From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

A total of 413,630 beneficiaries have been paid approximately N24,000,817,800 billion under the 774,000 special public works scheme as of June 24, Minister of State for Labour and Employment Festus Keyamo has said.

According to him, the beneficiaries are drawn from rural communities and mostly itinerant workers.

Keyamo gave these statistics at the weekly ministerial briefing organised by the Presidential Media Team in Abuja, on Thursday.

He debunked claims that the special works scheme may have failed over initial delays to effect payment, say it has attained a 60 per cent success rate.

The minister attributed the initial delays that greeted the programme to discrepancies noticed during the registration phase, especially with bank verification numbers.

Keyamo revealed that despite his attempts to ensure due diligence in the implementation of the programme, he uncovered that some fraudulent Nigerians opened multiple bank accounts under a single BVN.

According to him, efforts to separate genuine applicants from those trying to fleece the scheme of its resources accounted for initial delays recorded in the kick-off of the programme.

He also attributed the delay in implementing the Programme to the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic but added that President Buhari during the period expanded the programme to accommodate those in the lowest cadre of economic strata to benefit.

He said Buhari deserves commendation because this is the first time that itinerant workers are truly benefitting from a federal government social intervention scheme, as beneficiaries were drawn from a multi-sectoral approach.

Keyamo also described the YouWin programme, an innovative empowerment programme aimed at empowering Nigerian youths financially to establish their own businesses and to be self-reliant under the Goodluck Jonathan administration, as purely for political patronage programme, where the opposition was sidelined.

The minister was responding to a question on why the same set of people were benefiting from all government Programme under the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration

‘On the same persons appearing all the time in respect of all federal government programmes in some states. Whilst I don’t have the full facts regarding that, but I will not also in my true conscience, dispute your assertion. I will not because I know how the political terrain operates now, where you have godfathers everywhere as they are bringing a programme of the federal government, they hand it over to who they call the leader. That is how it operates regrettably, any programme, in fact, they capture it like bandits here in Abuja. Before it leaves Abuja, as it is coming out straight from the villa as a fresh government project, is captured here and handed over to their structures in the state. So I will not dispute it. I may not have the true picture and the impact of it and whether it is actually true going on in every state, and the widespread nature of it.

‘But like I said, What we try to do in this programme, that is why perhaps I faced some resistance, all of that we have put behind us. So I don’t want to wake up all those scandals but we moved on at the end of the day in peace, because everybody realised that we needed to serve the Nigerian people. But that was why we designed it that way to be multi-sectorial. There is no programme ever before run by any government before us that you will see people who are not politicians brought into the selection process.

‘I saw some opposition leaders complaining about the special public work that they didn’t get enough. And the question we asked them was that while you were running your own PDP programme, did we even hear anything about it as politicians? Did we hear anything about it?

‘Remember this one they ran, what they called YouWin programme then, it was just purely political patronage Programme. This one we try to say okay, religious leaders, senators where APC or PDP bring 30 persons. So whether opposition and all that was the kind of approach that we had. They can complain about inadequacy now that oh, we didn’t get enough numbers. In the past, as the opposition, did we get any at all? Did we even know how? People are complaining and that is to tell you the nature of President Buhari. There is the school feeding programme going around the country, it is purely in the hands of opposition in many states. The APC in those states doesn’t even know how those school feeding programme is being carried out.

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‘But what would the President say? If you come to him he will say they are all Nigerians. He will say it is meant for all Nigerians. But party members will be complaining but he’s the father of the nation. He’s not the father of APC.

‘Before the election of 2019, many of our APC members were mad. They were mad that this programme should be for the APC so that we can use it to run elections. But the President said no, the President will just laugh despite all that, they were threatening that we are going to lose the election. PDP members were using this programme to empower their people in these states, APC had nothing to empower. Didn’t the President win? He won, he won more people to his side by that. So for us in this programme, we followed the Presidents spirit.

‘So that your assumption may not be correct regarding the special public work programme.’

On the threats by the NLC strike to resume in Kaduna State. Keyamo said they were working to avert it.

‘The question regarding the NLC problem with the Kaduna government. Like I said, my colleague, the Minister of Labour and employment may give you an update on that because I spoke with the NLC President, perhaps I should just give an update on that.

‘We have heard of the threats to resume the strike, we intervened at some points, we called both parties together. There was actually a memorandum of understanding with the Kaduna state government, we are just conciliators. That also answers the question of why many strikes under our watch and does it mean that we’re not doing our job. We are conciliators we are not the disputants. So don’t think the Ministry of Labour is actually the disputants every time you see a strike, it doesn’t mean we are quarrelling with everybody. When the doctors are on strike with the Ministry of Health they are the disputants, we call both parties fighting together to our office to say, what is the problem let us hear you. When you hear teachers on strike and lecturers, it is the Ministry of Education and the teachers that are the disputants. And so we’re hardly disputing with anybody as Ministry of Labour.

‘So, all these things you’re trying to put on our head, I beg you, we are conciliators. And luckily, because I also have an international fellowship degree in arbitration from the UK, even before I was appointed minister, it has helped me to use those skills to try to settle some of these problems.

‘But for the Kaduna thing, Mr President has been briefed on it. Mr President has intervened and asked the parties to embrace the path of peace and dialogue. We hope that will be adhered to. So we will monitor the process and try to ensure that the memoranda of understanding we signed, that all parties are faithful to that agreement, and perhaps the NLC will not resume the industrial action in Kaduna state.

‘So, our duty now is just to pursue that path of peace and ensure that memorandum of understanding is implemented. So that’s as far that I can say. Like I said, I discussed with the president of NLC yesterday night, and he was asking for this kind of intervention, to ensure that that agreement is respected.’

On the sustainability of the public works Programme, he said: “It’s a very good programme. It takes a lot of logistics we may require more time especially when you want to execute to perfection. I may not be here tomorrow, again, as minister, he may not be here tomorrow as DG again. But we have set templates that other DGs or ministers supervising will follow in the future to ensure that it is watertight in terms of the selection process and execution.

‘It is the first time we are doing this type of Programme like I said so we needed to be very innovative. Maybe that’s why perhaps there were some delays. And because we wanted to get it right at the end of the day.

‘But I mentioned that as part of our larger package of poverty reduction package that FEC approved in the last few weeks, there are so many components of that package. The President is very serious about the issue of lifting 100 million people out of poverty in the next 10 years. He’s really serious about it. So we’re looking at different strategies to adopt to do that.

‘To assure you and answer your question directly that, it will not go down the drain, there is the FEC approval already for the special Public Works programme to be an annual event. It is implementation and the money that we will look for now in that regard.’

On if the programme was part of creating employment, Keyamo said the government was not out to create a civil service kind of employment. He said: ‘That’s not the idea of employment. All over the world, public services employment accounts for less than one per cent of employment in the country. So, it will be very shortsighted of us as government, very myopic, like wrong game approach to think that we want to lift people out of poverty and creates employment by opening up gaps in the civil service to employ people, how many are we going to employ out of the 33 per cent? That’s so high. The unemployment figures are indefensible. The 33 per cent unemployment rate was compounded more by the COVID-19 scourge, the whole world is reeling.

‘So, we need to react more innovatively to create employment. And for us, we are working very hard to ensure that we skill up Nigerians. The way to approach unemployment is to skill up the populace. That’s the way out to encourage the small, the macro small and medium scale entrepreneurs, support their businesses, ensure that people are self-employed. That’s what the NPower is doing. In NPower whether you are a graduate or not go and learn a skill, so that you can be self-employed and feed yourself. Skulking people up, those are the employment we are creating.

‘The journalist in you is looking for this magical letter. You are hereby employed. You are put on probation for six months, after which you will be confirmed. That’s not the kind of employment we are fighting for. Our own focus as a government to fight unemployment,’ he said.