On April 6, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the Special Public Works Programme designed to provide jobs for 1,000 persons in each of the 774 local government areas across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of the country.
The programme was conceived as part of efforts towards mitigating the effect of COVID- 19 outbreak on the economy. It was targeted at the thousands of skilled and semi-skilled Nigerians, who have no jobs, thereby reducing the high rate of unemployment in the country.
The scheme was expected to provide modest stipends for the intended beneficiaries who are expected to undertake roads rehabilitation works and social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, health extension and other critical services.
The programme, which will cost N52 billion, is domiciled in the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), a parastatal of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment.
To further ensure the programme achieve its intended goals, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, who supervises the activities of NDE, set up the states’ selection committees that will coordinate the programme in their respective states.
These committees have the responsibility of selecting the 1,000 persons per local government area and turning over the list of beneficiaries to NDE for final enlistment on the programme.
Apparently under intense pressures from the political class, Keyamo had instructed the selection committees to reserve a number of slots not exceeding 15 per cent of the beneficiaries to political office holders like senators, members of the House of Representatives, ministers and governors in each state.
This is to pacify these politicians and also ensure that the remaining 85 per cent of the jobs were left for the majority of Nigerians who do not belong to any of the political divides to actually benefit substantially from the programme.
In spite of this arrangement, and the inbuilt compromise, the programme still ran into a storm a fortnight ago as Keyamo and members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity clashed over the right modalities for its implementation.
It became clear that the lawmakers were not impressed with the concession granted to them in the programme.
In a bid to alter the arrangement, the Joint Committee summoned the minister to brief them further on the steps he had taken so far in the implementation of the programme.
Regrettably, the meeting degenerated into a shouting match and ended on a rowdy note, because both parties could not reach a consensus.
The bone of contention appears to be that the resolve by Keyamo to take full charge of the programme did not sit well with the desire of the lawmakers to also be fully involved in the programme.
The open altercation and muscle flexing between the minister and the lawmakers did not come to us as a surprise given the cat and mouse relationship that had always existed between the executive and legislature.
In spite of the doctrine of separation of powers andother safeguards in our constitution, both arms of government have often locked horns in supremacy battles.
In the current contest, Keyamo claims that since the programme was an initiative of the executive, he had all legal and constitutional rights to direct and supervise its implementation.
On the other hand, the lawmakers claim that the programme was the product of a collaborative efforts of both the executive and the legislature. They have vowed not to let go because they approved the programme and appropriated the fund for its execution.
We commend both parties for their uncommon interest in this programme, but we think that their fight has its roots in mutual suspicion that the N52 billion budgeted for the programme might yield some sumptuous dividends for anyone who oversees the implementation.
Over the years, we have watched in amazement how our political office holders in both arms of government have used their positions to promote nepotism, favouritism and cronyism in the country.
Under the guise of representing their constituents, members of the National Assembly have become job racketeers and turned their offices into recruitment centres for their children, extended family members and political associates.
The ministers and other high ranking members of the executive are not better when it comes to the scramble for job slots for their children and the children of their friends and associates.
The so-called ordinary Nigerians whose parents are not in the corridors of power are the losers in this overtly greedy and highly disgusting system.
It is a shame that our politicians have elevated their grabgrab mentality to a ridiculous level that they could not even spare the proposed Special Public Works Programmes designed to bring succour to the less privileged Nigerians.
They do not want equal opportunity for jobless Nigerians to partake in a programme in which they will earn a paltry stipend of N20,000 for three months only.
We think that this injustice has gone on for too long and there is need to break the cycle.
It is high time we ended all these shenanigans in our job recruitment processes. We must commend Keyamo for his courage in resisting what appears to be a ploy by members of the National Assembly to hijack the programme.
We also fervently hope that what we are trying to guard against on the side of the parliament does not manifest on the side of the executive at the end of the day.