Solving employment problem with special public works programme
President Muhammadu Buhari understands that his main job is job creation and he is resolved to do all within his powers to ensure a reduction in the number of unemployed Nigerians. Hence, despite the paucity of funds forced on the country by COVID-19 pandemic, the president approved a pilot special public works programme in the rural areas which would result in the employment of 1,000 youths from each of the 774 local government areas in the country bringing the total to 774,000.
According to Mr Festus Keyamo, Minister of State for Labour and Employment, who is superintending over the project during a press conference, the programme was initially intended for implementation in five local government areas in eight states but the president decided to extend it to all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on poor Nigerians.
Beneficiaries of the scheme are to be engaged for three months in activities such as drainage digging and clearance, irrigation canal clearance, rural feeder road maintenance, traffic control, street cleaning and cleaning of public infrastructure like health centres, schools etc.
Keyamo, while giving the genesis of the scheme, admitted that it was not original to the government but was borrowed from other countries that had done it successfully. He said, “The concept was adopted and developed by most Asian countries like India, China and Bangladesh to lift their countries out of the league of poor nations. This programme was one of the main reasons India quickly dropped in the poverty index and Nigeria overtook India at a point.”
From this, it comes across that the rationale behind this scheme is to reduce poverty in the country. Any project targeted at poverty reduction in Nigeria is praiseworthy because apart from the fact that foreign agencies now describe Nigeria as the global poverty headquarters, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says about 40 per cent of Nigerians currently live below the poverty line. So, poverty is the most serious problem the country is encountering.
However, if the government is desirous of scaling down poverty in the land, why pay those who are going to be engaged in the scheme a poverty-engendering wage of N20,000 a month? According to the World Bank, the international poverty line, which is the cost of living for basic food, clothing, and shelter, is $1.90 a day. Paying these youths N20,000 monthly, amounts to paying them N667 a day and going by the current exchange rate of naira to the dollar, is way below $1.90.
If the government really intends to stem poverty in the country and has not embarked on this exercise merely to get political mileage, I think the least the government should do is pay those to be engaged in the scheme the approved minimum wage. While acknowledging that this is not a permanent job, the government should not do anything that would reduce the self-worth of the beneficiaries. Paying the participants less than the approved minimum wage may be tantamount to injuring their self-worth.
Then, if the government flouts its own law by not adhering to the terms of the country’s minimum wage law, how can it enforce it when others decide to pay their own employees less than the approved minimum wage? If the government treats its own people as the rejects of the earth, how can it stop others from treating them like dirt? Since those to be enrolled on the scheme are going to do menial jobs, the government should not pay them less than what a daily paid labourer gets. A daily paid labourer gets between N2,000 and N3,500, which is way above what the government is offering those to be engaged.
Since the scheme is not going to be a permanent employment for the beneficiaries, I think the government should pay them well enough that after their disengagement, they can deploy the proceeds from their participation in the scheme to start a micro business. If all they have to show for their participation in the exercise is merely having enough to buy food, two pairs of used jeans and a few second hand shirts, how does that solve their poverty problem? If in spite of the intervention they still live below the poverty line, how can we say the scheme has solved a problem and has improved lives?
The scheme, no doubt, is good especially coming at this time but if it is implemented as enunciated by Mr Keyamo, it would be money down the drain. For it to solve real problems and achieve what it achieved in India, it has to be tweaked a bit. A good ending to the scheme’s story will be if five or ten years down the line some successful entrepreneurs would trace the seed money for their businesses to their participation in the scheme.
Re: Sadiya Farouq, the strainer and the wicker fish-trap
I read it once, slept over it and read it over again before I understood your sarcastic remark over that minister, Sadiya Farouk, in Sunday Tribune (24/5/2020). She and her ilk should know that you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the times.
From Femi Joseph, Kogi State.
Borderless, I would have expected Hajiya Sadiya and the federal government to feed children though their parents by the instrumentality of BVN pending the time schools would resume.
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