THEWILL EDITORIAL: Much Ado About the Public Works Scheme

BEVERLY HILLS, August 29, (THEWILL) – The heat being generated over the 774,000 public works programme initiated by President Muhammadu Buhari is, no doubt, an eye-opener to the sad reality of the entrenchment of corruption and nepotism in the Nigerian system.

A programme that is intended to provide succour to artisans and youths across the 774 Local Government Areas of the country following the COVID-19 disruptions is just about to be hijacked.

The initial position of the Minister of Labour and Productivity, Festus Keyamo, not to surrender the programme to the whims and caprices of members of the National Assembly is already fading off.

A good programme with a human face to assist the youth by engaging them on a three-month public works project is about to be sacrificed on the altar of partisan politics and party loyalty.

It is now becoming clear that a programme meant to act as palliative to thousands of unemployed youth and artisans across the country is about to be turned into another ‘Constituency Allowance’ .

Despite the fact that the Labour Minister had conceded to the demands of the National Assembly members to have a piece of the action, it is disturbing that the federal lawmakers are now playing Oliver Twist with their demand for a bigger portion of the pie.

The lid was, inadvertently, blown off the planned hijack of the programme that has already been allocated a whopping N52billion in the 2020 budget, by the chairman, Extended Special Public Work Selection Committee in Rivers State, Dr Innocent Barikor.

According to Barikor, “The directive given to us is that every state governor has 40 slots of the job in each LGA; serving senators have 30 each; members of House of Representatives have 25 slots; a minister has 30 slots in every LGA in his state of origin.”

As if the hijack was not a bad thing on its own in the first instance, and while Nigerians were still finding it difficult to fathom that 15 per cent of the jobs had already been allocated to political office holders, the Minority Leader in the House of Representatives, Ndidi Elumelu, added another insult to the injury by starting another trouble with his rejection of the ‘sharing formula.’

Elumelu alleged that the formula used is in favour of “certain interests in the ruling All Progressives Congress at the detriment and disadvantage of majority of Nigerians.”

The Minority Leader, in a statement titled, ‘774, 000 Jobs: Reps Minority Caucus Rejects 30 Slots for Members,’ said the allocation of 30 slots out of the 1000 per local government to each member of the House is “grossly unfair and unacceptable by Nigerians and the lawmakers who are the true representatives of the people.”

Insisting that “the 30 persons’ allotment to be supervised by a member in each of the Local Government Areas, cannot by any criteria, said to be a true representation of the people they are mandated to represent,” Elumelu maintained that the 774,000 jobs were meant for the people and that the people look up to the lawmakers as major channels through which they are reached for social-economic empowerment.

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“The 30 persons allotment per local government for lawmakers is grossly unfair, inadequate and unacceptable to Nigerians. As the representatives of the people, we are closer to them and they directly interact with us, irrespective of religion, class and political affiliations.

“All Nigerians living in our constituencies are our constituents, irrespective of political leanings. We have a responsibility to protect their interests at all times. As such, lawmakers ought to have been carried along on the allotment,” Elumelu stated.

Interestingly, the Presidency considers this scheme a great feat and has gone ahead to list the controversial programme that has not even taken off fully as one of the achievements of President Buhari’s second term in office.

“A National Special Public Works programme kicked off in the first quarter of 2020, with a successful pilot programme in eight States. It is now being expanded nationwide, and will provide employment and stipends for 774,000 young Nigerians – 1,000 beneficiaries per Local Government) for three months, starting October 2020,” the Presidency had said on its Twitter handle.

THEWILL condemns all the brouhaha surrounding the public works scheme as it is capable of defeating the objectives of the programme. We also find it difficult to believe that federal lawmakers who earn so much monthly, especially with huge constituency allowances, would be struggling for greater percentage in the allocation formula.

The plan to turn the public works scheme into another ‘jobs for the boys’ with the way it is going is very disturbing. Just as the distribution of the COVID-19 palliatives was messed up and bungled despite the huge amount of money those in charge claimed to have spent, the N52 billion Public Works Scheme is also clearly heading the same way.

We therefore call on President Buhari to urgently take a look at the scheme and review the modalities for its implementation to ensure that those meant to benefit from the programme really do instead of the scheme being hijacked for the cronies of political office holders.