Ordinarily, a job scheme that is aimed at providing palliative to unemployed persons in a country battling with acute joblessness should not generate furore. But in a nation where ‘who knows who’ is the order to secure a job, the recent spat between the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN) and members of the National Assembly over the implementation of the Federal Government’s ‘Extended Special Public Works Programme’ was an expected scenario.
The interventionist programme, approved in October 2019 by President Muhammadu Buhari, was specifically for 1,000 persons each from all the 774 local government areas of the country for temporary employment during the dry season. The programme is not entirely new to Nigeria as the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in collaboration with International Labour Organisation (ILO) first introduced it in the mid 90s. The ILO itself derived the idea of Special Public Works programme from several historical templates.
According to the Development and Technical Labour Department of the ILO, these types of programmes were used during the Great Depression by industrialised nations to immediately respond to grinding poverty at the lowest level of the society that normally bear the brunt of such economic upheavals. It was also effectively used during colonial Africa to quickly respond to situations such as drought and famine by mobilising the unskilled populace to engage in other labour intensive infrastructural projects as a means of immediately alleviating their situation. The concept was later adopted and developed by most Asian countries like India, China and Bangladesh to lift their countries out of the league of poor nations.
Speaking in Abuja on the urgency of the programme, Keyamo observed that it has hugely succeeded in India, which Nigeria took over from as the poverty capital of the world.
The pilot programme was designed to mitigate lack of job opportunities in the rural areas through a short-term engagement of 1,000 unemployed persons per Local Government Area (LGA) for a period of three months. It is a dry season/off season transient job programme and was originally designed for the rehabilitation/maintenance of public and social infrastructure.
Participants were to be paid an allowance of N20,000 monthly and were to be recruited largely from the pool of unskilled persons resident in those rural areas.
The pilot scheme was approved to be implemented in five LGAs in eight states namely, Adamawa, Borno, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Jigawa, Katsina and Kwara. Beneficiaries were to be engaged in drainage digging and clearance, irrigation canals clearance, rural feeder road maintenance, maintenance of the Great Green Wall nurseries and orchards in Borno, Jigawa and Katsina States.
They were also to be engaged in traffic control, street cleaning and cleaning of public infrastructure like health centres and schools.
A total of 40,000 direct transient jobs would have been created in the eight pilot states. But the Federal Government took the programme further on Monday, April 6, 2020, when the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, announced the approval of the President for the extension of the programme to all 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, from October-December 2020 as a means of mitigating the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
President Buhari was unequivocal when he directed the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to execute the programme. But the Ministry of Labour inaugurated a ‘Special Inter-Ministerial Committee’ for the same purpose on March 29, 2020.
Observers think politics crept into the programme at this juncture, which unfortunately caused the furore between the lawmakers and Keyamo.
Keyamo, however, insisted that he had the powers to make such a pronouncement, citing Section 16 (1) of the NDE Act, I.
He also claimed that President Buhari gave him the special and onerous task of supervising the preparation and execution of the programme in addition to being the supervising Minister of the NDE. He explained that the mandate of the committee was to simply identify projects that could be executed in their respective ministries.
After reviewing the recommendations of the committee, the minister reasoned that it would be unwise for the selection of the beneficiaries and projects to be in Abuja instead of being domesticated in the local councils.
Consequently, in line with Section 16(1) of the NDE Act, he constituted special committees in each state of the federation for the purpose of deliberating, selecting and recommending to his office the names of the 1,000 persons from each of the LGAs in the states.
The minister stated that the committees would also identify the projects to be executed in those LGAs.
The special committees, christened ‘State Selection Committees of the Special Public Works (SPW)’, has 20 members each comprising the following persons: A Chairman and Vice-Chairman who shall be indigenes of that state or who are ordinarily resident in that state; the State Coordinator of the NDE of that state who will be the Secretary; one representative of the governor of that state; the Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria of that state or his representative/nominee; the state Chairman of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs or his representative/nominee; the state Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers or his representative/nominee; the market woman leader in that state; three persons (one from each Senatorial District) representing the traditional institutions in that state.
Others include: “Two persons (one male and one female) from each of the senatorial districts of the state (that is six persons) representing prominent youth organisations in those states; a representative of a prominent Civil Society Organisation of that state; and two persons representing some peculiar interests in those states.
Keyamo noted that the composition was meant to guard against hijacking the process solely to service political interests. He stated that the step was to ensure that majority of Nigerians who do not belong to any of the political divide substantially benefit from the programme.
With the programme expected to begin on October 1, 2020, findings showed that many states have kick-started the recruitment process. Although potential beneficiaries showed high expectations, they also expressed some reservations about the process. The reports below provide the details.
Poor Awareness, Fear Of Extortion Worry Lagos Residents
By Tobi Awodipe
In Lagos State, many youths sampled by The Guardian during the week claimed that they had no idea of the programme. In separate polls taken online on social media and offline, most people said they didn’t know that there was a programme designed to employ people as a form of COVID-19 palliative to the masses. The few who were aware of the initiative, however, expressed reservations, saying the average Nigerian wouldn’t benefit, as it would be ridden with corruption.
A job seeker The Guardian met through a job search Whatsapp group, Enitan Akinmorin, wondered why the Federal Government wants to embark on employing more people that it cannot afford to pay.
“They deceived us with N-Power; people rushed and registered but where are they today? They have become hungry people still roaming the streets yet the government refused to use them. Some lucky ones have found one or two things doing while some have become street urchins,” he said.
Olabisi Majekodunmi, another job seeker, described the programme as a laudable initiative but feared that it would go the way of others.
“I’m hearing about this for the first time from you but it is a welcome development; I must confess. However, I pray that those in charge will be transparent enough and not use it as a political tool. We know how these things go. They announce something but before you know it, you don’t hear anything again. Meanwhile, their children are all gainfully employed. It is really painful that nothing works out well for the average Nigerian in this country. You can’t get employed but if you start a small business to keep body and soul together, you will be frustrated out of the business,” she said.
Another youth, who simply identified himself as David, scoffed that it was “audio recruitment.”
He explained: “Is it today? At the end of the day it is going to be a man-know-man affair. Without connection, forget this thing they are claiming. In any case, I hope it reaches the intended persons because I’m not impressed with their lies. Anyway, anyone that has the slot should talk because I’m ready to buy.”
Reacting to the lack of awareness about the initiative and the general attitude of the youths, the chairperson of the Lagos State Selection Committee, Alhaji Mutiu Are, in a chat with The Guardian, lamented that most youths these days don’t to listen to the radio or read newspapers for credible, life-changing information but prefer to spend their time on social media doing things that don’t help them.
“We can do more regarding awareness but it has to come from the federal level. I just finished a meeting with the state government and we have gotten the governor’s cooperation to get the information across all the local governments in the state. They assisted us with logistics, printing of forms and so on,” he said.
On why their office in Sabo, Yaba, was not being besieged by job seekers considering the level of unemployment in the country, Are said the forms could only be gotten at the local government level.
“You can get the form only from your local government and you fill and return it there. It is not done online, as we believe the job is more for artisans and we don’t want to exclude anybody. The form will ask for basic information like your name, address, phone number, LGA, town/ward, disability status and so on,” he added.
Reacting to allegations that some local government officials were trying to make money by selling the forms, Are said the forms were free of any charges, adding: “If anyone asks you for money, report such person with proper evidence at the NDE office and we will surely look into it. Also, part of the reasons we are asking people to get the form physically is because we want to avoid duplication.
Neither the committee members nor myself can be in all the LGAs at the same time to supervise things and getting multiple forms will only prevent others from getting theirs because despite Lagos’ population, it has just 20, 000 forms. If you think you want to play smart and get four forms thinking that would fetch you ₦80, 000, you are mistaken because your BVN will expose you. Once we verify at our end that you got more than one form, you will be disqualified automatically.”
He gave the assurance that the initiative would not be reduced to a man-know-man affair. “Some numbers have been allocated to the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), market women association, youth council and so on just to ensure that everyone and anyone can benefit. The programme is meant for people aged 18 to 50 years and was borne out of the need to alleviate the sufferings of the masses. For now, it is just for three months and we have no idea if it would be extended or not. If the president decides to extend it, we would be happy to continue even though none of us (committee members) are being paid to do this.
“For transparency sake, the names of people would be vetted by different people before being sent to Abuja and then the bank. The bank would pay the people directly. We have no business beyond selecting the needed people,” he explained.
He stressed people that would be employed would be gainfully occupied and wouldn’t be owed salaries as the National Assembly has approved and released money for the programme.
“Nobody is promised more than three months so there are no assurances of being retained afterwards. We hope it can be extended to a year at least but when we start, we will see what would happen. If after the allotted time, people plead that it be extended, I am sure the president would see what can be done because he has a listening ear,” he noted.
C’River Unemployed Youths Pray For Success Of Initiative
From Anietie Akpan, Calabar
In Cross River State, the programme is on course and unemployed youths are praying for its success.
Already the 20-member selection committee for the state has been inaugurated.
Maria Ukpayang, who is the chairman of the committee, the vice chairman, Martin Bisong and the secretary, Gabriel Udam, were recently inaugurated in Abuja. Ukpayang recently inaugurated other members of the committee at the Conference Hall of the Federal Secretariat in Calabar, urging them to see their duties as a national assignment.
She noted that the committee has the mandate to collate beneficiaries in all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state, adding that the programme was targeted at the grassroots, especially poor households irrespective of party affiliation.
“We have just concluded the process of distributing the forms and by next week we will be in the field to actually give out the forms to the prospective beneficiaries to fill and return,” she said.
Ukpayang said the programme was on course but noted that the committee was having challenges in the area of funding.
Vice Chairman of the committee, Martin Bisong and the Secretary, Gabriel Udam, in separate interviews with The Guardian, commended the Federal Government for the initiative, saying the committee would ensure that it is well implemented.
According to them, the committee members were chosen to represent traditional rulers, youths, market women, Christian and the Muslim communities, among others, to ensure that beneficiaries would be carefully selected from all the 18 LGAs of the state.
A potential beneficiary, Bassey Etim, said he was looking forward to benefitting from the programme: “If the programme works it will be good for us. I graduated three years ago yet no job.”
Governors, Lawmakers, Religious Leaders Get Slots In Bauchi
From Rauf Oyewole, Bauchi
The selection committee in Bauchi State has distributed nomination forms to different stakeholders in the state for the selection of the beneficiaries of the programme.
Chairman of the committee, Sanusi Aliyu Kunde, said the process has begun across the 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state.
“We are targeting those who cannot access the internet or downtrodden in the society. We have given 40 slots to the governor across the 20 LGAs, deputy governor takes five slots in every local council. Each senator takes 30 slots from his or her district. While each House of Representatives member was given 25 slots in each of the LGAs he represents. Also, 10 slots per constituency were allocated to state lawmakers,” Sanusi said.
He further explained that youth groups were given 50 per cent of the 1,000 slots per LGA.
“Women groups, artisans, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), traditional leaders, farmers, Miyetti Allah and transport unions were given slots. All these are members of the selection committee,” he added.
A resident of the Bauchi local government, Ahmed Ibrahim, who is interested in the job, however said he had not seen or heard of how he could be enrolled.
“If they give me the slot, it will be of advantage to me because after my Higher National Diploma in 2015, I have not gotten a job. We are waiting for the job,” he said.
Another potential beneficiary, Khadija Usman, also said she was optimistic to benefit from the programme but expressed worries over the level of involvement of politicians in the implementation.
“I pray that this programme reaches people like us without connection with political class,” she said.
Enugu Committee Moves To Ensure Transparency
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu
In Enugu State, the selection committee has inaugurated 85- member supervisory/monitoring committee for the implementation of the programme. Each of the 17 local governments contributed five members to the committee.
State chairman of the committee, Chief Gbazuagu Nweke Gbazuagu, stated that the programme would be for unskilled and semi-skilled youths and unemployed graduates that are qualified to benefit from the programme.
Speaking on the efforts to ensure that the programme goes smoothly in the state, Gbazuagu emphasised that it excludes youths who are already engaged in any form of trade/business or are employed, stressing that such people would be disqualified.
He stated that the committee was necessary, saying they would ensure that only candidates from the wards make the list. He explained that members of the committee would serve on charity basis, adding that the successful inauguration of the committee was part of efforts to ensure that the aspirations of President Muhammadu Buhari on the scheme were met.
He said: “This programme provides opportunity for our unskilled, semi-skilled and graduate youths who are jobless. It is not for our fathers and mothers or those who are already engaged. Those who will be selected will eventually go to banks to open an account. They will be paid directly from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Those who are not qualified but selected by any member of the committee will be disqualified by the Central Bank at the final stage.
“The ward level is where people can only be identified. The exercise is not online. It is at ward level that people will know those who are qualified.
“We will ensure there is no proxy selection or selection through fictitious names or claims. I assure the people of the state that this particular selection will be transparent and apolitical.
“The committee will ensure that nobody under any guise would hijack the process at the ward levels, where the actual selection starts. The selection will cut across every segment of the state. The people selected will deal directly with the government and receive their remuneration directly through the CBN for the three months of October, November and December this year.
“From my experience and the experiences of other members of the committee, I believe that Enugu State will record huge success in this exercise.”
Findings showed that several youths in the state have started jostling for the jobs.
Ifeanyichukwu Ugwu told The Guardian that she had visited her ward in Amaorji Nike, in Enugu East local council and was gearing up for the actual registration.
She stated that information available to her showed that registration would commence soon, stressing that she has spent three years without a job since she graduated.
“I decided to go into tailoring in order to keep myself busy. I have graduated but the fund to set up my own business is still a problem. They are saying they want people with skill; I have one. I pray that the selection process is not compromised so as to enable me get engaged. I desperately need a job,” she stated.
Meanwhile, the Federal Commissioner, Federal Character Commission (FCC) in the state, Mrs. Ginika Tor, has charged the committee to ensure that they follow due diligence in the exercise.
“On the part of the members of the committee across the 17 LGAs in Enugu State, they need to be told that to whom much is given, much is expected. I believe they were all well-chosen to represent the people of Enugu State at the local government level and I have no doubt in my mind that they will uphold the principles of Federal Character in the discharge of their duties.
“The distinctive desire of Mr. President is to give citizens of Nigeria fair and equitable sharing thereby promoting national unity and fostering national loyalty as stipulated in Section 14(3) and (4) of the 1999 constitution as amended. So, this is not time for political patronage or self-aggrandisement. We shall monitor the entire process to see that the right thing is done.”
Imo Unemployed Youths Seek Transparency In Recruitment Process
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri
The committee set up by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment Government to oversee the Special Public Works programme that will lead to the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians has kicked off the process in Imo State.
Chairman of the committee, Okenze Obinna, disclosed that they have developed a template that would ensure that officials of the 27 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state would be involved in the process.
According to him, the template was put in place to ensure that the committee selects 27,000 genuine beneficiaries.
He noted that communities must identify and certify all applicants before their applications would be considered, adding that applicants had been directed to apply online and the process was currently ongoing.
He said the committee has been working in conjunction with the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in the state, saying some names would be shortlisted at the end of the deadline for applications.
“The committee would thereafter interact with the applicants and those who meet the criteria would be communicated later,” he added.
An applicant, Juliet Ibe, who is a graduate of Environmental Sciences told The Guardian that she has applied for the job online and was waiting to be invited for the interview.
“I have applied online, though it was not easy at the business centre where I went to apply. Many people were there. I am waiting for further directive, such as shortlisting of my name and other necessary requirements. I am hoping that the selection process would be transparent and in line with due process. I heard that we would be paid N20,000 monthly; it is better than staying at home,” she said.
Another applicant, John Okechukwu, also said he has applied and was hoping to scale through.
“I applied about three weeks ago. I filled the forms as required. I do not have any doubt that I will be successful,” he noted.
Commenting on the programme, a former coordinator of the National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), Oliver Enwerenem, described it as a good initiative that would help to address the unemployment problem in the country.
Group Interest Delays Programme’s Take-Off In Anambra
From Osiberoha Osibe, Awka
The delay in the take-off of the Special Public Works Programme of the Federal Government in Anambra State seems to justify the position of the National Assembly that the programme be put on hold until certain grey areas are ironed out.
The Guardian investigations revealed that after the inauguration of the selection committee in the state a fortnight ago, clash of interests has been delaying its take off.
It was gathered that the selection committee in the state deliberated on modalities for selecting the beneficiaries to avoid accusations of hijack.
An insider who does not want his name disclosed said that each of the three senators in the state got 30 slots in each of the seven councils they are representing, while House of Representatives members representing three local councils got 75 slots while those representing two local council areas got 50 slots. At the state level, members of the State House of Assembly got 25 slots each, while the governor got 40 slots for each of the 21 local council of the state.
According to the source, the slots for some interest groups like Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), tertiary institutions, labour unions and traditional rulers’ council among others, had not been agreed on.
Telephone calls made to the Chairman of the state selection committee, Uzoma Igbonwa, was neither picked nor returned, likewise the Secretary.
A job seeker, Uju Favour Okafor, who studied Economics, thanked the Federal Government for coming up with a programme to put money in the pockets of many citizens, especially unemployed graduates, adding that the money might look too small but would help the economy not to go into recession.
However, a traditional ruler in Awka, Ozo Jeef Obuorah, told The Guardian that the Federal Government was making a big mistake with the programme, describing it as piecemeal empowerment.
Obuorah said: “If government wants to create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the country, they should create proper jobs in the private universities. At each private university, not less than 5000 jobs can be created on different salary grades and on permanent basis.
“Nigeria is still poor on education because it is supposed to last a period of 20 years, but in Nigeria it takes up to 30 years. Graduates are potentials for job creation. Industries are dead and only educated persons with refined thinking can save the situation. Let the government use the ‘dash money’ to empower private universities to create permanent jobs.”