Home Comments 774,000 Public Works: Whose Jobs?

774,000 Public Works: Whose Jobs?

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Comrade Issa Aremu

By Issa Aremu

THUR, JULY 09 2020-theG&BJournal-The televised acrimonies between the Honorable Minister of State for Labour Festus Kyamo and the members of the National Assembly over who manages the 774,000 persons Special Public Works Programme of the Federal Government of Nigeria once again underscores the crisis of governance in general and crisis of labour market policy in Nigeria.

Which then raises the question? Whose jobs are they really? Are the promised jobs really for the army of millions of unemployed, underemployed Nigeria’s youths or another patronage pack for the televised over-employed (and almost overfed!) Ministers and legislators?

President Buhari’s 774,000 jobs scheme initiative promises to take off on  October 1 but at the last count in this month of July, we have recorded some “774,000 jabs,” verbal assaults/words counts between those elected and assigned by the constitution to cooperatively create full Decent work for the youths. No known register of youth applicants yet! But scores of disputation over who controls the letters of recruitment.

The point cannot be overstated that Nigeria is deep in an unemployment tsunami. We must break the jinx of the painful paradox of a country with so much to be done in all sectors, with so much resource endowment and yet inexplicably saddled with such huge idle hands. Today school graduates have all the degrees, Bsc, B A, Msc, MA, PHD but they lack the singular real degree to terminate income poverty, which is J.O.Bs. Pre- COVID- 19, nearly  half of working population was out of work and 60 per cent underemployed, i.e pretending to be working in annoyance and palpable frustrations (witness youths who have turned traffic road intersections to hawk products of dubious value!).

With the lockdowns of businesses, the prospects of young people (aged between 15 to 35), getting jobs are even dimmed. Against the backdrop of the youth idle capacity channeled into crimes of various hues, it is one luxury for any enlightened ruling class to put the eyes on who disburses the limited jobs. The official energy should be in the direction of beating the October deadline. Lest we forget, Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment exercise in 2008 turned into a Scam and even subject of court trial.

Former Minister Abba Moro, faces prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) for procurement fraud and money laundering and for allegedly defrauding Nigerian applicants who applied for employment in Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to the tune of N675,675,000 (Six Hundred and Seventy-five Million, Six Hundred and Seventy-five Thousand Naira).Lest we also forget: the NIS recruitment exercise degenerated into stampede leading to scores of applicants’ death. When will there be end of history of crisis of public recruitment in the country?

In a legitimate response to the frustrations arising from Minister Festus’s outburst, Senate President Ahmed Lawan, on Tuesday, said all previous actions carried out on the planned recruitment were “null and void.” But youth unemployment and its attendant misery is not “null and void” yet. And that is the real challenge. I commend the Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Chris Ngige, who apologised over the last Tuesday’s disagreement between the Minister of State for Labour Festus Keyamo and the National Assembly joint committees on Labour over the membership of the 20-man selection committee for the programme. That is the way to go.

Thomas Jefferson; puts it better: “I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument”. Somebody just had to have an eye on the objective of President Muhammadu Buhari for initiating public work which is even more desirable now with the crisis of livelihoods and lives under a pandemic. Minister Chris Igige was rightly on target by apologizing and making sure all Stakeholders found common ground to beat October deadline.

“No project without my approval” roared Minister – Keyamo Keyamo,. “With the provision of the law, I don’t know how they’re going to go about that. “I have to go back to my principal, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to give directives. By provision of section 2(3) of the NDE Act, I’m the chairman of the board of the NDE. So, when you say NDE should go back and bring their plan, it’ll come back to me because I’m still the chairman of the NDE.”

Minister Festus should stop saying the obvious in public. What is not obvious is the realization of the tasks of getting some youths off the streets by October? The public (and yours comradely too) will be excited to listen to how the task has been accomplished by all (not just by one Minister, an agency or National Assembly).

I enjoin Minister Festus to learn from the President who could have claimed single ownership but nonetheless delegated him with the hope that he would also delegate to relevant institution namely National Directorate of Employment (NDE) which happily he chairs. If there is truly respect for social dialogue (reasoning together, not shouting matches or monologue), it is clear there will be a common ground.

The Senate president is right to underscore the role of National Assembly to “perform oversight” just as he concedes the role of the Minister “…to supervise the NDE”. The Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Dr. Mohammed Nasir Ladan Argungu, is equally right to emphasize that the Directorate has the singular responsibility for implementation. With offices in all the states, extra- Directorate committees are unnecessary.

But that tasks the NDE on accountability which the Minister as the chairman of the Board can legitimately demand. What the nation needs urgently is far reaching new labour market policies that will put an end to serial acrimonies in public recruitment exercise which, at times leaves in its trail despair, tears and even dead bodies rather than living applicants as in the case of NIS. The nation has witnessed much of distortions in the labour market in recent time. It is not clear why a nation that is signatory to relevant ILO standards with respect to Decent Work would be so vulnerable.

Three critical labour market issues are at stake. They are worsening unemployment situation, absence of labour exchange centre and official lack of appreciation that labour market functions differently from any other factor market. The three can be summed up as absence of decent employment agenda by Nigeria’s governments at all levels in general.

All the issues are also governance issues which task the responsibilities and sensitivities of the Federal as well as State Governments of the Federation. Nigeria needs functional labour exchange market through which the unemployed should register and from which employing agencies can draw on in a systematic, fair, dignified and rewarding manner.

Let there be employment policy debate, not wars of attrition by government officials. For instance, why paying  the new recruits less than minimum wage (N20,000 monthly to carry out public works!)? Are the jobs sustainable? Why not public/ private partnership for sustainable industrial jobs? These are positive sound bytes if the jobs are really for the unemployed boys not over-employed/over-fed government officials.

Issa Aremu is Member of National Institute (mni) Kuru, Jos.

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