Dr. Terris Damsa is the state focal person of National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) in Benue State. In this interview with Faith Igbudu, he spoke on the challenges faced by the programmes and how Benue is coping.
NSIP is handling so many proframmes. What is the impact on the lives of the Benue people?
“I was reassigned to this office by Governor Samuel Ortom on the 30th of May 2018 and we have been able to achieve some mile stones.
There are basically five programmes here. One is at the back end and four at the front end. The back end program is the state operation coordinating unit. It is responsible for the social register. It does beneficiary targeting, identifies the poor and vulnerable households. When I came in, there were only five thousand people in the social register while some states were doing twenty, forty, seventy thousand which to me was unacceptable so we did a strategic analysis of what was required and basically what was required was funding, there were funding gaps, so I spoke to His Excellency and he gave us twelve million with which, we were able to grow the number to about 236 thousand. So currently, the number of beneficiaries on the Benue social register is 236 thousand.
“There is the conditional cash transfer program. The social register program and cash transfer programmes are like twins as what happens to one will impact on the other. So because the number of people on the social register was 5000, the number of beneficiaries for the cash transfer program was less than a thousand, there were 938 to be precise. But today, it is my pleasure to announce that we are doing fifty nine thousand.
Do you have other programmes?
Yes, the third program we have is the government enterprising empowerment program (GEEP) designed to assist medium and small scale enterprises through the provision of interest free loans of between ten thousand to three hundred and fifty thousand. It is a revolving facility whereby the money loaned to an individual grows as repayment for each loan is made. The duration for each loan borrowed is six months. As at May 2017, there were only 2,580 applications that were uploaded due to lack of funds. His Excellency graciously approved a take of fund for the intervention which we used to provide all that was needed and today we have 56 thousand applications waiting for payment.
The home grown school feeding program (HGSF). This program is designed to provide one nutritious meal every school day for pupils from class 1 to 3 for the public schools only. In addition, the programme develops a value chain. It creates employment for women as you need to get women who will cook for them, so it creates a sustainable income for them and then for small holder farmers. Like in our menu, we give them eggs, so the poultry farmers who aggregate the quantity we need also benefits. When I came in there were alot of issues with the school feeding programme, issues of corruption, ghost cooks and vendors and so I got approval from His Excellency to make sweeping changes which we did. We have changed almost everyone in the school feeding programme.
There were also issues of illegal deductions to which I wrote to the bank to stop all illegal deductions from vendors’ account and then we constituted a new team.We also appointed a new program manager and changed all the 23 desk officers in the local governments. The idea was to rekit and retool the program and engender confidence from our stakeholders by showing capacity to deliver on the program efficiently and effectively. We also partner with the DSS. So we share with them the distribution schedule and they cascade to their officers in the 23 local governments who in turn assist in monitoring and intelligence gathering. Today, you will not hear of any corruption under my watch.
Then we have the N-power program which provides employment to graduates in the area of teaching, community health workers and agric based related courses. There is a component for non graduates too. That one is designed to strengthen their skills so that they can be gainfully employed in the informal sector. We train them in automobile repairs, welding and fabrication, carpentry etc.
When I came in there were issues with the programme especially in the area of monitoring and evaluation, some N-Power beneficiaries were not going to their places of primary assignment, they felt it was a national cake. Again, His Excellency approved N1m every quarter to aid in monitoring of the scheme and we have ensured through that framework that they deliver value in the places of their assignment.
Schools have resumed and the school feeding programme is yet to commence. What is happening?
Yes there is hope. The first thing I will say is ours is a policy support program, the NSIP is an initiative of the federal government that has counterpart funding from the states. The broad policy decision is done from Abuja. The funding, except for the logistics is also done from Abuja so we are waiting.
Feeding stopped by March last year due to COVID-19 as schools were shut down within that period. The President directed that we should do dry feeding where children were to be given a take home ration of what they would have taken in school but that didn’t fly as seen in the pilot programs that was done in FCT, Lagos so they shelved it. When schools resumed in September of 2020, they came up with guidelines. One of which was the training of cooks in line with COVID-19 protocols and we did, submitted our template. And since then, we have been hoping and waiting for them. In December, they paid some of our aggregators but till date, our vendors have not been paid. Each time we reach out to them to ask questions, they tell us they are processing. There is hope because the program has not been cancelled but I can’t tell you when the payments will be made.
What can you you say is the biggest challenge in implementation of the programmes?
Irregular payments is frustrating. Take for instance, the school feeding programme, sometimes in a term we get payment for a month. There is also a challenge on delivery of target objective. Take for instance the N-Power, after seven months batch C is yet to commence, so the value these graduates offered in their places of primary assignment is not being sustained.
I also have challenges such that the way and manner at which I run this office most people do not like it. They feel the sanity is too much because the history of this place is that people were just doing what they could and getting away with it. For me, I am a child of God and I see my involvement in politics as a call and to reflect the true meaning of service. Some of the challenges are the ones mentioned earlier, which His Excellency gave us monies to handle. If he was not assisting, we probably will not be able to deliver the results that we have today. And I want to put it on record that every memo I write to His Excellency, he approves it.
How are the programmes coping in the midst of COVID-19?
We are living with it. Life goes on. You know people shut down their economies and soon realised that we have more problems shutting down the economy than with the virus. So the system is running but we all have to observe COVID-19 protocols and all will be fine. Let’s live with the new normal.