Recruitment of 774,000: Anxiety mounts over executive, NASS conflict

The National Assembly and the executive are at daggers drawn over their conflicting interests in the proposed recruitment of 1,000 Nigerians in the 774 Local Government Areas on special public works programme to cushion the effect of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU examines the ongoing brawl and its implications.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, recently announced that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the engagement of 774,000 Nigerians on special public works programme in the country to cushion the effect of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

Ahmed, who disclosed this at a press conference on fiscal stimulus measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and oil prices fiscal shock, explained that 1,000 people were expected to be recruited from each of the 774 local government areas in the country.

According to her, N60 billion has been earmarked from the COVID-19 crisis intervention fund for the initiative allowances and operational cost.

She said that President Buhari had previously approved a pilot special public works programme in eight states to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), noting that Buhari had subsequently approved the programme to be extended to the 36 states and the FCT from October to December 2020.

This is as the selected timeframe was to ensure that it was implemented after the planting season.

“With regards to the Special Public Works Program, Mr President had previously approved a Pilot Special Public Works Programme in eight States to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment from February 2020 to April 2020.

“Mr. President has now approved that this programme be extended to all 36 states and the FCT from October 2020 to December 2020. The selected timeframe is to ensure that the programme is implemented after the planting season is over, and it will result in the employment of about 774,000 Nigerians (that is, 1,000 people per Local Government).

Keyamo, NASS faceoff

President Buhari had appointed the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo (SAN), to oversee the recruitment process.

However, the minister and National Assembly members had a rowdy session in June, over the recruitment process with Keyamo alleging that the lawmakers were out to hijack the process.

The minister who said: “They still want to hijack the entire programme, taking over the power of the president in the process,” explained that the inter-ministerial committee recommended a 20-man committee which was approved by the ministry.

He also said the lawmakers pressured him to submit the names of those involved in the recruitment process adding that: “Meanwhile they are comfortable with the eight which are 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 1,000 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 programme 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. They questioned why I did not privately submit the programme to them for vetting before taking certain steps. They suggested that they ought to have input on how the programme should be implemented. In other words, they sought to control the programme as to who gets what, where and how.

“I insisted that I could not surrender the programme to their control since their powers under the constitution do not extend to that. I took a bow and left. I never walked out on the respected committee as they may want to bend the narrative.”

NASS denies allegations

In response to the allegations by the minister, the Chairman of the House Committee on Labour and Employment, Godiya Akwasiki, denied the allegations.

He explained that the Assembly had a duty to check the appropriation Act that allows for spending and the allocated money that should be spent by the National Directorate of Employment under the ministry.

“…We asked the minister to brief us how he came about that committee. He said it was a tripartite committee set up by Mr President that comprised of eight ministries but we disagreed with him on that because we are lawmakers and we try to work always within the ambit of the law for the implementation of whatever we have for the Nigerian people.

“We said that this money (N52 billion) has been approved under NDE. It is even in the budget. So for him to say it is eight ministries that are involved in this, we disagreed with him.

“We asked how he came about the 20-man selection committee because if you did not get it right with the selection committee, I want to tell you that this programme is going to be a failure. Nobody is requesting for any slot from him and he cannot blackmail us,” he stated.

Executive calls NASS bluff

The executive arm of government may have drawn the battle line with the National Assembly as the federal government has announced that it has kick-started the special public works programme suspended by the latter.

The government announced the take-off via its official Twitter handle despite the National Assembly’s insistence that the programme be suspended.

“The Special Public Works Programme of the federal government has kicked off nationwide. The State Selection Committees have been inaugurated and have commenced work. Find the names and contact details of members of your State’s Committee here,” the government said in its twitter handle.

The National Assembly had last week, insisted that the programme remained suspended, in spite of the apology of the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige, to the lawmakers over the spat between them and minister of state.

Blueprint Weekend checks further revealed that President Buhari had asked Keyamo to go ahead with the recruitment process of the 774,000 jobs across the country under the government special public works programme.

Senate insists on NDE

The Joint Committee on Labour, Productivity and Employment of the National Assembly had recently announced the suspension of the programme and directed the Director-General of the NDE to take control and bring to the parliament how he intends to execute the programme.

The Senate Tuesday reiterated its earlier position that the directorate was the agency mandated by law to implement the 774,000 jobs for which N52 billion was appropriated for in the N10.8 trillion revised 2020 Budget.

The upper chamber insisted that Keyamo lacked legal powers to preside over the special public works programme. This was sequel to a motion sponsored by Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central).

Bamidele in the motion called on the Senate and by extension, the National Assembly to carry out oversight functions on the project, ensure that the agency saddled with the responsibility in the already passed and signed budget is the one focused upon.

“A signed budget is a law that must be respected by those implementing its provisions and those oversighting them; the very reason the 774,000 jobs must be seen and confirmed to be implemented by NDE and nobody else,” he said.

Virtually all the senators who contributed to debate on the motion supported it by declaring that anything contrary to that would amount to illegality.

According to them, only the NDE had the statutory power to coordinate employment programmes in Nigeria.

NYCN makes case for youths

Despite the conflict of interest between the executive and the NASS over the recruitment, the President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Ambassador Sukubo Sara-Igbe, has made case for the engagement and involvement of youth in the recruitment process.

In a phone chat with Blueprint Weekend, Sara-Igbe said, “We commend President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of State for Labour, Festus Keyamo, for their determination towards ensuring that the recruitment process gets to Nigeria youths.

“What is going on between the Legislative and executive is of great concern to Nigeria youths. It is obvious that most the members of the National Assembly want to hijack this opportunity that is meant for the youths.

“This recruitment is for youths that are jobless, so we shall give the federal government all the necessary support to ensure that the process is free, fair and transparent to all concerned.

“The legislators were elected to serve and protect the interest of those within their consistency and Nigeria at large. So ordinarily, I expect them to put Nigeria first. They should work and corporate with the federal government to ensure that the 774, 000 recruitment is equally and genuinely distributed to deserving youths.

“On our part, we shall continue to monitor the activities of the National Assembly, Executives and other critical stakeholders, to ensure that they follow the due process.

“It may also interest you to know that many of our members are member of the 774,000 recruitment committee from local government to state and even federal levels. So, we are going to hold the government accountable.”

When asked whether NDE or ministry of labour should supervise the process, he said, “It is quite unfortunate that the 774,000 recruitment was causing confusion between members of the National Assembly and the executive. I read yesterday, that the Senate has insisted that the NDE should take charge of the process.

“But the question is which ministry is supervising the NDE? Who does the Director-General of the NDE report to? The NDE is under the supervision of the ministry of labour and employment. Besides they also have representatives in the committee. So, there should be no argument about who supervises the process.

“All these are of concern to us too because if left unsettled it may affect the process and even the recruitment exercise. However, our major concern is how millions of Nigerian youths will be meaningfully engaged and be involved in the process. We shall continue to support processes and policies that will be of benefits to millions of our youths.”

‘Process should be open to all’

A public affairs analyst Abdullahi Muhammed has charged the legislature and executive to ensure that the recruitment process would be open to all Nigerians irrespective of social status.

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, Muhammed said “It is unfortunate that the legislators are, in most cases, after what they will get instead of representing the country. It is a known fact that they try as much as possible to short change Nigerians on everything that passes through the NASS.

“Over the years, most of the juicy employment opportunities are reserved for these politicians. In fact, many people don’t get to hear about it. This one, according to President Muhammed Buhari is for those at local government level who are in need of it. Unfortunately, what is playing out in the National Assembly is an attempt to hijack it for their people.

“We as ordinary citizens must continue to speak up against the corruption of this nature. No job slots or percentage should be given to anyone, we are all equal and as such, all job opportunities should be open to all Nigerians. Those in charge should be fair to all.

“It is on this note, I won’t urge the National Assembly, ministry of labour and employment and other stakeholders to ensure that the recruitment of the 774, 000 by the federal government should be open to all, to apply and most qualified should be employed. This should be done without fear or favour.”

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