By OLAKUNLE OLAFIOYE
HOURS after it was launched on Sunday June 12, the N-Power portal, official website for the registration of job applications for the much publicised Federal Government’s 500, 000 jobs reportedly crashed. The crash was not an unusual development.
A number of such portals had crashed under heavy traffic of visits by job seekers in the recent past. This embarrassing and frustrating development only points to the disturbing unemployment situation in the country.
However, despite the rush by thousands of unemployed applicants to register on the portal, several others are just not interested in logging on to the portal. Their indifference is not borne out of the meagre N23, 000 successful applicants would get as monthly stipends for two years when they are eventually engaged. Their apathy is a response to the uncertainty that lies ahead after two years of their engagement. Miss. Adebola Ogundimu is one of such people. Her misgiving is not baseless.
Ogundimu, a graduate of Biochemistry told Sunday Sun reporter that her elder sister is one of the hundreds of volunteer teachers under the World Bank-assisted Eko Project that are billed to be thrown back into the saturated labour market next month by the Lagos State Government after six years of service in the state.
The Lagos Eko Secondary Education Project is a partnership between the World Bank and the Lagos State Government with the objective of improving students’ learning outcomes in all public junior and senior secondary schools over a period of four years. One of the components of the scheme is the Volunteer Teacher Scheme which Miss Ogundimu claimed her elder sister is part of.
“I don’t want to suffer the same fate as my sister. She was employed under the volunteer teacher scheme in Lagos and earned N10, 000 monthly until it was increased to N15, 000 sometime ago. But the Lagos State Government is planning to disengage them next month after about six years. Now the Federal Government wants to employ 500,000 teachers for two years, so what happens after two years?,” she queried.
At inception, the volunteer teachers were engaged for a period of four years by the World Bank and paid N10, 000 monthly as stipend. But at the expiration of its sponsorship, the Lagos State Government indicated interest to continue with the programme for another two years. “When the additional two years lapsed, they extended it by another six months which will end in August. So, that means that we will be disengaged next month. Even though we are not unaware of the fact that the scheme would be for a period of time, we were given assurance that we would be absorbed if we performed very well and I believe we have fulfilled our own part going by the testimonies we have heard so far. Unfortunately, we were not considered when the state government recruited new teachers recently,” one of the volunteer teachers who pleaded anonymity disclosed.
Although unlike the Lagos Eko Project, the Federal Government’s N-Power Programme promises to offer those to be engaged clear progression into gainful employment, many Nigerians have expressed doubts over the future of the scheme and its beneficiaries.
An International Labour Organisation (ILO) certified Entrepreneurship Development Consultant, Mrs. Fayo Williams lauded the Federal Government’s initiative to provide jobs for unemployed Nigerians but expressed reservation over the sustainability of the project. “It is a welcome development but my major concern however, is its sustainability. Such initiative definitely needs to be sustained but my question is, how do we sustain it? Is government going to keep budgeting for the scheme every year?” she queried.
Williams, who is the immediate past Vice President of NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women, (NNEW) holds the view that government must not only strive to empower Nigerians but also ensure that the empowerment scheme to be put in place is capable of generating income that will be used for the benefit of the masses. She said, “We need to put in place programmes that will outlive the current government. Our concern should be a sustainable programme; that which will ensure that income to be put into use for the benefit of the masses is generated. In my opinion, the way to go round it will be to create special economic scheme around targeted resources and create an enabling business environment such that will encourage intending investors.”
On his part, an economic analyst, Mr. Okey Onuegbu described the programme as a populist agenda. He shared Williams’ opinion on the role the government should play in stimulating the nation’s economy. “Government is heading towards a wrong direction with this programme. Government should not be a job agency rather government should direct its energy on making the environment conducive for business to strive. What they are doing is to give them job and pay them N23,000 and leave them after two years. Where would they go after that?” he queried.
Onuegbu wants the government to concentrate on making the environment business friendly. “When businesses thrive, government does not need to bother itself with job creation. What the government is doing is a waste of resources which should have been used in doing other things. The policy should be dropped and the money should be channeled to make more businesses come alive. I don’t think anybody who has worked in a private sector will support this type of policy,” he said.
Another economist at the Department of Private and Property Law, Babcock University, Dr. Tayo Bello queried the rationale behind the proposed employment of 500,000 teachers for primary and secondary schools when the Federal Government can only boast of few secondary schools in the country. “Who and who are they going to employ and where are they going to teach? Is it in government schools or private schools? What is the Federal Government doing with primary and secondary schools that they want to recruit 500,000 teachers? How many schools do they have? In Ogun State they only have two schools: Federal Government College, Odogbolu and Federal Government College, Sagamu; that is two schools in each state, how are they going to do it? This programme is not a decision in the right direction,” he said.
Bello said the involvement of the private sector and government at both state and local government levels is needed to ensure the success of the programme. “The government should involve state ministries of education and let the states involve local educational units. They know where we have graduates that are not working. That would have been a perfect arrangement. The proper direction would be that any graduate engaged and who feels he or she does not enjoy teaching as a career can use whatever he or she is able to save to start a business. Government may subsequently absorb those that perform very well. If not, people will just be collecting money and staying at home. Some of them may even be colluding with school principals to share the money,” he opined.
The palpable concern over the proposed scheme may, however, not be unfounded after all. Although information provided on the N-Power portal lists the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, as one of the stakeholders, findings by Sunday Sun showed that state offices of the directorate which are expected to be the coordinating units of the scheme at state level are in the dark as far as the direction of the programme is concerned. A source who pleaded anonymity in one of the South west states told Sunday Sun reporter last Thursday that state offices of the directorate were yet to be briefed on the role they are expected to play. “I am aware that registration is ongoing but as I speak with you, we are yet to be briefed on what role we are expected to play in the programme,” the source said.
Responses gotten from the dedicated call center lines provided on the N-Power portal when Sunday Sun called on Thursday, July 14, 2016 to inquire about what happens to successful applicants after two years would only amplify the uncertainty over the programme. A female officer who answered a called placed to the agency on the telephone number ‘08155000502’ responded to an inquiry by this reporter thus: “After two years? Probably they will be posted… but I am sure you will get the information that will guide you on how the programme will run before two years will lapse.”
Another female receiver on 08104000042 echoed a similar response, “You will get more information as time goes on. The government knows what to do about that. They can’t just leave you just like that after two years.”
When called for similar enquiry, the Director of Press, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Mr. Samuel Olowookere said he was in a meeting and directed the reporter to come over to Abuja for any enquiry on the scheme.