In October 2019, the federal government approved a Pilot Special Public Works Programme in the rural areas of the country. The programme which is designed to provide 774,000 jobs across the federation was domiciled in the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) for implementation.
The main purpose of the pilot initiative is to alleviate the increasing cases of unemployment through the creation of grass-root jobs.
Originally, the scheme was meant to be “a dry season/off season transient job programme and was designed for the rehabilitation/maintenance of public and social infrastructure.”
But then, it’s exclusive to five local government areas of eight states selected from the geo-political zones of the federation. It includes menial jobs like digging and clearing the drainage, rural feeder road maintenance, irrigation canals clearance, among others.
As the year 2020 ushered in with COVID-19 and its economic turmoil, the federal government made a decision to extend the programme beyond five states to the 36 states of the federation. Therefore, on April 6, the Finance Minister, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed announced the approval for the extension of the scheme to all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), for a three-month period that will last from October to December 2020.
The main objective has been to employ as much as 774,000 Nigerians, 1,000 persons in each local government area, and thereby mitigate the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on the people as they would be paid N20,000 stipend at the end of every month.
It therefore beckoned on the Minister of State for Labor and Employment, Festus Keyamo, to facilitate modalities that will ensure the success of the programme.
In April, Keyamo inaugurated a Special Inter-ministerial Committee on the Extended Special Public Works. The committee made up of CAN, NSCIA, NURTW, market women, CSOS, youth organizations, traditional rulers etc. will help with the recruitment of those who will work under the programme.
There is N52 billion allocated for the programme, and as the time for the implementation closes in, the National Assembly wanted to know how the programme will be implemented. In June 30, the joint Committee on Labor of both the Senate and the House had a rowdy session with Keyamo, who had been invited to explain how the Special Public Works Programme will be implemented.
Keyamo left the meeting abruptly, accusing the lawmakers of trying to control the program.
“…there was a misunderstanding between us when they questioned why I did not privately submit the program to them for vetting before taking certain steps. They suggested that they ought to have an input on how the programme should be implemented. In other words, they sought to control the programme as to who gets what, where and how,” he said.
The National Assembly is believed to always interfere with job opportunities coming from the federal government. The president of the senate, Ahmed Lawan and others has been accused of securing some job slots for himself from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs as well as from other job schemes by the federal government.
“Legislators taking 116,000 of 774,000 available jobs is only the tip of the iceberg. They are greedy and take everything including contracts, budget allocations, university admissions. Nigeria does not exist for them alone,” Jibrin Ibrahim wrote on Twitter.
According to Keyamo, the Joint Committee had asked that the session be held in private. His refusal to yield to their demand resulted in the quarrel. Keyamo protested that “their powers to expose corruption provided for in section 88 of the constitution cannot be exercised in private.”
It was a standoff that the Joint Committee found insulting that they asked the Minister to leave and suspended the work until they decide how the programme should be run and who should be in the committee. A decision Keyamo said “is tantamount to challenging the powers of the president,” and for that reason, will not be obeyed.
“I regret to say that their powers under section 88 of the 1999 constitution is only limited to investigations, but not give directive to the executive,” he said.
In defiance, the minister asked members of the work committees he previously set up to proceed with their work not minding the National Assembly’s directive.
“I therefore, respectfully further direct all the committees set up nationwide made up of CAN, NSCIA, NURTW, market women, CSOS, youth organizations, respected traditional rulers, etc. to proceed with their work unhindered. Only Mr. President can stop their work,” Keyamo said.
Many Nigerians have thrown their weight behind the Minister as he resists being armstronged by the lawmakers.
“It will be a crying shame if the national assembly sabotage the creation of jobs for Nigerians at this difficult time. They are elected to represent Nigerians not their personal interest. Yes to oversight over Keyamo but no to hijacking the process to use it for patronage,” Kadaria Ahmed tweeted in support of Keyamo.
In solidarity to Keyamo, President Buhari also warned political appointees and other government officials that it is antithetical to use their positions to bestow undue advantage on anyone seeking government jobs and favors.
But while there has been enormous support for the embattled Minister, Nigerians have also find fault with the committees set up by the labor ministry. The committees set up by the Ministry of State for Labor and Employment had approved organizations like the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and market women to be part of the committees that will see to the recruitment of the 774,000 workers.
In states like Lagos, these organizations are being run by the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). The state’s chapter of NURTW is headed by the party’s notorious thug, Musiliu Akinsanya, popularly known as MC Oluomo, and the market women in Lagos State is being led by the daughter of the national leader of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
The outcry from Nigerians is that the situation is jumping from frying pan to fire. It is believed that while Keyamo seems to have defied politicians who attempted to hijack the jobs, he has inadvertently given the opportunity to more ravenous folks.
The jobs are meager and in a country where millions of people are out of work, 774,000 jobs are insignificant. There are limited slots compared to people who need them, and considering those who have been placed in position to recruit the workers, particularly in a state like Lagos, it is believed that the racketeering will be heinous.