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From N-power to colony of unemployment

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Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Diseaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq. Photo: TWITTER/SADIYAFAROUQ

At the inception, the introduction of N-Power scheme stands out as one of the best policies of the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari with a lot of graduates been engaged through the scheme aspiring to move to the assumed next level of the programme which was interpreted to be permanent employment or empowerment not knowing it is a rehearsal for the journey to the colony of unemployment.

On 30th June, 2020, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Diseaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, announced the commencement of the disengagement of the batches A and B of the Npower volunteers which was completed in July without providing them exist package to start the business of their dreams after serving the nation for years.

The journey to this inglorious disengagement started with the transferred of the programme from the office of the Vice President to the Ministry in October 2019, with a view to better proffering pragmatic panacea to the ginormous disasters ravaging the country. Since then, the Minister, has insisted on the transition of the volunteers to the next level. This next level was widely interpreted as permanent employment or empowerment, particularly putting into consideration several promises made by the administration on job creation and poverty eradication, not knowing it is an opposite.

For instance, President Mohammadu Buhari during the 2015 general election campaign promised to create a million job annually and put an end to the suffering of the masses. This might have prompted the creation of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) in 2016 which includes N-power Scheme, Conditional Cash Transfer and others. While addressing the nation on June 12, 2019, the president hailed the programme and reiterated the commitment of his administration to uplift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years.

Similarly, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osibanjo had at several forums promised that the government will not allow the N-power volunteers to go back to the street empty handed. This seems to inform the delayed of the disengagement of the Batch A till June 30th, 2020. 

Though, some have argued that the delay is not because the government has any good plan for the volunteers but it was part of the gambits of the government to score political goals during the 2019 general election which seems to be playing out gradually with the transition of the two batches to the colony of unemployment at a time when most nations of the world are expanding their social investment scheme due to the hardship occasioned by COVID-19.

The same thing could be deduced from the statement issued by the Deputy Director (Information) of the ministry, Rhoda Ishaku Iliya on June 19, where she stated that the ministry has commenced the transitioning of beneficiaries from Batches A & B into government entrepreneurship schemes and engaging private sector bodies to absorb some of the beneficiaries after the completion of psychometric assessment to determine competency and placement into various opportunities which up till date yet to commenced.

Instead, what followed was the farewell message of the Minister to the beneficiaries on 30th June, where she congratulated them for transitioning to an undisclosed platform. This kind of statement inconsistency seems to be in contrast with the standard approach to managing disaster like unemployment which has become the second label of Nigeria in the comity of nations. Though, it also shows that the ministry knows the best thing to do but choices to disengage the volunteers to the saturated labour market without any tangible exist package. Prior to the disengagement, people from different quarters have urged the government not to return the volunteers back to the street empty handed especially looking at their impact on the moribund education system and other critical sectors in the country. 

To resonate this calls, some of the N-power volunteers took to the street to protest this plan and demanded a better exist package if permanency is no more visible as promised during the build up to the 2019 general election which received a counter response from the minister, who claimed that the federal government cannot afford to empower each volunteer with six hundred thousand naira (# 600, 000) as startup capital. 

To further persuade the minister, they took their protest to the national assembly and other institutions demanding their help but all efforts seem not yielded desired result as the national assembly which ought to be the voice of the masses is busy with “probing drama” like: is okay, is okay… operation please off the mic…! While the issue of cession of sovereignty clues to China, increment in the fine on hate speech among others continue to lead discussion in the media leaving the root of the crisis unaddressed. The base of the majority of the crises plaguing Nigeria today is poverty and illiteracy. Poverty has taken over the nation. In fact, many homes are at the verge of collapse because of hunger while the numbers of children out school continue to increase astronomically.

This is likely to increase with the disengagement of these volunteers. Most volunteers who struggle to extend the hands of love to their relatives from their monthly stipend have now graduated to “full time unemployment college” where they will have to be tutored by those that used to depend on them on how to manage chronic poverty. Yet, the Minister claimed at the anniversary of her Ministry on 21st August, that “they are gratified to note that through N-Power they have achieved a net lowering of the youth unemployment figures despite population growth”.

How this is done through the replacement of five hundred thousand (500, 000) volunteers with four hundred thousand (400,000) prospective volunteers yet to be selected from the 5 millions applicants who are victims of the “man-made poverty” that have clouded the nation’s atmosphere is still a mystery that needs the best analyst from the magical world to unravel. No wonder, the statistics of unemployed hands continue to increase despite the existence of NSIP and “operation next level”.

Just of recent, the National Bureau Statistics (NBS) claims in her 2020 2nd quarter reports that the unemployment rate has increased to 27.1 percent as against 23.1 percent released in the 3rd quarter of 2018 report. While the statistics of underemployment rate has jumped from 20.1 percent to 28.1 percent in the latest report. This might likely increase in the 3rd quarter report due to this disengagement.

In 2018, the World Poverty Clock declared Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. While in 2019, stated that 92 millions of the nation’s population now lives in extreme poverty.

Though, the government rejected the report and claimed to be doing its best to make poverty a thing of the past. But with the recent disengagement of the 500, 000 N-power volunteers the nation is likely to receive a similar award this year again.

President Buhari, had said in one of his responses to COVID-19 that plenty people are likely to lose their job this year due to COVID-19 which has finally come to pass with the league of the N-power volunteers now suffocating due to the shock of disengagement at the Golgotha of unemployment caused by the incentivity of the minister to the reality on ground. However, to disengaged batches A and B respectfully is not a bad idea because it is a shameful thing for a nation like Nigeria greatly blessed with both human and natural resources to be servicing unemployment with #30,000 per month, but it is inhuman to disengaged them to the saturated labour market after years of service without providing them startup capital knowing full well that some of them are now fathers and mothers.

Though, the minister claimed in her anniversary speech that “about 109,823 beneficiaries from Batches A and B of the N-Power scheme had gone on to set up businesses in their communities” but failed to explain where they got their start up capital from. Or, whether they are related to Ramon Abass (aka, Hushpuppi) who claimed to be estate manager mainwhile engaging in international fraud. People would have continued to celebrate Hushpuppi the way the minister is celebrating the so-called investors if he was not caught in Dubai for doing dubious business.

Just of recent, Madam Alison-Madueke who has been given the title of “Hushmummy” because of the number of alleged cases of corruption levelled against her stated that Yahoo Yahoo boys are role models people are respecting in Nigeria. This might be funny but with the numbers of those that suddenly became employers of labour overnight with #30, 000 stipends per month, the woman might not be far from reality.

In Nigeria, most people don’t ask questions on where people got their money from which the Honourable Minister seems to be among, because, when about 109,823 out of 500, 000 volunteers who ought to be going to their Place of Primary Assignment (PPA) regularly out of their #30, 000 monthly stipend without transportation allowance and other allowances like the ones attached to the office of the minister suddenly became employers of labour overnight then, there is need for magician to unravel the mystery. Therefore, it’s time the government look at this disengegment and do the needful by either giving the volunteers permanent employment or empowerment so that the nation will not just be servicing and recycling unemployment all in the name of photo shoot, media consumption, programmes count and others which negate the real meaning of change and next level mantras of a Progressive Congress.

Oluwasanmi wrote from Ogun State.


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