Nigerians have been watching with shock the quarrel between the Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo and the joint committee of the National Assembly on Labour, Employment and Productivity over the proposed creation of some 774,000 jobs across the 774 local governments in the country through the public works programme under National Directorate of Employment (NDE) scheme. Many have hailed the programme as timely, more so at a time of global coronavirus pandemic that has laid waste many economies around the world and rendered many more jobless including Nigerians.
During his inauguration for a second term in office, President Muhammadu Buhari had promised to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty through the creation of jobs as part of his economic transformation. This was to further give effect to his campaign promises hinged on the three prongs of revamping the economy, securing the lives of Nigerians, and fighting corruption. Boosting employment through the public works programme would seem to be part of the economic transformation.
But observers are curious as to how the N20,000 proposed pay for the 774,000 beneficiaries measures up to the national standard, which is the national minimum wage pegged at N30,000. How does this transform to living wages in an economic environment of hyper-inflation, with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has just devalued the naira to N381 from N360, a 5.3 per cent increase?
However, with the bickering between the executive, represented by Mr. Kayamo, and the National Assembly Committee, the proposed 1,000 jobs for each local government in the country is already at risk. As it is with every opportunity emanating from government, accusations have begun flying around as to who controls the process and, ultimately, who benefits from it. While Keyamo insists that Mr. President specifically asked his ministry to oversee the exercise, the lawmakers, it appears, are also keen on having a bigger bite of the pie.
While Keyamo says 15 per cent of the exercise has already been conceded to the lawmakers, it appears the lawmakers want more and seem bent on arm-twisting the minister to concede much more, for which the minister has expressed his discomfort, insisting that “I would be doing a great disservice to my primary constituency and to my God-given conscience if I am made to concede issues that I know are constitutionally, legally and morally wrong just to let things go on.”
Mr. Keyamo’s stance would seem to be at variance in a society where things that are “constitutionally, legally and morally wrong” have become the norm and are allowed to just “go on” without questions being asked.
While it is the duty of the National Assembly to oversight activities of the executive, it must not be seen to do so in a manner that truncates the executive’s intention for the public good. Mr. Keyamo, too, must see his job as one needing to explain and communicate the mind of government to the people through the National Assembly in a manner devoid of belligerence. Perhaps, he should begin to see the need to adopt lobbying as part of the process if he is to get his way some of the time.
What appears worrisome in the entire scenario is that jobs that would be made available to Nigerians in October are already at the risk of being jeopardized as a result of the bickering. Exactly how did the executive and the National Assembly arrive at this point? Will sense prevail at the end so jobless Nigerians can benefit from the initiative? Who will broker peace between these two arms of government?
Beside oversight function that should ensure the executive arm of government does things properly, what other role should the National Assembly play in such exercise as job creation for jobless citizens? Should they also see as a means of helping their numerous hangers-on and deny the majority of Nigerians without connections the opportunity? Given that Nigerians have been living witnesses to stories emerging from the constituency projects that the National Assembly members get embroiled in, with results that are not exacting inspiring, should NASS continue meddling in execution of projects? Should every opportunity to benefit ordinary Nigerians turn out one in which legislators exercise interference?
Recently, the House of Representatives took delivery of very pricey vehicles in spite of public outcry for such extravagance in a time of decreasing revenues and high cost of governance.
Will the current spat with Minister Keyamo further pit Nigeria’s lawmakers against the Nigerian people who have always decried their excesses that range from jumbo pay and ostentatious lifestyle? This is especially so when majority of those who elected them into office lives on less than a dollar a day?
As things stand, both parties are not willing to shift grounds. The intervention of senior minister Chris Ngige did little to smoothen things over with the National Assembly when he visited the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, who insisted that the N52 billion budgeted for the public works programme must be handled solely by the NDE, with joint supervisory roles by the ministry of labour and NASS. But Keyamo is adamant, insisting that it is his duty to execute the programme, having been mandated to do so by Mr. President. He accused NASS of attempting to usurp the president’s power, which he said he must exercise on behalf of Mr. President.
According to Lawan, “And if the ministry goes ahead, that means it will be breaking the law because the budget is a law. We are not going to allow the ministry headquarters to implement this programme at all. This National Assembly can support you very well but it can stand tough if its will is tested. We want our committees to work with your ministry to implement this programme. All previous actions are null and void. We don’t recognise them. You and our committee should engage and start afresh.”
The project is scheduled to start October 1, with each beneficiary of the public works expected to earn N20,000.
Development economist and public affairs analyst, Dr. Jimanze Ego-Alowes noted that he was at a loss why 1,000 jobs are being created at the local councils across the country, wondering if there was shortage of manpower at the councils that necessitates such employment.
“This is a desperate and uncoordinated move and everybody wants to get a cut out of it,” he said. “The federal government has an agency or commission that gives employment and not labour ministry. What is the role of that commission in this matter? The National Assembly trying to muscle in is a bit curious; perhaps, they are trying to make a cut for their boys and girls.
“But more importantly, these jobs being planned, what exactly would beneficiaries do? Are the local governments short of staff? What is the definition of these jobs? This is not the time to be frivolous with scarce resources, which I suspect is what is about to happen.”
A professor of political science at the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State, Sylvanus Ebohon said the current Nigerian system does not favour a reformer like Keyamo, who is in a hurry to make a name. He noted that even President Buhari didn’t know that aspect of the junior minister before appointing him, especially his longstanding relationship with the late legal luminary, Gani Fawhehinmi.
“Keyamo’s tendency is to achieve, so people will believe in him, but there has to be a level of understanding when you are looking at the system. Keyamo believes he has the clout. In any case, I saw it coming, that there would be a clash at some point.”
Ebohon does not believe giving temporary employment to young Nigerians is what government should be doing, but enabling Nigerians with better socio-economic platforms like providing better infrastructure for employers of labour to absorb young Nigerians. The social scientist opined that the current Nigerian political system favoured politicians with nuisance value as against technocrats, who would always knock it.
“For the system to grow it must be taken over by bourgeois reformism,” he said. “People have failed the system. What is at work in Nigeria is anti-development paradigm.”
Also, Director-General of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, decried the face-off between the junior minister and the National Assembly, saying it is needless.
According to him, “As you know, NECA is apolitical; we don’t take sides. But we must say it is a commendable initiative. It’s what NECA has canvased for all over the years. We welcome the decision of government to employ these young ones, even if for just three months and N20,000 pay, though smaller than minimum wage.
“Government is one, in spite of different arms. We would advise that personalities in overnment should focus more on the people they are sworn to serve. If interests of Nigerians were to be on their minds, issues of protectionism should not be there.”
Olawale said NASS insisting that the project should be handled by Nigeria Directorate of Employment (NDE), which is under the labour ministry, seems immaterial so long the project is executed for the benefit of young Nigerians.
“I don’t agree with Senate President Ahmed Lawan that the programme should be suspended; the ministry of labour should go ahead with it,” he said. “The senate should allow it to continue. Senior minister Chris Ngige has apologized. He should also mediate to resolve the matter; that is his turf in resolving labour disputes. What is paramount to Nigerian youth is that the interest of these youth should be protected; they needed these jobs like yesterday.”