It is pathetic that the commencement of the Federal Government’s special works programme is still being delayed. It is also untidy that the House of Representatives has urged the Federal Government to suspend the take-off of the programme until integrity issues affecting it are resolved. The scheme, which was billed to commence this year, is now scheduled to begin in January next year.
The special public works programme, under the National Directorate of Employment, was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on unskilled Nigerians. Under the scheme, not less than 1,000 Nigerians would be employed for a period of three months in each of the 774 local government areas in the country at a monthly stipend of N20, 000 each. However, the programme has been trailed by needless controversy.
We recall that the lawmakers had earlier disagreed with the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, over the composition of the committee for the supervision of the recruitment exercise. The spat later shifted to the allotment of slots to the lawmakers. However, there are signs that these issues have not been settled.
Apart from calling for the immediate suspension of the scheme, the lawmakers also faulted the manner in which the 774,000 beneficiaries will be employed and demanded the reinstatement of Nasiru Argungu, the Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), who was earlier suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Curiously, the lawmakers also asked the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning not to fund the scheme, even after the National Assembly had appropriated N52billion for the exercise in the 2020 Appropriation Act.
We think that the muscle-flexing trailing the programme is not in the interest of the country and the beneficiaries. We do not support the suspension of the public works programme as canvassed by the lawmakers. It is regrettable that an exercise meant to cushion the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on some Nigerians is causing a row between two strategic arms of the government. Government should put the interest of the beneficiaries above any other consideration.
We say this bearing in mind that democracy is about good governance and welfare of the people. The lawmakers should be concerned more with the interest and well-being of the poor, who are expected to benefit from the scheme. They should allow those saddled with the responsibility of executing the programme to do their job without undue interference. The apparent meddlesomeness in the exercise is uncalled for. While it is the duty of the legislature to oversee the activities of the executive, it must not be seen to do so in a manner that works against the government’s intention for public good.
The lawmakers should be concerned more with good legislation and attracting constituency projects for their people. They should allow the special works scheme to commence forthwith. Let the jobs be given to the people in the rural areas that need them.
It is sad that the programme has been unduly delayed and should be allowed to begin. The jobs in question are for the poor. They are meant to alleviate the pains of the unskilled in the rural areas in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. We condemn the politicisation of the exercise. Whatever may have been responsible for the disagreement between the lawmakers and the government over the job creation scheme should be handled with maturity. Let the political elite be mindful of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economic wellbeing of many Nigerians and be more concerned on how to lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty as President Buhari promised.
A job scheme meant to empower the unemployed in a country battling with acute poverty should not generate any controversy. Although the N20,000 stipend to be paid to each of the beneficiaries of the 774,000 jobs monthly falls below the N30,000 national minimum wage, it will mean a lot to them and their dependents. There is no point delaying the take-off of the exercise. Therefore, we urge the government to intervene and stop the undue politicisation of the scheme.