones the national cash transfer program will enroll into the program.
There are people who do not fall into this category but want to benefit one way or the other, what is your take on this?
Sometimes, there are some people that impose themselves on the community and the community forwards their names but when it gets to proxy testing, we knock them out of it because we know that we have so many people in Nigeria and therefore, we cannot afford leakages and leakages will happen when you are not targeting the poor. Some people are saying that the N5, 000 is too small and wondering what one can do with it etc. I want to encourage Nigerians to visit our office or our Twitter handle, our Facebook page, Whatsapp page and see what N5, 000 has done and we are also here, willing to take people to these villages to see what the N5, 000 has done or we can even give them their contacts.
Is the national cash transfer program under the control of the federal government?
National cash transfer program, like I said before is under the office of the Vice President and you report to the office of an adviser who oversees the position of the social programs including the cash transfer. The funding for the cash transfer program can come from three sources, from government’s budget provision that is social investment budget, from the World Bank, the federal government got credit facilities to run the program and the credit facilities are to run for six years, which will be rounding off in 2022.
The third and last means of funding is the Abacha loot funds, which by the international court judgment, is to be put into a program for the masses and accountability made to the World Bank. So, national cash transfer is one of the programs being introduced using the Abacha looted funds.
How much are we getting from the World Bank and how much is the Abacha money?
The money from the World Bank is $500 million starting from 2016 to 2022 and Abacha’s loot, as we all know, is $321 million and that one has no duration attach to it. What I mean is the money can be spent immediately or it can be spent in seven years after the time given for the World Bank loan has elapsed since it has no specific time attached to it. The World Bank will facilitate how it is being used. Both the money borrowed from the World Bank and the Abacha loot are managed by the federal government but the money coming from the federal government is being managed by the ministry of budget and national planning. The office of the National Cash Transfer Program, here is managing none of the money.
There are rumours going on that people have started touching the Abacha’s loot, is that true?
To the best of my knowledge, it is not true. The money has not even been converted into naira and that is what we are spending. What we have done so far is to open a naira account with the CBN, which we have not even completed the process, talk more of putting the money there, or even spending the money. Not a dime has been spent from Abacha’s looted funds.
How long does it take to train the people before they get the money?
For each group the community has identified, they will stay on the program for three years and the reason for staying on the program for that long is to graduate them from poverty. We are not just giving them N5, 000, we are also training them on what their livelihood means and we believe that after three years of training them, they will be able to know what livelihood means. In essence, what I mean is if they are ready to graduate from poverty level, they must be able to accumulate capital to continue their businesses and also access other sources of credit, either from government or some commercial banks in order to boost their businesses.
I can say that the program is ongoing, meaning that the enrolment is continuous, as people are entering and leaving at the end of three years, other sets also continue. But the only set of people that will not be graduated are the aged people who do not have anybody to take care of them. For this set of people, we are not building their capacity to do anything because they are already weak. If you go to our Facebook page, you will see this kind people I’m talking about.
Some people are wondering why this money is not invested in capital projects instead of giving it to people, what is your view?
Anytime I hear such argument, I laugh because if you build a house without a proper foundation, it would definitely collapse. So, if you do not build people’s capacity to be able to stand on their own, how will they stand? Remember, we talked about the capacity for households, future generations, which includes the children; it means that the structures you are going to build will one day collapse. So, it is important to build people’s capacities by empowering them for the future generation so the infrastructures that are being built by the government would be sustainable. Building infrastructure without building the people’s capacity is not wise. When you are talking about infrastructure, you are talking about roads, hospital, electricity, boreholes and schools but in this context, do poor people have access to all these things? I believe that we are all Nigerians and everybody should experience the dividends of democracy.
How many states are involved in this cash transfer program?
Yes, I have to refresh your memory by letting you know that the program started 2015 and then, we started 14 states, but as we are talking today, six states have just joined making 20. I am sure before the year runs out, we may involve the 36 states of the federation. And the question is, why are we not in all the states? The reason is that there are conditions for state participation and you know this program is unlike N-Power and GEEP where people apply online on their own and the lucky ones get selected.
But for cash transfer program, the state governments have conditions to meet before getting engaged. The state government has to provide memorandum of understanding (MoU) to provide offices and staff who are state staff and logistics support. Once they meet this condition, then we engage that state and we train the staff so that they will be able to deliver their services, and all our payments are done at local level knowing that banks are not common in those areas and most of the poor people are from the remote areas where there are no banking infrastructures or even network coverage.
The state staff we train deliver the services at local areas. The states government have not even provided them with the mobility and we are appealing to them to please do something.
If states are able to address these issues, then the future will be good for the nation.
We are also appealing to states who have not joined to please join and for them to join, they need to provide the three requirements that I mentioned earlier: office accommodation, mobility and number of staffs that we need so that the job would be easier.