Pictures of Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, Nigeria’s Minister of State for Employment, demonstrating, or launching, his deeply thoughtful 774,000 jobs at his home local government, Uvwie, in Delta State, must have left many people laughing. If you did not laugh, I did. I laughed off my stress, wondering the last time Keyamo pushed a wheelbarrow or even lowered his frame to cut grass with a machete, not with a lawnmower. But for spectacle’s sake, he did. He moved an empty wheelbarrow and pretended to be cutting grass. Hope he did not come off with blisters on his palm! I am still laughing.

      However, I thank Keyamo for thinking deeply to create 774,000 jobs for Nigerians and, with that, pushing President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration’s vow to take 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, to the next level. Keep it up Bros Keyamo! Like they say, ‘Warri no dey carry last’.

While I laughed, I thought of how many wheelbarrows and machetes his ministry procured for the very lucky and gainfully employed youths under the scheme. Makers of the wheelbarrows and machetes, probably Chinese firms, must be smiling to the bank, while laughing at our national malaise. Yes, the middlemen are also smiling to their bank. They would be ‘foolish’ to laugh at us because no government in the history of Nigeria, since 1914, has been so thoughtful as to create 774,000 jobs to gainfully employ 1,000 youths per local government for six months at the rate of N20,000 per month. This is the first time it is happening.

Past governments had created such schemes as National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) and the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DIFRRI). More recently, there have also been Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YOU-WIN). Under the YOU-WIN programme, there was the Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS), Community Services Scheme (CSS), Vocational Training Scheme (VTS), and Community Services, Women and Youth Empowerment (CSWYE). With GIS, unemployed graduates were offered the opportunity for a one-year internship in firms, banks, ministries, government departments and agencies, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) relevant to their disciplines. The purpose was to empower beneficiaries with the right skill set and make them ready for the job market. About 50,000 graduates benefitted from the first phase of the scheme. Products of YOU-WIN beneficiaries can be found on supermarket shelves across the country.

But, here, Keyamo is not talking about graduates or the likes. He is deeply interested in labourers, persons that will be employed to clean gutters and market squares across the country. That’s part of the jobs created. For this, some N46,440,000,000 will be spent in just six months as ‘salary’. This is exclusive of the necessary work tools like wheelbarrows and machetes. Keyamo had said there was no need to give the lucky employees sophisticated tools because it would require extra funds (to purchase such tools) and extra time (to train beneficiaries). He had said: “The 774,000 jobs is (are) basically for our everyday labourers to carry out community services. It would not be financially prudent if (the) government were to spend billions for (on) expensive equipment for three-months jobs, then spend millions again training our labourers on how to use these equipment.”

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In other words, the aim of the 774,000 jobs is not actually to alleviate poverty, or take anyone out of poverty, but to perpetuate it. This is evident in the fact that each will earn N60,000 over three months. And I ask: is this on the assumption that none of these lucky folks has challenging needs like healthcare, electricity, transportation, food, shelter, clothing or even school fees for their kids? The impact of inflation on household income wipes away any benefits these beneficiaries will make in three months. And they return to status quo ante after the third month. So, in what ways would N60,000 over three months lift these 774,000, out of the envisaged 100 million Nigerians, out of poverty?

Besides, the public declaration by Keyamo that the beneficiaries need no training and as such need no advanced work tools is an admittance that the programme was either planned to fail or just planned to share N46.4 billion to 774,000 Nigerians and make them have a feel of free federal cash (FFC). This is because any job that does not leave the worker with new information that will improve his/her life or skills is useless. People take on jobs not just for the remuneration but also for the opportunity it affords them to improve on their skills and lifestyles. These 774,000 jobs, by Keyamo’s admission, do not have that potential, especially in a technologically-driven world where advancements in technology have radically changed the way humans live and do things. For instance, one should be able to think through the implications of using a machete to physically clear a plot of land and using a mower to do the same.

What those Keyamo’s jobs prove is the lack of thinking in government. It, therefore, calls urgent attention to the need for the creation of a Department of Thinking in our government. Such a department will have to think out what the government can do with its excess money, instead of sharing it to make someone look good. Subjecting the 21st-century human to archaic and outdated models of development is an aspect of the human instrumentation process where the human being is seen as dreg of society that will jump at every bone thrown at it. We debase ourselves when we think, and believe, that our people are at best beasts of burden who must eke a living by cutting grass or sweeping streets and marketplaces. In many countries of the world, even road sweeping is technologically-driven.

At this point in our development, the mindset should be progressive and not retrogressive. Our national mindset should be about thinking out processes where our youths are empowered with skills. We must begin to develop a system where every child that leaves primary school leaves with a skill that could be further developed for his good. I do not believe that those 774,000, who Keyamo described as ‘labourers,’ are condemned to a life where there is no possible redemption. Many of them could as well learn new skills or trades that will enhance their lifestyle and add value to their families. They are redeemable. They could be transformed. I believe also that what most of them seek is the opportunity to be different. Not a ‘job’ that perpetuates their deprivation and makes them look like rejects of society.

The difference is thinking. Government operatives need to begin to look at Nigerians as people of multiple possibilities who only seek the right environment and encouragement. That was what YOUWIN achieved. Those 50,000 that benefitted from that programme tell their stories differently. They are a demonstration that what Nigerians seek is possible with a thinking government. You don’t have a huge unemployed youth population and go thinking that the best you could do it to ‘employ’ 774,000 at N20,000 monthly, and believe you have taken them out of poverty. No, you enhanced their poverty. That man you called a ‘labourer’ and see as best suited to sweep market squares, could be a talent that is not exposed to the right skills and right environment. He could become the biggest farmer in his village, if he gets the right kind of encouragement – land, tools and seeds. In this regard, Keyamo failed.