Last week, the National Assembly and the executive arm of government fired missiles at each other over modalities for recruitment of 774,000 youths into the Special Public Works Programme. Taiye Odewale recaps the crisis and possible way out.
Succour for youth unemployment
At the level of planning, both the Executive arm of government and the National Assembly , had as contained in the N10.8trillion revised 2020 budget , proposed and approved N52billion for implementation of Special Public Works in Rural Areas across the country which entails recruitment of 1,000 youths per each of the 774 local government councils areas in the country , totalling 774, 000 jobs altogether .
The poverty – fighting jobs, as explained last week Tuesday by the planners of the Special Public Works programme, precisely the Minister of State for Labour , Festus Keyamo, at an interactive session with members of the National Assembly joint committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, are aimed at empowering beneficiaries with required liquidity to finance their vocations.
Keyamo specifically informed the committee members that each of the beneficiaries will be paid N20,000 per month and earn a total of N60,000 within the three months frame of the Special Public Works.
Bone of contention
Trouble, however, started between him and members of the joint committee led by Senator Godiya Akwashiki (APC Nasarawa North), when after making presentations on modalities of recruitments for the programme, excluded the federal lawmakers from it.
The minister had in his submissions before the committee on modalities for recruitment of 1,000 youths per each of the 744 local government councils in Nigeria, listed Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs ( SCIA), National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Academic Staff Union of Universities ( ASUU), Market Women Association, traditional rulers, youth organisations and civil society organisations, as the pressure groups to be used as channels of recruitment at the grassroots. The list excluded the lawmakers and the exclusion angered them.
Issues over exclusion
One of the lawmakers, Senator Betty Apiafi (PDP Rivers South), pointedly, asked the minister to explain to the committee on how performance indicators would be determined since they, as representatives of the people, are excluded from the recruitment process.
The minister in his response said since the programme will take off in October this year , all the channels of recruitment to be decided upon by a 20- man committee per each state , would serve as a mechanism for the performance indicators .
High-jacked by labour ministry
Angered by the response, the chairman of the committee, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, picked holes in the submission of the minister and that of Director General of National Directorate of Employment (NDE) Nasir Ladan Argungun.
According to him, while the minister mentioned 20 groups to be used as channels for the recruitment, the NDE DG, said he was only aware of 8, meaning that the labour ministry is hijacking the N52billion programme from NDE, originally saddled with it, going by appropriation made in the 2020 budget.
He, thereafter, solicited for the session to go into closed door, a suggestion which was vehemently kicked against by the minister who said, “I came here for open session and not closed session”.
When told that he cannot dictate to them on how the session would be run, Kayamo banged the table by shouting that he won’t go into a closed door session with anybody and that accusation cannot be levelled against him in the open and thereafter, come and make explanations secretly.
Irked by the minister’s outburst, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe (APC Kwara Central), moved a motion that the minister should apologise for arguing with the committee members over rule of proceedings.
Oloriegbe’s motion, which was adopted by the committee, however, worsened the situation when he was asked to tender an apology by the committee chairman, to which he said no saying he had neither committed any offence nor made a derogatory statement against the federal lawmakers.
At that point, almost every member of the committee stood up, shouting, “go ! go! go !”, to the minister if he cannot apologise.
Pointedly, the committee chairman, Godiya Akwashiki, by way of resolution told the minister that based on a decision taken by the committee, if he cannot apologise, he should leave, to which he responded, by storming out of the session.
Public accusation requires public response
Speaking to journalists after his unceremonious exit from the storming session, Keyamo said: “What they did not allow me to say inside? I will stay outside. Today’s invitation to come here was for an open interactive session and not a closed one.
“The inter-ministerial committee recommended a 20 man committee and we approved it. Meanwhile they are comfortable with the eight which are clearly stated like Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Jammatu Nasir Islam (JNI) and others.
“The others are youth organisations and we cannot list youth organisations because from state to state there are different youth organisations depending on the peculiarity of the state.
“The background to this was that a couple of days ago. They started mounting pressure on me that I must bring the list of those to select the 1000 persons from all the local government to them for them to direct me as to what to do from state to state.
“The chairman insisted I must come to them privately for them to hand over to me certain instructions as to how this program will be across the country.
“I said no that would be sharing the powers of the president and that I can only be answerable for what I have done by virtue of the provisions of the constitution. They can only investigate the programme, they cannot direct it “.
NASS’ function can’t be usurped
Expectedly, the federal lawmakers refuted the allegation levelled against them by the minister as explained by Senator Akwashiki in his damage control speech.
He said: “As a National Assembly our main duty is to check the executive arm of government. The appropriation Act that allows for spending federation accounts has said that this money should be spent by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) under the ministry.
“After all that has been said we asked him to apologise to the committee because we have the rules of proceeding here and that we are all in agreement that if he does not apologise to us he can excuse himself or we suspend this programme of the federal government upon which he left. Nobody is requesting for any slot from him and he cannot blackmail us “.
No sheathing of swords
The disagreement worsened the following day which was Wednesday, July1, 2020 with the minister issuing a statement
that the programme would continue with or without cooperation of the federal lawmakers and the latter firing back that the programme should be put on hold.
Both chambers of the National Assembly came out smoking after hours of separate closed door sessions that day, declaring that the programme should be put on hold since it was approved by them via appropriation of N52billion for it as clearly contained in the already passed N10.8trillion revised 2020 budget.
Specifically at the Senate wing, the spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC,Osun Central), at a press briefing, said the National assembly has the power to order or direct stoppage of implementation of the programme as contained in paragraph five of the jointly signed statement .
The federal lawmakers declared in the paragraph: “In view of the foregoing, the implementation of the programme shall be on hold pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour and Productivity”.
When asked whether such a directive does not constitute encroachment on the powers of President Buhari, the Senate spokesman said: “If the president sees that his powers are being encroached he can approach the court of law”.
Though on the same day in the House of Representatives, the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, assured that the crisis would be resolved soonest but no practical move has been made in that direction, more so, when the substantive Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige, is expected to face the joint committee this week for further clarifications on modalities for 774,000 jobs recruitment exercise.