SURE THING

Nigeria 2015 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to General Martin Luther Agwai, Chairman of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), on the impact this scheme is having on Nigerian society.

General Martin Luther Agwai
BIOGRAPHY
General Martin Luther Agwai graduated from the Nigerian Command and Staff College, the British Army Staff College, the Camberley and United States Army Armour School amongst others. He holds a post graduate diploma in Public Administration with distinctions from the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON) and the National Defense University, Washington DC, where he obtained a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy. He held several senior positions in the Nigerian Army, including Chief of Army Staff. He served as the commander of the combined United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur.

Given that SURE-P was created to intervene, what is the mandate of your committee?

The committee's overarching mandate is to mitigate the immediate impact of the petroleum subsidy discontinuation on the population, particularly for the poor and vulnerable; by laying a foundation for the successful development of a national safety net program targeting the poor on a continuous basis. It also aims to accelerate economic transformation through investment in critical infrastructure projects, so as to drive economic growth towards achieving the nation's vision 20:2020. The Committee's aim is to deliver all these with integrity and thus restore Nigerians' confidence in its government. From the aforementioned, SURE-P's interventions fall within 2 major areas; a social safety net programs and then infrastructural development program.

How does SURE-P work?

The SURE-P programs are executed through Program Implementation Units (PIUs) that have overall responsibility for day-to-day management of funded programs and projects. PIUs are created within federal government's Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) under whose sector a program is being funded. SURE-P, through the PIUs, provides oversight and supervision of the projects, ensuring that the highest standards are achieved on the projects and that contractors are paid on completion of the projects without bureaucratic bottlenecks. The Director General, Budget Office of the Federation (BOF) is the designated accounting officer for SURE-P and payments are made directly to contractors by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Are there any other projects in the social safety nets?

There is a Mass Transit program, which provides affordable transportation and accessible means of transportation for the populace. SURE-P also has the Technical Vocational Educational Training (TVET), which is designed to facilitate wealth creation and job generation through investment in technical vocational training for unskilled young Nigerians, as well as improving the training facilities required for delivering such training. Additionally, the Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) provides Nigerian graduates with quality temporary work that will make them stronger candidates for job openings in the labor market through a one-year internship placement. In terms of employment, we have the Community Service, Women and Youth Employment (CSWYE) designed to encourage youth employment; the Community Services Scheme (CSS) which seeks to alleviate poverty through employment and empowerment opportunities for women, youths and people with disabilities; the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) project has an added objective of helping young people remain in their communities without necessarily having to move to urban centers in search of jobs. These schemes have a three-pronged purpose of alleviating poverty, providing employment and empowerment while training and providing a skilled work force at every level for companies that may wish to invest in Nigeria.

How about the infrastructural development aspect?

The infrastructural development program has been designed with the aim of closing the country's infrastructural deficit and setting it on the course for providing a proficient investment environment. To this end, SURE-P has prioritized Roads, Bridges and Railways as the targets for its intervention. On our Roads and Bridges programs, we have achieved near completion on the East-West and Lokoja-Abuja Roads, as well as other major roads across the six geo-political zones of Nigeria. The Roads and Bridges Program aims to complete four ongoing core road projects and to construct two new river-crossing bridges across the geopolitical zones of Nigeria. The roads cover a total distance of 1,326km. In addition to the aforementioned, our FERMA Public Works program not only creates mass employment opportunities through the implementation of a National Road Maintenance Public Works Program; it also aims to achieve zero potholes on major Federal Roads. Perhaps the most critical and audacious infrastructural intervention is the SURE Railways program. This can be seen within the context of the government's commitment to improve and rehabilitate our 113-year-old railway system, which had hitherto been overlooked by previous administrations. To this end, we have restored the Lagos to Kano Narrow Gauge line, strengthened existing bridges from the Southern-most port to the lines furthest North, and are currently working on the lines in between.

What in your opinion makes SURE-P stand out from other government developmental initiatives?

It has as part of its committee members, relevant ministers and state officials that would ensure success. SURE-P has as members the Ministers of Finance and Petroleum who ensure that information on funding are available on time to ensure effective planning of projects while the membership of the Ministers of National Planning and Minister of State for Health ensures that projects tie up with the national plan and developmental goals.