The delay by the Nigerian government to implement its Special Public Works (SPW) scheme has heightened anxiety among unemployed youth who have been recruited into the scheme.
The government said it would create 774,000 casual jobs under the scheme to mitigate unemployment in the country.
SPW is a dry season/off-season transient job programme originally designed for the rehabilitation/maintenance of public and social infrastructure.
Participants would be recruited largely from the pool of unskilled persons in Nigeria’s rural areas and paid an allowance of N20,000 monthly.
The programme, which is scheduled to last three months, will engage 1000 unemployed Nigerians in each of the country’s 774,000 local government areas.
President Muhammadu Buhari had in October approved N26 billion for the implementation of the programme.
According to initial plans, the programme would run from October to December. But less than two weeks to the end of that schedule, the SPW is yet to take off.
Nuhu Bolaji has been recruited into the programme but said the several postponements of the take off has made him to lose hope in it.
“I feel very bad about the delay. The programme was supposed to have started in October but the federal government later announced that it would begin on November 1. We are now in December but it is yet to commence,” Mr Bolaji lamented.
Another applicant, Kehinde Olorunniyi, also expressed his disappointment but said he remained hopeful that the government would implement the programme.
“It (the delay) worries me. But I think we should have patience as we are waiting for the project,” he said.
The reaction of Abdulrahman Dolapo, who is also a successful applicant, was that of anger.
“My hope in this is now zero because since November, nothing till now. So what is happening?
“The government should take action. There are many graduates among us and most of us have our minds in this.”
Zakariyah Mamalosho said the delay of the programme has ruined other plans he had.
“This should have been my last month on the programme but unfortunately nothing has been done yet.”
Mr Mamalosho urged the authorities to speak up on the causes of the delay.
“The committee on the work should come out and tell us what is causing the delay and what they have done to rectify it,” he demanded.
Nigeria’s high unemployment rate
The havoc wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic on the economy has worsened Nigeria’s dire employment situation.
A fact sheet published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed that unemployment rate hit 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, rising from 23.1 per cent in the last quarter of 2018.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, said the rate may rise to 33.5 per cent by the end of this year.
Increase in unemployment is also pushing up the poverty rate in the country. A report published by NBS in May shows that about 40.1 per cent of Nigerians are poor and over 82.9 million live below the poverty line.
Just recently, the World Bank predicted that the number of poor Nigerians will increase from approximately 90 million to 200 million by 2022, due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.
Disagreement over recruitment into the SPW programme had pitted the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, against the joint committee of the National Assembly on employment and labour.
According to the minister, federal lawmakers wanted to hijack the programme after collecting 15 per cent of the job slots.
The disagreement and Mr Keyamo’s angry rebuttal led the lawmakers to vow notto appropriate any fund for the programme unless it was removed from the desk of the minister.
They want the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to implement the programme without the involvement of Mr Keyamo who is the minister supervising the agency.
Another conflict soon emerged between Mr Keyamo and the Director-General of the NDE, Nasir Ladan, over who between them would run the programme.
The NDE is an agency under the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
But in a directive dated December 4, President Buhari sacked the NDE DG, effective December 7, and ordered Mr Keyamo to nominate an acting DG.
Although, no reason was given for the sack, many accounts suggested that it was as a result of the power play between Messrs Keyamo and Ladan.
But the House of Representatives immediately urged the government to reinstate Mr Ladan and suspend the public work scheme.
The lawmakers’ intervention came days after Mr Keyamo announced that the programme would kick off in January 2021. It remains uncertain whether the programme will take off according to that latest schedule.
However, mixed reactions have trailed the travails of the programme among Nigerians.
The Executive Director of Brain Builders Youth Development Initiative, Olasupo Opeyemi, urged Nigerians to give the government more time to properly implement the programme.
“Considering the impact of Covid-19 and bureaucratic processes involved in government policies and projects, it will be good to given the government more time to ensure the achievement of the aims of the project,” he said.
However, Mr Olasupo urged the government to come up with lasting solutions to the high unemployment and poverty rates in the country.
He said the government needs to “change the curricula of tertiary institutions to incorporate apprenticeship/internship and other courses for job creation.”
Another respondent, Jide Ojo, a development consultant, said the repeated postponement of the commencement may affect the aims of the programme.
“The government shouldn’t have dangled the carrot of 774,000 jobs if it does not have the resources or the operational plan for effective take-off and implementation,” he said.
“As the country is in an economic recession, the effect is negative. Dashing the hopes of the recruits to earn an income from the government, however little, will deepen distrust in government, more so that this particular intervention had been listed as part of the 35 achievements of Buhari’s government.”
He advised the government to be forthright in its dealings with the people
“The 774, 000 jobs are a promise made by this administration and if it wants to be trusted, it must live up to that expectation,” he said.