Rising to the challenge of Nigeria instituting a social welfare scheme

Source: pointblanknews.com

By Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi
The decision of the Nigerian Senate to step down the passage of the

National Social Welfare Commission, NSWC Bill again testifies to how our

country has become so accustomed to caring less about the welfare of its

burgeoning mass of underprivileged. We have become so inured to this

undoing of government that we can hardly remember when this rain started

buffeting us. Even when we try, the actual time we started accepting the

culture of our government's insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians

suffering privation keeps escaping our memory. Alas, we have right before

us another landmark in the narrative of a tradition that leaves the poor

to their fate when they should be enjoying a welfare scheme from the

The above submission may have been lost on you since what I'm referring to

is one news item that appears to have been intended not to stay in the

news. Bad news is that this article is poised to exhuming it from oblivion

and putting it where it rightly belongs. The Nigerian Senate last Tuesday

elected to step down the National Social Welfare Commission Bill. The

proposed law is one which seeks to provide allowances for the unemployed,

aged and disabled.
As noble and welfarist as the Bill is, it narrowly escaped being thrown

out by the lawmakers during its clause by clause consideration. Their

reason for wanting to kill it is that they, among other things, fear how

the scheme would be funded. At the end of the day, the senators managed to

step down the bill allowing the sponsors time to fine-tune the details of

its funding with its committee on finance.
While the respected legislators should be commended for not throwing out

the highly needed bill, their stepping it down raises suspicions when one

considers the given that the Bill has been with them since 2012 when it

suffered the same treatment. We shall return to this presently but before

then, let's talk about the seeming conspiracy of silence that shrouded the

near throw-away of the Bill by the Senate.
A similar step down of the news about Senate's ill-treatment of the Bill

by those who should make all the noise about it, smacks of conspiracy or

willful inertia – one that is possibly aimed at deepening our continued

oblivion of how our leaders reflexively underplay issues that better the

lot of the poor. How else can one explain that in the same day where the

major business of the day was the consideration of the proposed NSWC Bill,

what got the banner headlines was the Senate's approval of the appointment

of Dr Chinelo Anohu-Amazu as director-general of the National Pension

Commission, reducing the Senate's treatment of the bill to a mere mention

or outright omission from the report in other instances.

Just as I wouldn't want to believe that our newsmen have lost grasp of

news judgment, I would also not want to believe that an offer of 'fuel

money' warranted their queuing behind the Senate to also step down in the

media the ordeal of a Bill which, when passed, would greatly assist their

parents, siblings and other relatives. Somebody had better drawn their

attention to the fact that while what accrues to an average Nigerian

senator can arguably take care of his entire village, same cannot be said

of the Nigerian journalist, no matter how resourceful.

Please let no one tell me that my grouse with the media, of which I am

proudly a part, is misguided or misplaced since the lawmakers only stepped

down the Bill to allow them better consider it at a later date. That would

make a good story for the marines! In actual fact, their clever use of

that jargon reminds one of the 'tactical maneuvering' that the military

graciously bequeathed to our parlance not too long ago. As far as I know,

their choice of stepping down the Bill is a sheer tactful stunt. Remove

the all-important 2015 from the mix and what we would have heard is a

direct throw-out of the Bill.
I had expected the Senate's resolve to step down the Bill as one that

would have stirred and encouraged the Nigerian media into giving that item

of news all the attention and attraction it could get. Since their

stepping it down yields hope that it can be re-presented, the requisite

puff should have been exerted on the lawmakers to lobby them into passing

it and speedily too. But the media relapsed, allowing themselves to be

taken in by a shrewd choice of words by the Senate.

Meanwhile, since the media could not adequately bring this stepping down

to the notice of Nigerians, one would have expected members of the civil

societies to swoop in as soon as they got whiff of it. But they didn't,

leading to skepticism if the civil liberty organizations we have in this

country actually understand what they professed to be. Should this had

happened in other climes, you can be sure that CLOs would have mobilized

the masses into making sure that the House of Senate does the needful. But

in Nigeria, complacency has come to be an infectious lifestyle.

Let it be known that the civil societies and sundry human rights

organizations we have in this country failed us in this. Come to think of

it, since it is generally accepted and even recognized in our ground norm

that the welfare of its people is the whole essence of government, any

non-governmental organization that claims to be all about the rights of

the people ought to have made an issue out of Senate's stepping down of a

Bill which seeks to promote the welfare of the people. Frankly speaking,

our civil societies or whatever name they appropriate to themselves had

better woken up from their slumber or closed shop.
Enter the institution that should get the most blame, talking about

Nigeria's House of Senate. This body of government is one that has played

a great role in the stabilization of our democracy and by extension the

polity. As such, it is not out of place for us to accord them the respect

they rightfully deserve. It should also enjoy our respect and regard

because it is one legislative house that is filled with old men and sages.

Remember we are Africans and Africans respect the aged. However, when

someone you so much respect relegates your welfare to the background, it

raises questions about how deserving such a person is of your regard.

They have used the wisdom they garnered over the years to deny us that

which our people should rightly enjoy from government with reasons that

are at best laughable and ridiculous. How can they get so close to

throwing out the NSWC Bill just because they have reservations about where

its funding would be sourced from? Like I heard someone ask, do they also

have fears about funding when it comes to allocating to themselves those

mouth-watering allowances they enjoy as well as funds for constituency

projects? We had better told these people who feed fat on our expense that

we are no fools.
Granted that fears of where to get the funding for the proposed scheme

wasn't their only reason for stepping down the Bill. They had other fears

prominent among which is the non-availability of a census of those who are

qualified to benefit. This fear throws up the need for a reliable data of

those in dire need of assistance and how much it would cost government to

cater for their welfare.
The fear of the lawmakers regarding census of those qualified to benefit

is with all due respect unfounded. This is because the Bill is proposing

to set up a commission not as if it seeks to just gather those in the

category and give them hand-outs. As a commission it would, of course,

have a secretariat with staffers who would be tasked with gathering the

data of those in need of help and also collaborating with the National

Populations Commission to get the figures right.
Even if government thinks it can't pay such workers who would get the

census, the disabled, aged and unemployed would gladly come to designated

offices of the proposed commission to register their particulars with

confirmation notes from respected clerics, if need be. With this as the

case, I see no reason why the senators would have fears about getting the

realistic data of those to benefit from the proposed welfare scheme.

In fact, I see no reason why they should step down the Bill in itself. Are

they not aware of countries where the poor and unemployed are entitled to

square meals on a daily? Are they not aware of countries where government

establish, run and maintain old people's homes? Are they telling us that

our country is not buoyant enough to handle this? Are they really

suggesting that disadvantaged Nigerians are lesser humans that are not

qualified to enjoy this privilege? Right is the one who cried, “there's

God o!”
One thing the senators need to know is that we are blessed with lots of

charitable Nigerians looking for reputable organizations through which to

render help to the less privileged. Since they are having fears about how

the scheme would be funded, they should know that there are people who

would waste no time in donating to such a commission should it be in

place. Thus, the continued stepping down of the National Social Welfare

Commission Bill is tantamount to denying these people an avenue to better

support the course of the needy.
Well, let's believe, like they said, that they only delayed passage of the

Bill for the sponsor to better harmonize with the committee on finance. It

is hoped that every stakeholder would by now have realized why they should

work to have the Bill passed before the 2015 general elections. The Bill

will so much benefit needy Nigerians that instituting

#no-nswc-bill-no-vote wouldn't be a bad idea, I'm just saying!

You can get interactive with me on the topic through my twitter handle

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