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FG’s N-Power programme: Bogged by poor management, inexperience

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Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

Some systemic hiccups, including insufficient information and wrong Bank Verification Number (BVN) have been identified as factors threatening to wreck the N-Power programme, introduced by the Federal Government, as a social safety net to reduce the rate of graduate unemployment plaguing the country.

Specifically, the programme, which took off in December last year is designed to provide a stopgap for 500,000 unemployed graduates of tertiary institutions over the next two years.

While the Federal Government is responsible for their monthly stipends, it is in partnership with state governments to verify selected unemployed graduates and deploy them to their places of primary assignment.

Volunteer graduates are expected to serve in the communities where they are resident.

Under the programme, the first batch of 200,000 participants are to be paid N30, 000 a month and deployed by the respective state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to their different places of assignment, including classrooms as teachers.

But three months into the programme, it has started facing different challenges, with about 13,000 participants alleging that they have not been paid their monthly stipend.

For instance, the Nigeria Interbank Systems (NIBSS), which provides the technical support for the programme has identified sundry challenges, including failure on the part of the beneficiaries to input correct Bank Verification Numbers (BVN) and other details to match the information initially provided for processing.

Funmi Olowosulu, a participant who was posted to LGEA Primary School, Lokoguma, Kogi State, where she teaches, is yet to receive her monthly stipend of N30, 000 three months after enrolling in the programme, because of inconsistency in her personal details, as well as her Bank Verification Number (BVN).

Another beneficiary, Umar Abdulrasheed, who spends N80 daily on transportation to work, has also not received his stipend for the same number of months.

Additionally, he is indebted to his neighbours who usually bail him out of financial difficulties in the hope that he would defray same once his stipends are paid.

Like Abulrasheed, John Ogar, a participant in Cross River State, has not been paid his stipend, alongside his colleagues since they started work three months ago.

The situation is not different in Rivers, Edo, Enugu and Kaduna states, where participants have protested and called on the Federal Government to come to their aid by addressing the numerous challenges facing the smooth operation of the programme.

A good number of participants in the programme are frustrated because their expectations were yet to be met, three months after the programme kicked off.

However, investigation by The Guardian revealed that some participants have contributed immensely to the situation they have found themselves.

For instance, in Ogun State, where they recently protested the non-payment of their stipend, there were several irregularities in the information they submitted.

Besides, some of them were disqualified for various reasons, ranging from being over-age, to falsification of information and being currently gainfully employed.

Already, the state government, in collaboration with the Federal Government has embarked on another verification exercise in order to afford those that missed out in the first phase come on board.

Senior Special Assistant to the Governor, Princess Olapeju Shote, advised beneficiaries to be part of the exercise as failure to appear would earn them disqualification from the programme.

She said the state government has pleaded with agencies carrying out the verification to extend the exercise to ensure that those shortlisted were not left out.

Why N-Power Beneficiaries Are Owed In Cross River
Even though they have all been deployed to work in various Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), beneficiaries have not been paid their stipend in the last three months.

According to John Ogar, a beneficiary: “The main challenge we are facing is that we have not been paid our stipend for three months. As I am speaking to you now, some people have received their stipend for January, while some have not received theirs for December. The programme is good, but the Federal Government should try and make it tidy and smooth.”

Another beneficiary who pleaded anonymity said: “This is a good programme, but from the way the politicians are going about it, I am afraid if it will succeed. You can see that up till now over 2, 000 people in the state that were documented have not been paid and the system looks muddled up.

“The government should step in and ensure the programme is well funded because from what I can see, the office here in Calabar is not even set. They don’t have facilities to work with and the volunteers are suffering.”

Some of the volunteers at the Calabar office decried the level of funding of the programme, saying the level of commitment of the state government was not helping the implementation of the programme.

But Coordinator of the programme in the state, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, countered saying the state government is trying its best to get the programme going.

She said: “It is the responsibility of the government to make sure the whole thing is implemented and taken forward. I drew the attention of the governor to our challenges and he graciously gave us an office. We did verification of applicants and only 4, 061 showed up. We have done their verification and sent to Abuja. In December we only cleared about 2, 500 and they got their stipend. Other beneficiaries came again in January and we forwarded the cleared ones to Abuja. So, you can see that in as much as Abuja has challenges, we too have challenges because everybody did not come at the same time. The subsequent payment has been delayed due to this reason.

“In January, we had to slow down to make sure that the 4, 061 we have verified got all their documents to Abuja. More than 60 per cent of that number have been paid. Now the challenge is that some have not been paid in December and some in January, and some have not been paid at all. We have a lot of sorting to do because most of the people do not have very strong Internet knowledge, so in uploading their information; they depended on third parties. We had lots of mismatching of information, telephone numbers, account numbers, Bank Verification Number (BVN), and this hindered the payment process. I think some of those who assisted the beneficiaries in uploading their details used their personal account numbers, instead of that of the beneficiaries. The third party changed the information and put their own.”

She added, “We have a website, a platform for the beneficiaries to upload their complaints for necessary action, crsnpower-npower.com. Lots of complains came to us and after verification, and we posted them to the mainstream MDAs, and if you look at the recruitment, it was done in agriculture, health and education. For health, we sent them to the primary healthcare agency to work in the Ayade Care. In education we sent them to SUBEB for them to be posted to primary schools, where we have huge teacher deficit.

Kogi Beneficiaries To Right Their Wrongs
Kogi State Coordinator of the programme, Ibrahim Adoga, said some of the challenges faced by the participants arose from the fact that some of the BVN they supplied were that of their relations, which of course makes it difficult to verify their claims.

“What we are asking them to do now is to return to the website and correct all these information. For those that have imputed wrong BVN, which do not tally with their names, they should go back to their banks for correction.

“It is only when they have done that, they can get paid. They did not send all these information through us, they sent them directly through the N-Power’s website.”

He said a monitoring and evaluation team was currently touring local councils to educate participants facing challenges what to do.

Adoga said they have already received the names of those who are yet to be paid from the Vice President’s Office, and they are sending them the information in batches after the corrections.

Discrepancies In Credentials, Haunts Rivers State Volunteers
Discrepancies in credentials submitted and sundry errors have ensured that about three thousand beneficiaries of the N-Power scheme have not received their monthly stipend in Rivers State.

Uwais

When the programme kicked off last December, 13, 165 volunteers applied in the state, out of which over 11, 000 had their credentials verified. One of those enlisted for the scheme, Ms Komi, told The Guardian that she received a text message that she has been successfully enlisted for the scheme after which she did her certificate verification in December. Afterwards, she was posted to a health centre in Port Harcourt. But when the stipend for December 2016 was paid, her name was omitted.

“They have paid some people since December, but I have not been paid.  They paid again in January 2017, but my name was also omitted and I was not paid. I have done my verification, but I don’t know why I have not been paid even though the authorities are giving different reasons for the non-payment suffered by some of us. They often cite credential discrepancies for the non-payment, particularly as it concerns those who applied with their martial name, but whose bank details contain their maiden name. The N-Power officials also cite other challenges, but nobody knows if it is true or not. Every day they keep telling us to go and update our profile.

“We have done that online. We have repeatedly gone to the National Orientation Agency (NOA) here in Port Harcourt, to write our names but still no dice. Life has not been easy. I hope I will be paid in arrears,” she said.

Similarly, Catherine Onyeka, told The Guardian that she did her verification last February, but when the posting was done in March her name was omitted.

“I did the verification here in Port Harcourt, but they alleged that the person they gave the names to type did not include all the names. The fault is not from me, so they should do something about it because I have been looking for job for a long time,” she said.

An official of the N-Power scheme who pleaded anonymity urged beneficiaries to ensure that things were done properly by submitting accurate details.

He blamed those who have not been paid for their predicament, stressing that they were supposed to upload their account details via the Internet, but they still preferred to come to the N-Power office in the NOA temporary secretariat to submit this information.

NOA director in Rivers State, Mr. Oliver Wolugbom, maintained that government’s efforts aimed at ameliorating hardship and improving the lot of citizens ought to have been taken seriously by prospective beneficiaries.

Wolugbom explained that the verification of beneficiaries started since December 14, 2016 and lasted up till February 15, 2017.

He further stated that Rivers State had the longest period of verification in a bid to ensure that those who claimed to have travelled during the yuletide, as well as, those who were ill were not left out.

He explained that majority of those who have issues with their payment, had their problems traced to BVN challenges. So, whenever money is paid from Abuja, the transition is unsuccessful. Over 95 per cent of these cases were caused by them, particularly married women. Some of them registered with their maiden names, but their bank details contained their marital name. So, the name of the beneficiary here with us is different from the name in the bank. Therefore, when Abuja remits money for their stipend, it bounces back.”

Unpaid Participants In Edo Brandish Scheme A Scam
As complaints of non-payment of stipend also reverberate in Edo State, those affected are of the opinion that the scheme is either a scam, or some unscrupulous persons are circumventing a laudable initiative.

However, those that are getting their pay are full of praises to the Federal Government. Mrs. Mitchel Oshos, who recently relocated to the state without a job is one of those enjoying the scheme as her stipend from the initiative comes regularly. She teaches at Egor Local Council.

For the third time in two months, over 500 beneficiaries of the programme in Egor, Oredo, Ovia South, Akoko-Edo, Etsako West West local councils protested the non-payment of their monthly stipend since the project started.

Four hundred and fifty of the protesters are from Egor Local Council, while the others are from the aforementioned council areas.

The protesters said the last time they took to the streets they were told that their money would be paid in February with an instruction that they should update their records with the coordinator of the scheme. They added that when the February stipend was paid, they were not accommodated.

Spokesperson of the protesters, Isaiah Okpako who led the team to the State Secretariat of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), said the protest was to bring to the notice of the governments the need to urgently address their plight.

He said: “We were verified and posted to various schools in December. Our colleagues in other local council areas have been paid across the country, but Egor, particularly, N-Power teachers have not been paid.

“We protested sometime last month and they asked us to come to Government House and write our names. We wrote our names, account numbers and BVN, but at the end of the day, they promised us that we would be paid our February salary. But when others got it, we did not get ours.

“We have met with our coordinator several times, and he assured us that when others are being paid, we would also be paid, but up till now, we have not been paid our December, January February and March stipends. Our counterpart in other local council areas have been paid,” he said.

State coordinator of the programme, Rev. Samuel Uhunmwangho, urged those aggrieved to be patient with the scheme, saying payment was still ongoing.

He said beneficiaries who have not been paid had problems, including discrepancies in their account names, wrong BVN and usage of company and proxy accounts. He estimated those affected to be about 167.

While noting that the problem was rampant with beneficiaries in Egor, he assured that it would soon be resolved, while calling on affected beneficiaries who have set their records straight online, at the N-Power portal, or through registration at the state office to remain calm as they would soon be paid.

NOA Knocks Akwa Ibom Beneficiaries For Shortcomings
Widespread mismatching of information by participants of the scheme in Akwa Ibom State has constituted a major challenge to the smooth implementation of the programme, so says the State Director of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Dr. Aniefiok Esetang

About 2, 500 applicants benefitted from the scheme in the state out of the over 3, 000 that applied.

Esetang said: “The role of NOA was to verify the credentials presented by these applicants online, ascertain same and forward those cleared to Abuja. It is now the responsibility of Abuja to pay them based on our report.”

On the on non-payment of the N30, 000 stipend to applicants three months after the commencement of the programme, Esetang said the problem is the creation of the applicants themselves and not that of the Federal Government.

While maintaining that some of the complainants actually used dormant account to register for the programme, he said: “Those who are complaining are those with one problem or the other. Some of them during their NYSC programme had bank accounts, which details they supplied, while filling their forms. Meanwhile, these accounts are dormant. They were asked to open fresh account and the account must bear their names and with approved BVN. If you operate an account during your NYSC programme and money has not be paid into that account for about three or four months, the account will remain dormant. Many of them did not know this.

He added that some female participants filled their husbands account numbers, while uploading their personal information, stressing that, “during bank verification, it showed that the accounts belonged to a different persons.

Esetang noted that such volunteers would not be paid, adding that those who did not have any of these problems have been paid.

Owing to the non-payment of their stipend, some of the beneficiaries are infrequent in their places of assignment. A visit to some schools in the metropolis showed that many of them show up at work once a week, and authorities of the schools do not have absolute control over them since they believe that the scheme is a voluntary one.

A young graduate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, complained that she was engaged in January this year, but yet to receive payment after verification.

According to her, she was posted to one of the government schools in the state, but she is yet to resume.

Inaccurate Data Hinders Payment Of Stipend In Enugu
The N-Power scheme in Enugu State is plagued by similar challenges as that of other states. And the State Ministry of Economic Planning, which is coordinating the programme, has been hard at work attempting to sort out these niggling issues.

As matters stand, the work load in the ministry has been compounded by the non–payment of several volunteers, as well as, the inability to train those deployed to the health sector, three months after their posting. Thus, these beneficiaries, majority of whom are young graduates troop into the office of the agency daily to know their fate.

The Guardian gathered that of the 6, 000 volunteers in the state, more than half have not been paid in the last four months.

Not satisfied with the development, those affected have decided to take up the issue with the coordinating agency in the state hence the protest they staged at the ministry last month.

“I cannot be going to work daily, spending money on transportation and not receive anything at the end of the month,” Jane, a volunteer, who said she was posted to teach at a rural primary school complained.

She stated that since they were trained and posted, she has not received a kobo from the government.

Margret, another volunteer posted to the health sector, said since they were absorbed and deployed to the various health centres in the state, they have neither been trained nor paid, adding that majority of them end up doing nothing where they were posted to.

“When we complained about non-payment, Secretary of the Economic Planning Commission, Dan Onyishi, who addressed us said issues of bank verification and dormant account numbers were the factors responsible for our non-payment.

“He told us that the Federal Government gave them order to re-verify us for two weeks and that after that we would all be paid. They did that last month and after some people got one-month payment without the arrears.

“Those of us in the health sector have not been trained.  There are about 2, 000 of us posted to various health centres in the state. The state Ministry of Health is always telling us that the doctors who are supposed to train us are not ready.”

Onyishi declined to speak to The Guardian, claiming that he was not allowed to speak on the matter. But an official of the ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity blamed the development on inaccurate information supplied by the volunteers regarding their bank status among several others.

He said: “Some supplied account numbers belonging to their relations, while some supplied dormant bank accounts. We have a situation where one supplied his account details, but used his father’s BVN. Some volunteers registered at the business centres and those business centres supplied their account numbers to us.

“This programme has an age bracket and majority of those who applied were not within the age bracket. We have a situation where some retired people applied. We have a 70 year old volunteer and he is saying he is a fresh graduate. How can somebody who is 70 be hanging around to say he is a youth? So, these discrepancies were things we noticed and decided to embark on the physical re-verification exercise last month.

“Since the reconciliation exercise was concluded, we have been able to increase the number of people that got paid, and so far, about 77 per cent have received their money. The volunteers created most of the problems and we are working to solve them. Now, we are aware that those in the health have not been trained, but the others have been trained and posted, we are also tackling that and soon they will be trained. So, I plead with them to exercise patience. We have even tried to create desks to enable them report their problems as much as possible.”

Scheme Yet To Meet Expectations Of Kaduna Volunteers So Far
Beneficiaries of the N-Power programme in Kaduna State have continued to lament non-payment of their monthly stipend, three months into the programme.

To many of them, the programme has failed to meet their expectations, and that explains why they are querying the Federal Government’s commitment to reducing unemployment in the country.

A participant, Omiguwe Henry Ndubuisi, said his hope of living a good life by enlisting in the programme is gradually becoming a mirage.

“As you can see things are not easy because of the serious economic challenges in this country occasioned by the recession. With this scenario in sight, you see that going to our place of assignment has not been easy and that is why I am urging those in charge of payment to do something very fast. Since December I have not been paid a dime and this is April.

“The unpaid stipend is actually a very big challenge, because the verification we did last December, was supposed to capture everything, so that we can be paid failed. We were made to understand that most of us were not captured, so we had to pass through another verification process, which was three weeks ago. Since then, we have not heard anything.”

Ndubuisi further argued that the participants have approached the authorities in charge of the scheme in the state severally to draw their attention, but all to no avail.

He explained: “When we reported in January, we were told that they were working on the payment issue and when we could no longer tolerate or wait any longer, we went to Kujama, where the secretariat is, but they referred us back to the secretariat to meet the Focal Person. On getting there, she made us to understand that those in charge of verification are the National Orientation Agency, and their office is situated at Federal Secretariat, Kawo.  We went there to tell them our problems. Three weeks after, we were called for another verification and up till now; we’ve not received any payment.”

Another participant, John Alex said: “For now, those that have not received payment are more than those that have been paid, but the payment doesn’t come in time. It is always delayed.”

State coordinator of the programme, Mrs. Dawong Nina Yakwal, declined to speak on issue of non-payment of the volunteers saying, “You know how the civil service work is. I’m just the state coordinator for the programme, but there is a State Focal Person for N-Power, and for all Federal Government’s social investment programmes. He is the State Commissioner for Budget and Planning, and I work under him. Please direct all your enquiries to him.”

FG Did Not Foresee These Level Of Challenges, Discrepancies
Notwithstanding the hiccups dogging the N-Power scheme, operators of the scheme have assured of a seamless payment process beginning from this month, promising that irregularities besetting the programme, including disparities in the payment of the approved stipends among others would soon become a thing of the past.

National Coordinator of the scheme and Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments, Maryam Uwais, said the government did not foresee the kind of challenges and discrepancies that have been thrown up in the scheme, as it believed that the entire process would be watertight.

“All of these things are being thrown up because of human factor because we have people who think they can manipulate the scheme, navigate the system and all of that. These are some of the things that delayed some of the payments. But we have put in place systems that won’t allow that.

“This is the very first time that we are doing something on such a large scale. And we needed to set up structures that are seamless. This is a new structure, and we are learning. So, it’s a matter of setting up those structures that are seamless. And then, this is like the third time that we are paying, and I assure you that by the time we are paying for the month of April, it will be better.

“For now, majority of the volunteers have been paid. They are being paid based on the fact that they have been deployed and the states have come back to us to say they’ve been deployed.

Once states get back to us, we send the information to the Ministry of Budget and Planning where our money is kept, the ministry sends the information to NIBSS and then NIBSS compares with the account number of the candidate,” Uwais informed.

On the discrepancies that have cropped ‎up in the course of the programme, she explained that measures have been put in place by the operators to address these challenges.

“First and foremost, we discovered that some people did not supply the right information. For instance, instead of Maryam Uwais, they wrote Uwais Maryam, and you know that technology will reject it, unless the name is right. So, we had to address that,” she said.

Corroborating Uwais’ submission, Afolabi Imoukhuede, Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Job Creation and Youth Employment in the Office of the Vice President attributed the delay in the payment of stipends to the need to ensure that only genuine beneficiaries are paid.

He said: “First and foremost, there was a peculiar issue where we had people ‎not getting paid in February. But we’ve addressed that. However, it all stems from the fact that we want to ensure that we are paying the right people.

“It’s also important for us to know that a lot of beneficiaries imputed one non-mandate or the other. So, issues around whether their names were not complete, or someone used another middle name that actually does not correspond with what he has on his BVN, or issues around BVN not matching with the account numbers that they gave us all have to be sorted out.

“It must be pointed out that their names are still in the system, but it is just that they have to be regularised ‎before they can be paid. However, what we quickly do is that such people once they have updated their profile on the portal after they been selected and deployed, we pass their information through to NIBSS, which as you know are the custodians of the BVN database.

“We have seen a lot of cases where people who got married sometime ago are yet to do the needful by updating their records, including their BVN. These people who end up using their marital names on the registration portal can never get paid because their records can never match,” he said.

He put the number of volunteers having issues with payment at less than 20 per cent of the entire sum, adding that the programme is running successfully, with majority of the beneficiaries getting paid.

Imoukhuede assured that all the challenges confronting the programme were being addressed, but urged the beneficiaries to exercise patience and file accurate information required of them.

Payment Of Stipends Possible Only After Verification
Speaking in the same vein, Special Assistant to the Vice President, Laolu Akande told The Guardian that payment of stipend to participants of the scheme would only be possible after the verification and deployment processes have been done by appropriate authorities.

According to him, the process is like when one gains admission into the university. “They take your credentials and check what you said you have, to ascertain the genuineness of your certificates, as well as, your place of residence etc, etc. So, it is the responsibility of the states to do that. Each state government has a focal person that they appointed to coordinate that. It is after the verification has been done that the deployments would be done and then we start paying.

“We have to verify again based on the information you put online in your application. With the information that we have with the interbank system- NIBSS. They must corroborate. In instances where there are no corroboration, we are not able to pay even if you have been verified, until those things are sorted out.”

Akande continued, “So, this is what is going on and I can say to you that as at the last time, over 140, 000 of the 200,000 are already in the payment process. That means they have been receiving payment. In the balance, you will find some people who want to be re-deployed. ‎Maybe, they applied in a different state and now they have moved to another state.

“We have cases where peoples’ account numbers don’t match with the BVN. When this happens, we reject it. And then you also find some instances where in some of the states the verification process has not been completed as at the time that it was supposed to be completed for people to start receiving payment for a particular month.”

On complaints by some beneficiaries that they spend the bulk of their stipends on transportation to and from their places of primary assignments, Akande said, it was in a bid to avert this that they were advised to apply in the local councils, where they reside so that, “we can in a very systemic way post people to where they belong. Essentially, if you are a resident of a particular local council, we make the best effort for you to be deployed within that area.

“We do the selection and the state governments are the ones that are helping us to verify and deploy. But where there are instances of a marked difference between where people live and where they are deployed, I am sure that the state focal persons will be willing and ready to make the necessary adjustments. We hope that people are not going to be spending the stipend entirely on transportation cost.”‎

He added that the Presidency has concluded plans to replace those earlier captured, but who could not be verified for the scheme.


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