The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic happened as an unanticipated, unprecedented event and government at all levels scrambled with emergency actions including social distancing measures, public awareness programmes, testing and quarantining policies, and income support packages.
Many people lost their jobs. Businesses shut down abruptly, leaving people whose livelihoods depend on daily income in despair and want. It was against this backdrop that the federal government came up with a number of intervention initiatives to minimise the impact of the pandemic.
The Survival Fund Scheme was, therefore, designed by the federal government to mitigate its devastating effect on the economy, especially small businesses. The scheme is part of the N2.3 trillion stimulus package of the Nigerian Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) made up of N60 billion MSMEs Survival Fund and N15 billion Guaranteed Off-take Schemes.
The MSMEs Survival Fund scheme is a conditional grant to support vulnerable micro and small enterprises in meeting their payroll obligations and safeguard jobs in the MSMEs sector. The Scheme is expected to save at least 1.3 million jobs across the country and specifically impact on over 35,000 individuals per state.
During the nationwide lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19, the federal government introduced several other schemes that were supposed to ease the effects of the lockdown on Nigerians, and stimulate the economy again. The N75 billion Investment Fund is only the latest of these schemes, and is targeted at stimulating enterprise and business among the youth population.
The federal government had earlier rolled out some palliative measures for targeted groups: three months interest holidays for those holding Tradermoni, Marketmoni, and Farmermoni loans issued by the Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, and the Nigeria Export and Import Bank. In all these, there were allegations of officials and politicians hijacking the exercise and favouring political supporters, friends and families over the rest ordinary Nigerians.
This situation raised some questions regarding who actually are the most vulnerable groups that these otherwise well-intended policy measures were meant for? It will be hasty, in our opinion, to suggest that government, in that emergency scenario, was unable to evolve a transparent process to ensure a fair distribution system that would have reached the intended target group.
It is also possible that in that instance, the entire exercise was hijacked by unscrupulous political actors who saw it as an opportunity to satisfy other motives that were not in tandem with the best wishes of government. In the process, the vulnerable for whom the measures were designed such as those who lost their jobs or income were caught in the middle. In the understanding of this newspaper, the vulnerable, in the common sense, is one who is unable to cater for oneself or family as a result of a prevailing circumstance. The contrived failure to reach these groups created an unfortunate confidence gap that almost blurred the good intentions behind the policy in the first place
Nigerians, over the years, have witnessed rising inequality and injustice, which are in turn partly responsible for the division and mistrust that pervade the landscape. Taking equity and fairness as guiding principles, especially on the part of those put in charge of the distributive chain, policy intendments of government and societal needs would have met in a fraternal handshake. However, and to a large extent, this was not the case.
Reports available indicate that 432,000 businesses applied for the Survival Fund Scheme, but only 70,000 which met the requirements were shortlisted. These businesses have uploaded over 400,000 staff for the Scheme to pay for three months. It is a nationwide programme, but some states are already alleging marginalisation, especially states in the South East and South South. The managers and monitors of this programme have an opportunity to redeem themselves by insisting on transparent and accountable methods that will treat everyone fairly, irrespective of their region or political affiliation.
It is heart-warming, in our view, that the government does not intend to pursue a process of fund recovery. Yet, it is our considered opinion that it must ensure equity and fairness in the selection and disbursement procedures so that the scheme does not go the way of other similar schemes that failed to address the issues for which they were set up. The federal government has installed monitoring mechanisms, but it is only fair that they are allowed to work without undue interference influenced by politics.
To ensure that this is achieved, the government should put modalities in place to track the impact of the schemes on individuals and the economy in general. The monitoring team should equally find out the impact of the fund distributed so far to know the number of people that have received the money and those that are yet to. They should ensure that the Fund serves its purpose. It is then that the Survival Fund Scheme can be said to have significantly impacted positively on the nation’s poor and vulnerable.