After months of bickering and controversies, the SURE-P,which stands for Subsidy Re-investment Programme, kicked-off in Benue state only this week.
The programme, an initiative of the present administration of President Goodluck Jonathan is aimed at removing subsidy from petroleum funds and allocating them to the states on a monthly basis for infrastructural development.
When Nigerians genuinely took to the streets to protest the FG’s decision to remove subsidies on fuel in 2012, the president quickly – and some say, hastily – rolled out a series of measures which he said would help mitigate the harsh effects of the fuel price increase. One of those measures was the launch of SURE-P.
Nigerians were generally skeptical about SURE-P, which stands for Subsidy Re-investment Program. And even though the appointment of the venerable Christopher Kolade made a few to positively re-consider their pessimism, it was still a case of wait-and-see.
Now, over two years since its launch, Nigerians have waited sufficiently, but what have they seen?
In most states the programme had commenced long ago and the funds utilized in the area of health, roads construction and provision of other social amenities.
However, in Benue state the SURE-P programme was enmeshed in lots of controversies resulting in its late take-off.
The state government deferred the social and infrastructural development aspects of the programme to instead concentrate on human capacity development. But this has not been smooth sail as the flag off of the programme has been met with lots of setbacks.
Late last year 2013, the state government announced that the SURE-P programme would kick start and asked indigenes of the State especially graduates and NCE holders to pick up forms from the office of the Head of Service.
No sooner than the announcement had been made, than thousands of youths thronged to the State secretariat to obtain the forms. Then, closely followed was a widespread allegation that the prospective trainees were requested to pay the sum of N2,000 before they could obtain the forms.
Also, politicians nearly almost hijacked the exercise as they preferred their relations, girlfriends and concubines to be enlisted for the programme to the detriment of genuine graduates who had sought for jobs for a long time after graduating from the university.
A female acquaintance (name withheld), whose name appeared in the final list told me that a woman, perhaps she had relied so much on a politician, checked the list and when she could not find her name, fainted. She was heard saying, “I have been deceived by this man. I trusted him and he assured me that my name will be in the final list, now I have lost after looking for job for a long time. I cannot be relying on people to be giving me money, I need to work and earn my own money too”. She only got consolation from others around.
It was such dubious act that caught the ire of the State House of Assembly, who during one of its sitting ordered forthwith, the suspension of the recruitment exercise, describing it as ‘illegal.’ The House went further to demand from the State government the total amount of money that has accrued to it from the SURE-P programme since its inception in 2012.
Meanwhile, as this raged on, at the local government areas, council chairperson of Gwer-West, Mrs. Eunice Mbajaa faced serious impeachment threat from her legislative council who insisted that the SURE-P money be kept on the table and shared. She vehemently opposed to their corruptive intentions, maintaining that the fund was meant for development of the area and not to be shared.
In the same vein, the House also embarked on a fact-finding mission to ascertain the utilization of the funds by the 23 local government areas. Though, the House committee on Local Government discovered several anomalies, however, reports had it that the members may have been induced by the council chairmen to sweep their findings under the carpet.
Similarly, the same members who cried foul over the State government’s improper accountability of the SURE-P funds and even threatened fire and brimstone were arm-twisted by the executive and the matter rested in peace.
At the flag-off of the programme on Monday, February 24, 2013, which held at the IBB square, Makurdi, Governor Gabriel Suswam explained that the state decided to utilize the SURE-Funds in 7 thematic areas of Graduate Employment Scheme which engages 2000 youths to be paid N20,000, Skill Acquisition Scheme, 2000 to be paid N10000, Education Scheme 1000 persons to earn N15000, 500 engaged for Nursing and Midwifery Scheme to earn N15,000 and who would be deployed to the rural health centers in the state.
Other schemes include: Environment and Sanitation Scheme that will employ 2,500 persons to earn N10, 000 and deployed to major towns of Makurdi, Otukpo and Katsina-Ala Transport scheme, whereby the state government procured 1st batch of 50 mini-buses and 50 taxi cars that given out to individuals at a subsidized rate and the Sport Scheme that will engage 500 persons.
The Governor warned sternly against the infiltration of the scheme by those who are already in the service of the state government as well as retired civil servants, intimating that an evaluation committee has been constituted to monitor the performance of the trainees.
“I challenge you to do well because there is an n evaluation committee in place. We are going to be very strict with the programme. Those who do good will be engaged in the state civil service after their training while those who fail will be sanctioned”, he warned.
Public analysts and observers who although have commended the take-off of the programme, noting that it will take many youths off the streets and engage them meaningfully, however, still expressed doubt over its implementation, especially following the manner the recruitment was handled. As things stand, Benue people are watching.