One of America's New Thought spiritual teachers Iyanla Vanzant's words, "Tell the truth about what you are feeling. Tell the truth about what you are thinking. Tell the truth about what you are doing and why," filled me with inspiration to provide answers to some of the questions frequently raised on the Kwara State Social Investment Programmes (KWASSIP). Although the issues are well- worn, some still go ahead to tackle not just the need for social investment in Kwara but how it is being run one year after the establishment. The focus of this article is to provide a factual insight as an alternative to some of the falsehood constantly being peddled by political elements around us. 

Primarily, we need to get one thing right. None of the critics of KWASSIP has been able to advance critical points why Kwara State does not need these people-centric schemes to revitalise the economy and achieve an inclusive society. But anyone familiar with the activities of development partners like the World Bank would know that they strongly endorse policies like KWASSIP. Such a fact validates the programme more as a home-grown measure anchored on national studies for improved access of the poor in remote communities to basic social and economic services. 

As seen with the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) of the Federal Government of Nigeria, there is no doubt of the impact support funds for petty traders, old vulnerable women, and training for young persons can have on Kwara overall social and economic development. But I understand with my experience over the years that some of the educated and urban elites, because they are mostly not conversant with the reality in the rural areas, all want to take turns disparaging these programmes. Perhaps we have fared with such problems over the time because we knew better than to engage in intellectual flights of fancy Professor Billy Dudley said is the luxury of theory class.

For instance, some argue that the sum of #10,000 approved for each beneficiary of the micro-credit scheme, 'Owo Isowo,' for petty traders to support their businesses in Kwara is small and thankless. Based on this controversial point, I like to suggest that those who doubt its value should get on the streets to know the worth. 

"With #10,000 I can start and even take care of Bako selling roasted plantain here in my community." Such were the words of a woman I met in Patigi early this month during disbursement. She represents the targeted audience like bread and roasted corn sellers in vast Kwara communities in need of capital to set up and sustain their businesses. The Kwara State Government didn't replicate Tradermoni without being armed with data and statistics on poverty and development of the beneficiaries. So, there is no illusion as to its necessity to empower women and stem the spread of hunger in rural communities. This same programme by the NSIP was awarded in 2018 from amongst all African financial institutions and projects, as Africa's Most Impactful Microcredit Scheme. This was awarded at the African Bankers Award of the African Development Bank (AfDB), held in Malabo, Equitorial Guinea.

The KWASSIP's Owo Isowo is business money to be refunded. Not for 'dash.' Beneficiaries had their data adequately captured including bank details using the BVN code, phone numbers, addresses and geolocation. And they are most aware they will begin refund within six months after obtaining the grant. We run on such a data-driven process with loan recovery in mind. It is fine if people only ask questions and desist from second-guessing the integrity of the good people of Kwara benefiting from the scheme to refund.  

In the minds of some, we should begin to fly right on the day of delivery. How possible? You wonder. We know the population of the state and are in fact guided by the figure. But there is no way we can give everyone money at once. This is in response to the query on why we are giving only 21,263 traders in the state. On the one hand, is the need for proper coordination. On the other hand, is the issue of funding. You will agree we have to run in batches for efficiency and effective management.  In May, the sum of 300m Naira was graciously approved by Governor AbdulRazaq for KWASSIP. Government is working with the available resources. There is no question of its resolve to do more in the place of higher financial capacity. 

Thus, recently for another example, when a group claimed that "Owo Mekunu" is a "wasteful spending." I found it hilariously disappointing. Well, I do not know what they thought. But we have no such scheme. The Kwara State Government in its committed effort to improve the economy and Human Capital Development index of the State designed after the NSIP, a four-legged scheme namely Kwara Home Grown School Feeding Program (KWHGSFP), Kwara State Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program (KWSGEEP), Kwara Conditional Cash Transfer (KWCCT), and Job Creation and Youth Employment (K-POWER). 

These were simplified for a better understanding by the public into Ounje Ofe, Owo Isowo, Owo Arugbo, and K-Power respectively. Where did anyone find "Owo Mekunu" giving people #4,000, #5,000? 

It is nonetheless ungodly if young people won't stop to ridicule either Owo Isowo or Owo Arugbo, a scheme meant for the old people across Kwara communities, for political points. That would be the most evil and unpardonable sin to God. For many years in the state, the old people especially were abandoned by successive governments. Not until Governor AbdulRazaq came and began to care for them. Within the short space between enumeration and disbursement, we heard sad stories of potential beneficiaries who died due to lack of money to buy drugs or even eat. 

At Edu, my heart missed a beat to hear the report of the loss of Hawwawu, A 68-year-old widow our agents had enumerated just four months earlier. Neighbours said she died "lonely and sick." Poor people. "We had hoped to harvest the crops that day and return home to take her to the hospital when we met her lying cold." Who knows what help a timely #6000 (two months stipend) could do for someone probably running malaria? The incident underscores the importance of money in the hands of senior citizens, more than ever, at the time the world is battling with the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. Will the sum of #6,000 help with some of the basic needs of these old people? Certainly yes. 

People seldom allude to Ounje Ofe. That is possibly because it has not started. We must come to the fact that malnutrition and undernutrition is a global issue affecting children's growth and yearnings for quality education. According to Unicef, Nigeria has the second-highest record of stunted children in the world, with a national prevalence rate of 32 per cent of children under five. An estimated 2 million children in Nigeria suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), but only two out of every 10 children affected are being reached with treatment. The good news is under the leadership of Governor AbdulRazaq Kwara has a fair chance of rewriting the narrative even on the out-of-school figure, comfortably impacting thousands of homes with the upcoming school feeding programme for pupils in basic schools. 

Under K- Power, the highly successful "Digital Kwara" sub-programme was implemented, a training organized during the lockdown to equip young Kwarans with digital skills relevant to securing job opportunities in the new world. I know many would wonder how we gauged its success. It is simple. Don't take it from me. Read from AbdulKareem Aliyu, a young printer in Ilorin and one of the 13,195 enrollees (1st and 2nd batch) without prior knowledge of Graphics Design who narrated thus three months after the training: "I have become more productive by acquiring social media and graphics designing skills. It has improved my profit-making as a professional printer." One is inspired by such feedback. The good thing is they keep coming. It will get even better in the coming year with the capacity building for more youths on Agriculture and provision of grants for SMEs shoring up the state's ratings on human capital development. 

One other issue they continually raise is about sustainability. Well, KWASSIP is an institutionalised social investment programme with a bill of creation passed into law by the Kwara State House of Assembly. If sustainability means for it to outgrow this government the point above invalidates such concern. Funding for the programme as it is elsewhere it is being run is prioritised by the government in the annual budget. I have heard such questions being asked. And right here is the answer. Nonetheless, Kwara's handling of her social investment programmes, KWASSIP, attracts praise from national and international development partners and is well placed for funding and partnership in the nearest future. 

Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change." There is a wide room for suggestions and participation from anyone with ideas. That is said not because the handlers of the programme are incompetent. It is said because we desire the outstanding success of the four-layered scheme and their benefits for the state. What may mitigate against the success of the social investment programmes initiated by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq is lack of understanding and support from the public. And I advise all and sundry to be wary of spreading falsehood about one and all of these schemes to achieve the set goals of impacting positively on the lives of the poor, vulnerable, unemployed and those at the bottom of the financial pyramid without access to funding to ensure they are availed with the opportunity to better their lives.

Muhammad Brimah is the Anchor Kwara State Social Investment Programmes (KWASSIP)

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