OPINION: FIRING THE N-POWER VOLUNTEERS IN THE FACE OF BOOMING CRIME INDUSTRIES IS BRUTISH

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouq

If the Federal Government through the Office of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development makes good its announcement to exit the N-Power volunteers by the end of June and July without meaningful exit packages, it will be the greatest mistake of the century.

This is because we are in a situation where jobs cannot be sought. No employer is willing to employ. Industries are either moribund or shut down (except the crime industries). Schools are closed. Movement is restricted. Prices of commodities are unprecedentedly hiked up; no price control. The economy manages to breathe; it is haemorrhaging. In short, we are in a period of pandemic.

Pandemic aside, back in 2019, N-Power said beneficiaries will be moved from N-Power to other federal agencies. The transition includes moving beneficiaries to community police, teaching etc. N-Power also said that beneficiaries who indicate interest in business will get financial support from the government.

An interesting sequel to this good news was a reaffirmation by Mrs Maryam Uwais, the adviser to the President on Social Investment Program (SIP), in a telephone interview with the Premium Times on June 4, 2020 where she said the administrators of N-Power had made exit plans which have not been implemented as discussions were still ongoing on many fronts. In that interview, Mrs Uwais itemized the various efforts made by the office of the SIP before and after the programme was moved to the new ministry under the leadership of Ms Sadiya Farouq.

However, as if they work at cross purposes, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs lamented that the administrators of the scheme did not make an exit plan for the beneficiaries who ought to have exited the programme 16 months ago. She claimed ignorance of the existence of such exit plans.

Mrs Uwais, with dogged insistence, further buttressed her claim. She insisted that she briefed Ms Farouq concerning the prospect of a meeting with the ministry of finance and that the Minister had agreed to the plan. After a while, she sent a reminder to the Minister concerning the meeting but yet to get feedback.

Before handing over SIP to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Mrs Uwais explained that they had meeting with the Ministry of Finance in the presence of the Vice President and asked for a certain amount as loans just to exit the N-power volunteers through the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP).

She was completely taken aback by the denial of existing exit plans. Hear her words: “So it is a bit surprising to me that she [Minister of Humanitarian Affairs] said we do not have any exit plans because I have briefed her that we did.”

Between these two women someone must be telling the truth. You know what I mean? The duo cannot be telling the truth: one of them lied. Be that as it may, if truly there are no exit plans as claimed, the Minister’s job is to right the wrong. It is not to give alibi for failure or apportion blame. She should show her competence in managing disaster. She should display her ability to develop the society through her noble ministry the: first of its kind in the history of Nigeria.

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No Ministry has been so embellished with fineries like hers. Put differently, she is ministering the finest ministry with finest appellation and finest objectives. She has to be the finest minister as she is supposedly much known to the President who doggedly prefers to employ only those known to him.

And we should recall that Mr. Afolabi Imoukhuede, the senior adviser to the President on job creation and youth employment, on the 14th of July, 2019 argued that using N-Power volunteers as community policing is far better than the NYSC members who are yanked from their base to an environment they are not familiar with.

N-power volunteers are foot soldiers for community policing “that will now become an exit program.” This is apt because the volunteers are residents of the community and it will be handy to employ them to police it. Just a few days ago, 22nd of June to be precise, the N-power Scheme in a tweet from its official Twitter account promised that all outstanding issues will be addressed. It wrote: “to our Batch A and Batch B beneficiaries,” “we have seen your questions on the exit plan, backlogs and devices,” “in the following days, these issues will be addressed individually. Please stay tuned to our social media pages for updates.”

Up to the time of this write up, none of these issues has been addressed—collectively or individually. About 500, 000 volunteers (if the statistic is correct) are in a precarious state. They are in limbo concerning what awaits them after exit from the N-Power program.

In saner climes, a program of this nature is a continuous one which citizens do not see as a privilege but rather as a right. In the United States it is called Unemployment Insurance: a joint state-federal program that provides cash benefits to eligible workers who could not secure a job through no fault of theirs.

In fact, in the United States, it pays to stay unemployed especially for low wage earners because of the financial benefit you reap from being laid off. This is a functional government. In Nigeria, it makes little difference whether you are employed or unemployed.

The reason is that the employed earn peanuts to address gargantuan responsibilities which they shoulder. It pays to be employed only if you work as a federal or state law maker, adviser or assistant to the President/governor on anything, a minister or commissioner, a politician, or you are employed into any money generating government establishments or agencies. But if you are a civil servant in Nigeria—a category of workers Karl Marx referred to as modern slaves—you are On Your Own (OYO).

For the forthcoming Batch ‘C’ N-power volunteers, it is not yet Uhuru. If the news going round on N-Power slots being allotted to some politicians who own Nigeria is true, you may need to have a strong connection with some top politicians before you can be recruited as a volunteer.

Happily, the Senate President debunked it as unfounded; we hope he is right. Not yet Uhuru, the Minister who spoke during an inter ministerial dialogue in Abuja on the 10th of June, 2020 revealed that beneficiaries of the N-power scheme will henceforth serve for less than two years in the scheme. This is another bombshell.

It implies if you are recruited and shown the exit after some few months, you may have no one to blame. The Minister has said it. It is for less than two years which can be interpreted as a month or two months or more. It is quite sad. It is doubtful if something good will ever come out of this ministry. This is my sneaking suspicion.

Those whom the government listens to should please wade into this issue. They should advise the government to fulfil its promise to transit the Batch ‘A’ and ‘B’ to community policing which will go a long way to help in assuaging the surge in the incidences of criminality and insecurity.

The Nigerian Police is already overwhelmed and needs to be reinforced. Government should not turn blind eye to the fact that crime industries are currently the most thriving industries in Nigeria.

Recruitment into these unsavoury industries does not require any serious qualification but lack of income and idleness. No one will be willing to be recruited into these industries than someone whose income was abruptly stopped and left in a precarious situation. This is catastrophic!

We can draw a parallel between exiting the N-Power volunteers at this time inconsolably and the planned hike in electricity tariff effective from 1st of July 2020. The leaders of the National Assembly—Sen. President and the Speaker—swiftly intervened.

While they did acknowledge the need for the hike, they appealed that the timing is inauspicious. Kudos to them! “There is time for everything. A well intended program…can fall flat on the face and never recover if you do it at the wrong time” said the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila.

He continued, “there cannot be a time as bad as this for us to increase anything…I don’t know how we can justify an increase in the cost of electricity at this time in Nigeria.” Could somebody help those in charge of N-Power with this golden thinking cap? They need to don this cap.

Nothing could be more ludicrous than the Minister’s claim on Tuesday (reported in Daily Trust) that Batch ‘A’ and ‘B’s disengagement is not a punitive action but a proactive intervention to help them on their journey through life.

She also claimed that “at the last count, over 109.823 beneficiaries from Batch A & B have gone to set businesses in their communities, underlining and highlighting the impact and imperative of the N-power program,” whatever that means. If you think it is a big fat lie, you are not alone.

With a monthly stipend of N30, 000!? Setting up businesses!? That statistics should be a pigment of her imagination. Are the businesses registered? Or how did she arrive at that last counting? And when did the counting start? When all is said and done, we await positive actions from the government towards the outgoing N-Power volunteers and towards other Nigerians who need support.

This is how the government can endear itself to the masses. As usual, we shall not stop praying for our leaders. We call upon the Almighty to guide them to the right direction.

*** Abdulkadir Salaudeen writes from Gashua. / Twitter: @salahuddeenabd