One may reminisce on the paths Nigerians has walked through – the gloomy years of poor standards of living and bundles of unkept promises by our numerous brands of governments. China is pursuing viable policies and frameworks to reduce poverty – and this act of hard work is working, according to reports. It is now common to say that the largest number of poor people who were lifted out of the poverty line in the past 15 years were Asians. On the contrary, the largest vulnerable and poor population will be growing in from Africa of which Nigeria has already taken a stance of harbouring the highest share of poverty in the world. Does this come as a surprise? With the question of a growing population and natural resource-based economy – certain errors need to be fixed.
Of course, the series of anti-poverty schemes rolled out by the previous and current governments may have helped a few numbers of the poor to eat some breakfasts and settle some minute bills. But yet, the number of poor magnifies dauntlessly. Statistics report that about 55% of young people aged 15 to 35 are unemployed and unemployment has increased from 18 percent (2017) to 23.1 percent (2018). Long-term solutions on creating more jobs and entrepreneurs can be an engaging approach to deal with this issue, thus a human capital investment project could be a tool to achieve this.
Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, has vowed to create more jobs during his campaign. His government-led National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), a social security agency began in 2015 to tackle poverty and unemployment. NSIP manages about four programmes which cover the unemployed youths, traders, vulnerable groups and the school children – partly a typical social protection project. N-Power, one of the four programmes were established to hire unemployed youths to teach in schools, work in health and agro public services or learn some skills to become employable for the labour market. This programme is a 24- month programme with a monthly stipend of $83 – after which their contracts are terminated and the next batch of unemployed youths are hired for another 2 years.
The fact that N-Power beneficiaries are enrolled in a 2-year public service with no framework of employment opportunities after service problematize its notion of sustainability. This programme should be designed not just to help the unemployed to overcome present economic stress but equip them to confront future events. According to NSIP’s website, about 500,000 youths have benefited from this scheme. If the Buhari’s government can harness such numbers in 4 years of NSIP’s inception, then there is a crucial obligation to maximise these figures and apply long term poverty reduction approaches. Instead, N-Power offers short-term means of relieving the stress of unemployment which drives no hope for a stable employment structure. Such an anti-poverty scheme would create more trap of dependency after the 2 years of service.
A beneficiary of the N-Power expresses his fears via a letter to the Nigerian president;
“The bitter truth is the knowledge of going back to the streets with little or nothing at the expiration of the scheme. The 24 months duration of the programme is coming to an end as a frightening nightmare to us. Are we going back to the streets where we were fetched from after dedicated and creative works at our various places of assignments? What happens to us after the scheme and what shall be our fate?”
2 years of training and working in public offices and schools can be of a greater advantage if the most diligent beneficiaries are absorbed into the public service as permanent staffs. Dumping the recipients after undergoing the so-called human capital investment exercise is slightly wasted labour.
Another thought would be to make loans accessible to start their own businesses after the two-year experience and skills acquisition. However, the possibility of becoming entrepreneurs when most of the beneficiaries are sent to teach in schools is scanty. The primary objective of N-Power is to empower youths to become employable or entrepreneurs yet, the end means of the programme has become inconclusive.
Meanwhile, most states where the beneficiaries work and teach have announced that they do not have the obligation to retain them after service. Meaning that beneficiaries are accepted back to their previous job-seeking positions. Likely, most of the participants knew beforehand the conditions of the programme before applying but there is less or no choice of work – it is better to live on a penny than none at all. The $83 monthly stipend is mostly spent on transportation, housing, food and often not enough for savings. They are left with less or no saving income after the programme (not even to start their own businesses or investments). And, what is the future of an average beneficiary who would be living on a daily stipend of $2.27 per day for the next 2 years? N-Power has the potential to become an ideal labour market intervention programme where policies devised to boost employment and the protection of workers is prioritised. It can focus on troubleshooting the cycle of poverty.
While on the subject, President Buhari’s special adviser on social investments, Hajiya Maryam Uwais holds that the $83 monthly stipend and the working experience of the N-Power would push the beneficiaries in becoming entrepreneurs and taking charge of their lives. At a colloquium organised by the Department of Public Law, at University of Lagos, she said,
“They have worked for two years and have been paid N30,000 ($83) monthly and have a device that gives them information on entrepreneurship. We cannot ask a state to employ anybody. We have given them N30,000 monthly, the know-how, and practical experience. For example, if you have been working in the farm, you know all there is to know about agriculture by now and should be able to start something.”
Not long ago, the federal government is considering absorbing N-Power beneficiaries into the police force in their local governments. A sudden veer from teaching and learning entrepreneurial skills to becoming community police officers. This is the temerity of the federal government to reduce the high rate of unemployment without an explicit understanding of human capacity. The current administration is accused of stagflation and amid this economic downpour, manipulates the youths on jobs to pick. Admittedly, when unemployment is high in a country, it influences the capacity to choose jobs. The Nigerian youth is in the dilemma of choosing work over interests and survival over productivity. This suggests that the government is pushing in unfixed short-term safety net programmes that may not contribute to the economy or the welfare of its citizens in the long run. One may think these programmes are politically motivated for electoral purposes since it is based on a brief reality.