Any hope for disengaged N-Power beneficiaries?

Unemployment is a major concern in Nigeria, even though the federal government has rolled out different National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs), including N-Power, to tackle the menace. However, with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting different sectors of the economy, PAUL OKAH takes a look at the fate of the recently disengaged N-Power beneficiaries.

A few months after his re-election for a second term in 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management Social Development and partly saddled the pioneer minister, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, with the responsibility of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within ten years.

Even before the ministry was created, the federal government had launched different NSIPs, including the Home Grown School Feeding Programme, N-Power, Conditional Cash Transfer, among others, to ensure that Nigerians were made as comfortable as possible.

The N-Power programme, targetted at school leavers and school graduates, ensures that beneficiaries earn N30, 000 monthly stipends from the federal government until they are exited from the programme or secure permanent employments.

Consequently, at the end of each batch of the programme, since it is targeted at lifting people out of poverty, beneficiaries are exited, while new enrolees register for a new batch.

However, with unemployment rate rising on a daily basis, it is not rock science to see that beneficiaries of the programme sometimes fall back into the same poverty line they were before the scheme was created.

774,000 specials jobs

Apart from the N-Power job, the federal government also decided to employ 774,000 Nigerians, 1,000 people from each of the 774 local government areas across the country, into a Special Public Works programme for unskilled workers.

Though the method of recruitment has been a subject of controversy between the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, and the National Assembly, with allegations, claims and counter claims, the beneficiaries are expected to receive N20, 000 each from October to December for engaging in menial jobs.

Blueprint Weekend’s investigations revealed that politicians and stakeholders have already pencilled down loyalists, relatives and friends’ family members as beneficiaries, leaving out those who really need the jobs, but lack the connections.

Fate of laid off beneficiaries

Nevertheless, at the height of poverty, unemployment, insecurity and other issues facing the nation, many N-Power beneficiaries, comprising Batch A and Batch B, have been exited from the programme and consequently thrown back into the streets.

The exit of the Batches A and B beneficiaries is to make way for the commencement of the Batch C programme, with 400,000 beneficiaries expected to be recruited into the programme for a monthly stipend of N30, 000.

Many Nigerians who spoke with Blueprint Weekend said the disengagement from the Social Investment Programme may lead to more crime and insecurity, especially as the Covid-19 pandemic bites harder on families, economy-wise.

Musa Bello, who hails from Nasarawa state, said he was among those affected by the disengagement and that he was not prepared. “We have been disengaged and thrown off the N-power scheme, but I am still being owed stipends. Look, I am afraid that the crime rate will increase in Nigeria at this Covid-19 period,” he said.

Likewise, another beneficiary, Rosemary Nnamdi, who worked as a teacher during the duration of the scheme, told this reporter that she is now at home with no source of income.

“It is not a funny experience to graduate from school with good grades, yet no opportunity to prove yourself. I served in a public school before I was exited in July, with my April, May and June stipends not yet paid. How then will I survive?

“Schools are on lockdown. Businesses are closing down. Workers are being sacked because of Covid-19 pandemic and negative effects; so, who will employ me now? It is when you are not given an opportunity to earn a living by government that you have to use what you have to get what you want, because survival is the basic aim of life,” she said.

 A gov’s commendation

On the other hand, on July 18, the Oyo state governor, Seyi Makinde, and some prominent traditional rulers in the state commended the federal government over its planned creation of 1,000 jobs in each of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. They gave the commendation at the inauguration of the State Extended Special Public Works Selection Committee, held at the Federal Secretariat Hall in Ibadan.

The committee, headed by Mr. Opeyemi Salami, was expected to select 33,000 indigent and itinerant workers in all the 33 local governments of the state. Makinde, represented by his executive assistant on administration, Mr. Idowu Ogedengbe, said his administration was glad to be part of the initiative at this period of economic hardship, occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is a trying time for us as a country because of the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of people’s income has been significantly eroded. People, who even have employment, have slid into the unemployment market. Even when we all know that it may not end poverty, it will, however, go a long way to reduce the impact of the current economic situation, particularly on the less- privileged.

“In the light of this, the governor commends President Muhammadu Buhari as well as the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo, for this initiative,” he said.

Earlier, Salami said the programme was designed to mitigate the lack of job opportunities through a short-term engagement of 1,000 unemployed persons per local government for a period of three months.

“The programme is designed to mitigate lack of job opportunities through a short-term engagement of 1,000 unemployed persons per local government for a period of three months. The programme is expected to provide modest stipends for itinerant workers to undertake road rehabilitation and social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, health extension and other critical services. Mr. President approved that we also adopt and integrate this type of programme into the Nigerian economy.”

Salami said members of the committee were selected through a painstaking process to ensure that the exercise was as credible as possible. “This programme is one of the biggest social intervention schemes to be carried out within a short period of time by any government in the history of Nigeria. It is also unique because it is the very first direct employment scheme of any government that targets the very bottom of the economy.”

Monarchs’ takes

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji and the Soun of Ogbomoso, Oba Jimoh Oyewunmi, in their separate remarks, commended the federal government for the initiative.

The monarchs, who were all represented at the occasion, thanked the president for the inclusion of traditional rulers in the scheme, saying this was an attestation to the fact that the president valued their roles. They all promised to put in their best to ensure the selection process was fair, transparent and credible. The selected applicants from across the council areas will work from October to December, on a monthly stipend of N20, 000 each.

 FG’s reaction

Reacting to the plight of N-Power beneficiaries, on Friday, July 24, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development said that the federal government is being blackmailed by N-Power beneficiaries.

In a statement made available to Blueprint Weekend in Abuja, which was signed by the deputy director (Information), Rhoda Ishaku Iliya, the ministry said government will continue doing its best, but won’t be blackmailed.

The statement read in part, “The Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, observed on Thursday, 23rd of July 2020, a rally at the National Assembly which later proceeded to the Federal Secretariat Complex.

“The protesters claimed to be representatives of the federal government’s N-Power beneficiaries that are about to be exited. They requested the federal government to employ all the 500,000 beneficiaries as well as pay them a grant of N600, 000 each.

“The ministry wishes to state that this demand was not part of the agreement of engagement they signed with the federal government, which clearly stipulated that they will be exited after two years.

“Furthermore, the government cannot afford the N300 billion they were asking for as grant. It is noteworthy to state that the FGN has expended hundreds of billions to N-Power beneficiaries during the last four years and is liaising with the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, which is responsible for the payment of their stipends, to ensure that any outstanding legitimate claim is settled.

“The federal government cannot afford to continue to pay the exited N-Power beneficiaries stipends indefinitely, more so that the process of engagement of new beneficiaries has already begun.

“The ministry, even though it is not a lending agency, is in contact with other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) such as CBN and NALDA, to see if the exited beneficiaries can key into their empowerment programmes.”

Furthermore, in order to be able to accommodate more unemployed graduates and give them a temporal sense of belonging and means of livelihood, on Sunday, July 25, the federal government extended the N-Power Batch C online application by two weeks. The online application process, which began on Friday, June 26, 2020, was to have ended Sunday, July 26, 2020.

Farouq said further, “The extension is to afford everyone an opportunity to register online and take into cognisance difficulties some people might encounter in gaining access to the registration portal which has seen a record number of over 5 million applications.

“The Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development states that the extension has become necessary to provide an equitable and level playing field to all eligible applicants.”

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