Anxiety over planned exit of 500,000 N-Power beneficiaries

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Anxiety over planned exit of 500,000 N-Power beneficiaries

Okwe Obi, Abuja

Divergent reactions have continued to trail the Federal Government’s decision to evict over 500,000 N-Power beneficiaries drawn from Batch A and B who have completed the stipulated 24 months, on June 30 and July 31 this year, and to recruit about 400,000 applicants.

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Social Development and Disaster Management, Sadiya Umar Farouq, also pointed out that those who would be disengaged will not be eligible to take part again. This, she said, was to allow fresh minds to enjoy the scheme.

She said: “The current beneficiaries from Batches A and B are scheduled to transit the programme by July 31, 2020, with plans already in place to transition them into entrepreneurship.

“The N-Power programme has enrolled 500,000 beneficiaries thus far, 200,000 from Batch A, which started in September 2016, and 300,000 from Batch B, which kicked off in August 2018.

“The beneficiaries were supposed to spend not less than 24 months on the programme and were spread across the key industries targeted by the programme, agriculture, health, education, and tax.”

In addition, the minister categorically stated that government would absorb neither Batch A nor B members into the Federal Civil Service as being rumoured because of the bloated civil service.

Aside from the disengagement, which is already traumatising enrolees, another problem is that government has yet to remit the stipends of over 12,000 beneficiaries for the months of April, May and June 2020 at the time of filing this report.

Some visibly angry participants who spoke to our correspondent lampooned the exit plan. They said, if government should go ahead, their dependants, particularly their aged parents, would suffer as they would not have any means to earn a decent income.

A beneficiary, John Bravo, argued that it would be regrettable for government to evict the Batch B members. He maintained that Batch A participants stayed more than the stipulated timeframe and most of his colleagues in Batch B were yet to even collect their kits.

“The Batch A participants that were on transition and have spent up to four years in the programme only relaxed and enjoyed the money when their tenure was over but they were never exited because they were on transition.

‘Exiting Batch B will be cheating, as Batch A participants have spent four years in the programme, and many of the beneficiaries have gotten their tablets. I believe since Batch B came to meet Batch A, Batch C should also come to meet Batch B. Then the programme can be extended by two years to make it fair. The main problem is because we do not have a strong focal person to speak for us,” he said.

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Another participant, Judith Uche, wondered where she would start from, noting that she was the breadwinner of her family.

Her words: “This is certainly going to be a very bad time for most of us, if government goes on with the exit plan. There are no jobs in town. The coronavirus pandemic has compounded our problem of employment.”

For Pius Ikankang, who had planned to get married this year from the little stipends he earned, he had to shelve the plan. He described the plan to stop them from further participating in the programme as wicked.

Ikankang added that, even with the stipends, it was difficult for him to pay electricity bill, house rent and feed properly.

“The costs of house rent, shop, electricity bills, taxes by state government and foodstuff are not something one should talk about with the N1,000 daily N-Power pay, making it N30,000 monthly stipend as a graduate. There is nobody to ask me whether I have eaten in a day. I do not have any relative in government to assist me get a government job, aside N-Power that is the only hope and the only help I have ever received from this country as a graduate.

“So, I wonder how life would be without the monthly stipends. I cannot even help any of my family members after suffering to send me to the university. In February, I was seriously sick with nothing to buy drugs because N-Power owed us. Now they want to end the programme.

“If the government cannot offer us employment, who else can do it? I am of age to marry legally but I do not have money to pay the bride price, and her family will not give me their daughter free. And even if they do, what will I use to feed her, especially when the children start coming?”

For Bassey Ita, he posited that government should think of another way of handling the issue, stressing that most disengaged fellows would slide into criminality.

He said: “As a family man without any other alternative, it will be hell disengaging me now because it has really helped me handle some things.

“Aside from that, it will be so bad and unthinkable to disengage 500,000 youth to the streets. The government should think of its repercussions such as armed robbery and other social vices,” he said.

Even before the seemingly unfavourable news filtered in, Farouq, in collaboaration with the Ministers of Agriculture and Rural Development, Sabo Nanono, Minister of State for Budget and Planning, Clem Agba, Health, Osagie Ehanire, Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen, and Minister of State of Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, had noted that the tenure of beneficiaries should be reduced from 24 months, and that more women should be engaged.

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It means Batch C enrolees might not spend the stipulated two years, going by government’s considerations.

“Part of the reforms and streamlining will see a reduction in tenure from the current 24 months, launch of the Integrated National Social Investment Programme (I-NSIP) which is intended to reposition N-SIP to cater to vulnerable groups in society by providing them access to shock responsive interventions, life skills and mentorship in order to systematically lift people out of poverty.

“Others include enrolling more women on the programme to empower them, so that they can earn an income and be more self-sufficient while privileging N-Teach, N-Health and N-Agro as areas of key priority attention.”

Publicity secretary of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Alfa Mohammed, slammed government for considering laying off beneficiaries, saying government was not serious in lifting millions of Nigerians out of poverty.

Mohammed said government should rather extend the tenure of beneficiaries until government could start providing viable employment opportunities.

“Any solution that only provides temporary succour like the N-Power initiative is not aimed at solving problems permanently.

“Therefore, the N-Power programme, not being skill acquisition-based, only provides stipends for a batch of the millions of the unemployed Nigerian youths in turn for certain periods of time.

“It succeeds in reducing agitation by the waiting batches who usually nurse hope in anticipation of their turn when the outgoing batch would have been sent back to the unemployment queue.

“Laying off thousands of youths who are drawing allowances from the programme without empowerment support to sustain them in order to engage another batch amounts to robbing Peter to pay Paul. That makes the programme a mere temporary succour to the huge number of the unemployed youths in the country.

“I would, therefore, recommend that the tenure of those serving should be extended until effective means of survival after lay off is provided for them while the process of recruiting the next batch continues.

“However, the programme should be more of skill and entrepreneurship development with the Bank of Industry, Agricultural Bank as well as relevant funding organisations fully involved, in order to help provide business capital and requisite training for the graduands of the programme.”

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