I will not go into detail in explaining what N-power is. It is a very popular program credited to the government of President Muhammadu Buhari; and it is known to all and sundry. I have thought, and I hope not wrongly, that the program will be one of,if not the only good thing that the President will be remembered for. It is a form of social safety net meant to prevent the most vulnerable Nigerians from bites of the terrible ‘mosquitos’ called ‘poverties’.
This is because there are many poverties in Nigeria. Poverty of poverty: this we all know. There are also poverty of security, poverty of employment, poverty of social amenities, of freedom of expression, of better future, of economic development, of education; I can go on and on. This plurality of poverty must have informed the ranking of Nigeria as the Poverty Capital of the World (PCW). In fairness to the government of President Buhari, the roots of these poverties are traced to the corruption and malfeasances of regimes before him. But this regime unfortunately takes the ugly appellation: PCW.In other words, poverty snowballed to world prominence under this regime. That this government has done well or otherwise, the onus is on objective analysts and disinterested spectators to judge.
Let’s not forget that Nigeria’s economy had been on the lockdown since three months ago due to COVID-19. The government can not be blamed for this as it is not a Nigerian thing. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. It is a worldwide phenomenal lockdown that makes various governments around the globe to focus on the life lines of their citizens, and even denizens through several palliative measures. They have come to realize that this is not the time to boost the economy, nor is it the time to embark on any meaningful infrastructural development or renovation. It is rather the time to channel vital resources to health and hunger. That is to say, resources are concentrated on addressing the pandemic Virus along with Corona Hunger(Hunger-20).
Nigeria’s government followed suit and dished out some palliatives to some Nigerians which we watched on TV. We watched on our TV screens and saw some Abuja residents who were given twenty thousand naira (per household). If it was TV reality show or fictional TV show is what we don’t know. What we do know is that the Minister in charge of palliative distribution had rejected, for the umpteenth time, the invitation to appear before the Nigerian House of Representatives over COVID-19 funds according to the Vanguard Newspaper. Oh! I wanted to say for the forth time. If she had honoured the invitation to appear on Thursday, June 18, 2020, she would have been asked questions on other schemes such as N-power and Social Investment Programme (SIP) as scheduled. Remember, it is illegal and dishonourable not to honour lawmakers’ invitation. This is against sections 81 and 88 of the 1999 Constitution which charges the lower chamber with the duty of orresponsibility for disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly. Simply put in my own words: to investigate how public funds are spent.
It is against this backdrop that the pronouncement of the intention to sack N-power volunteers came as a shock that makes many faces to grimace. Is it the right time to sever the life line? With the N30, 000 monthly stipend, the 500,000 volunteers are like being placed under life support machine. Any attempt to withdraw the peanuts is death; not a death sentence. The Ministry should not be allowed to send 500, 000 Nigerians to their early graves within a month just for committing a single crime: being Nigerians which is never their fault. I wish I can understand why and how being a Nigerian becomes a crime.They wouldn’t have been Nigerians, of course, if given the choice. It is true that the Batch ‘A’ of the N-power volunteer corps ought to have been disengaged since the end of 2018. Even then, their was a disengagement plan which was to give volunteers options of transition to community police, teaching, farming and mobile agents and access to N100, 000 loan to start a community business.
This cold action (or announcement as it is) of disengagement in the face of pandemic led the N-Power Representatives’ Forum to demand explanation from the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development about the transition of volunteers into government entrepreneurship schemes. They as well demanded to know when about 80, 000 volunteers are going to be paid their March, April and May stipends. What a pity! They are owed three month stipends and are about to be disengaged. This is very callous. And this callousness is uncalled for. Thinking it is ruthless to disengage them, I am not alone. Hear the N-Power Representatives’ Forum: “...exiting us just like that as against the previous intention that we won’t to back to the street is the highest form of corruption. Federal Government of Nigeria should stop taking the unemployed youth in Nigeria for granted and should stop RAPING US because we cannot breathe” [emphasis mine].
I will be glad to fathom why Nigerian masses are often made to suffer under the jackboots of those they voted into power. In the face of dehumanising hardship experienced in Nigeria by the masses (especially the unemployed N-power volunteers; no thank to COVID 19), they are about to be forced to shed their mosquito nets as depicted in the parable above. Is the government not thinking of the glaring consequences of retiring 500, 000 masses to wander aimlessly on the street? Are the political advisers to the President doing their job? Do they understand the mannerism and spontaneity of lumpen-proletariats? Do they recall how Frantz Fanon describes them in his ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ in which the masses found themselves, spoke for themselves and through their voices? It is my prayer that the N-power volunteers are not be pushed to the wall in the face of grinding hardship. Let this government be advised that a whooping amount of N27 Billion cannot be earmarked to RENOVATE the National Assembly at this critical period while masses whine endlessly. When 500, 000 Nigerians have been earmarked for sack. This is not the time for infrastructural development; or RENOVATION. It is the actual time for ‘stomach infrastructure’.
This is a clarion call to the honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to jettison the bad idea. It is not humanitarian; it is uncaring. It is not disaster management; it is unleashing disaster on the masses. It is not social development; it is social backwardness. It is in the interest of the Minister to justify the name of the Ministry she heads. I wish she is a mother to have sympathy, empathy, pity and compassion which are motherly. And to our dear President, Sir, you promised to lift out hundred Million Nigerians out of poverty. This seems to be an indication of yoursubtle agreement with the World Poverty Clock’s ranking of Nigeria as the world capital of poverty. We thought the Social Investment Program (SIP) is an attempt in that direction. You should know that 500, 000 is just an infinitesimal 0.5% of 100,000,000. But we still have to appreciate you since we are in Nigeria where political promises are hardly fulfilled; where the bars and standards of government are invariably the lowest of the low. I am using this medium to kowtow before your Excellency Sir, on behalf of N-power volunteers; please do not sack them. Prevail on your honourable Minister to sheath her sword. Even with the N-power, the volunteers are still stuck inpoverty trap. Mind you, this should in no way stop the recruitment of batch ‘C’ into the scheme. At least if an additional recruitment of 500, 000 is made in batch ‘C’, it will augment the total number to one Million. If we assumed that N30, 000 does lift a Nigerian out of poverty, with one Million volunteer, you must have fulfilled your promise by 1 (ONE) percent. Since we are Nigerians in Nigeria; we shall still be grateful. Need I say more? I therefore beseech the Almighty God to help our Excellency and the honourable Minister take this counsel and do the right thing.
Abdulkadir Salaudeen writes from Federa University, Gashua, Yobe State.