In a most unfortunate twist to the nagging issue of youth unemployment, the pioneer beneficiaries of NPOWER, one of the most innovative and impactful Federal Government interventions to redress the situation, are intent on practically confiscating the scheme to the exclusion of countless thousands of youths eagerly waiting for their turn to be empowered by acquiring and developing life-long skills, not only to be gainfully employed but indeed to become job creators.
This astonishing example of unpatriotic selfishness is least expected of youths who should actually be agitating for expansion of the NPOWER, rather than an abrupt termination of the program which is the illogical implication of their thoughtless demand to be permanently absorbed into the program just so they can continue collecting N30,000 monthly stipends!
Believe it or not these hitherto jobless NPOWER beneficiaries would rather continue receiving stipends payable for the duration of their deployment to schools and other institutions to work than to move onto higher levels of life as software developers, hardware service professionals, animators, graphic artists, building services professionals, artisans, for which they were specially empowered under the program.
If they are so penny-wise-pound-foolish (as the old saying put it) even as supposedly “ambitious digital age” youth, it is no shock that they could not give a damn about their peers’ future or the future of Nigeria which earnestly conferred them with the anticipatory appellation of “leaders of tomorrow”.
Let us, however, put issues in perspective by recalling that the NPOWER program was inaugurated by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2016 under the National Social Investment Program (NSIP) to empower youth with capacity building, investment, and direct support.
The National Social Investment Program is a social welfare initiative created to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources to vulnerable populations, including children, youth, and women.
The N-Power was designed to target Nigerians between 18 and 35 to develop life-long skills for uplifting their communities to which they will be deployed after training.
According to background information made available at the launching, the program is also expected to upgrade our youth to be relevant and effective in the globalized economy with skills and certifications for emerging global markets, hence its focus on providing non-graduates with relevant technical and business skills that enhance their work outlook and livelihood in support of Federal Government‘s initiatives for diversifying the economy.
It has enrolled 500,000 beneficiaries so far with 200,000 in Batch A which commenced in September 2016 and 300,000 in Batch B in August 2018, with priority on major industrial sectors such as agriculture, health and education.
Due to various unforeseen challenges typical of a new program, Batch A beneficiaries who were supposed to spend 24 months on the program have spent over 40 months as a consequence of which thousands of other Nigerians could not access the program as initially scheduled.
As if this was not bad enough, the participants veered into all sorts of irresponsible abuse of precious opportunity such as absconding from their Places of Primary Assignment (PPA) among other misconduct aimed at getting stipends they did not earn.
Reports show that as many as 5,781 beneficiaries were forcefully disengaged because of disciplinary issues.
Halting the rot infesting NPOWER and other National Social Investment Program must have informed the decision announced by President Buhari transferring them from the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, following the befitting appointment of Federal Commissioner in charge of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI, Hajia Sa’adiya Umar Farouq, a seasoned administrator of humanitarian programs with valuable insight into social welfare issues, as founding Minister.
With a meticulous eye on the problems and prospects of the transiting agencies and program, she undertook the tedious task of not just relocating them but also repositioning them for a more prudent and effective delivery of their sorely-needed services to a vast majority of vulnerable populations, including children, youth and women.
Her motherly instincts, humble disposition and vast experience enabled her to maintain focus and compassionate concern for this national assignment with a humane agenda, rarely rattled by the rabble-rousing and buck-passing antics of dislodged vested interests and allied busy-bodies.
Thus she was able to wisely tidy up the books and identify the fundamental flaws glossed over in the past so as to re-align the program towards a smooth and sustainable implementation going forward.
An important outcome of this review and reform process was the renewed effort to develop a feasible exit strategy for the beneficiaries, which the National Social Investment Office (NSIO) had not done prior to the transition to the new ministry and was a loophole exploited by the beneficiaries who exceeded the program duration.
Hajia Sa’adiya Umar Farouq also found out that the retention of N-Power beneficiaries who should have exited was responsible for the delayed payment of the stipends of the beneficiaries. She has since been working on a suitable exit strategy so that they can proceed to a more productive venture and give others the opportunity to benefit.
In many ways, the transition of the Federal Government’s social intervention program, especially NPOWER, to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was the saving grace that gave them a new lease of sustainable continuity by removing the pile-up of overstaying beneficiaries, thereby restoring opportunities for thousands of youth hitherto denied participation in the program for acquiring and developing life-long skills, not only to be gainfully employed but indeed to become job creators.
The unpatriotic NPOWER beneficiaries may have been exploiting the lethargic bureaucracy that was also insensitive to the implications of leaving the scheme for so long without an exit strategy but Hajia Sa’adiya Farouq has demonstrated the difference which diligent supervision, patriotic commitment and focus on public interest at the leadership level can make to redress anomalies and restore good governance. NPOWER MUST CONTINUE!
Danliti Goga writes from Kano.