We decry the renewed spat over the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians for the Federal Government’s special public works programme. Earlier, the exercise had caused a rift between the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, and federal lawmakers on the modalities for the recruitment. Now, what is apparently stalling the exercise is the quarrel between the minister and the lawmakers over the slots allotted to them. Under the new arrangement, each federal lawmaker is allotted 30 slots of the jobs. However, the lawmakers have reportedly turned down the offer.

President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the  programme to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on largely unskilled Nigerians. Under the scheme to be facilitated by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), about 1, 000 Nigerians who would earn N20, 000 each a month will be employed for a period of three months in each of the 774 local government areas of the country. The programme, which is expected to take off in October this year, has, unfortunately, been dogged by needless controversies.

Initially, Keyamo and the lawmakers disagreed over the composition of the committee for the supervision of the recruitment exercise. There were allegations that some people would hijack the recruitment process to achieve some political mileage. The latest twist on the matter is the allotment of 30 slots of the 1,000 jobs per local government to the federal lawmakers.

We condemn the avoidable politicisation of the recruitment exercise meant to give unemployed unskilled Nigerians a palliative to cushion the effect of COVID-19. We urge those concerned, especially the lawmakers to accept the 30 slots allotted to each of them. The jobs are meant for Nigerians in the 774 local governments and not necessarily their supporters or party members. It is sad that the jobs meant for the poor is subjected to this kind of treatment.

This is not the first time government would create such temporary jobs. Such ad hoc schemes are not new to Nigeria since the introduction of the the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) some years back. The programme is to create job opportunities in the rural areas through a short-term engagement of unemployed persons. It is a dry season/off season transient job programme and designed for the rehabilitation/maintenance of public and social infrastructure.

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Participants in the scheme are to be recruited largely from the pool of unskilled persons resident in those rural areas. They are to be engaged in drainage digging and clearance, irrigation canals clearance, rural feeder road maintenance, traffic control, street cleaning, cleaning of public infrastructure like health centres and schools and other menial jobs. The scheme has been successful in India, a country Nigeria took over from as the poverty capital of the world.

With the confusion trailing the exercise, the intention of the government in initiating the programme is likely to be defeated. A job scheme that is aimed at providing palliative to unemployed persons in a country battling with acute poverty should not generate any controversy. While it is the duty of the National Assembly to oversee the activities of the executive, it must not be seen to do so in a manner that works against the government’s intention for public good. The lawmakers should be concerned more with good legislation and constituency projects than undue interference on virtually all issues, including the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians for menial jobs. Let the jobs be given to the people in the rural areas that need them. The supervising ministry should liaise with the states to give the jobs to the genuine beneficiaries.

We live in an open society and therefore demand transparency in the conduct of government affairs. The jobs should be given to Nigerians, who need them. Nigerians have suffered enough to be taken through this needless muscle flexing.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economic well-being of the people is overwhelming. A recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicated that the impacts of the pandemic on employment and income of Nigerians have been widespread. Out of the 1,950 households surveyed on a nationally representative sample, 42 per cent of the respondents who were working before the outbreak, had lost their jobs. It added that a high rate of households reported income loss since mid-March 2020, with 79 per cent posting decreased income. Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) operators are among the worst hit with some of them closing shops and their employees automatically losing their jobs. About 82.9million or 40 per cent of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty.

Although the N20,000 stipend to be paid to each beneficiary of the 774,000 jobs a month falls below the N30,000 minimum wage, it means a lot to vulnerable Nigerians and their dependants. The jobs should not be used for political patronages. We urge that only those that deserve them should be considered.