N5000 Stipend: Playing With Words, Technicalities

unemployment-in-nigeriaThe N5, 000 stipend promised by the All Progressives Congress (APC) during the 2015 general elections campaigns, once again, became controversial last week. This was on account of what President Buhari said concerning the stipend, while addressing a Nigerian community in Saudi Arabia. Hear him: “Concerning this N5, 000 largesse for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, rehabilitate schools and empower agriculture and mining so that every able bodied person can go and get work instead of giving N5, 000 to people that are not working.”

Ironically, when a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senator, Philip Aduda, raised the issue of the stipend earlier at the Senate chamber, it resulted in a hot argument among the senators of the two major political parties. The PDP senator had wanted the APC to start fulfilling one of its electoral promises of N5, 000 payment to the unemployed. But in its defence, the then APC National Publicity Secretary, who is currently the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said that the N5, 000 stipend promised by his party during the campaign was for the vulnerable in the society and not the unemployed, as was being claimed by the PDP. As a result of the contention generated by the issue then and in order to save face, wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, pleaded with the All Progressives Congress (APC) not to renege on its campaign promises. This was contained in a statement by her Special Assistant on Media, Adebisi Olumide-Ajayi, where Mrs Buhari appealed to the party to fulfil its campaign promise of paying N5, 000 to 25 million unemployed Nigerians, as well as giving school children one free meal a day. She said the APC is a party of integrity and assured Nigerians that the promise it made during the campaign to pay N5, 000 each month to 25 million most vulnerable citizens would be fulfilled. Mrs. Buhari, however, asked Nigerians to be patient with the APC government, as the change they had been yearning for, had come to stay.

So, for the President to have casually dismissed the N5, 000 stipend despite the drama it has generated, no doubt showed he has not been paying attention to the trend of discussions at home, or probably, lacks the right word to use at that point.

However, those insisting that the APC-led government had promised the unemployed a N5, 000 stipend during the election might be mixing it up with another of the party’s electoral promises, in which it pledged to provide allowances for discharged but unemployed Youth Corps members for 12 months, while enrolled in the skills and entrepreneurial development programme.

As the debate continues and the Buhari administration gets bashed by some Nigerians, claiming that his government is reneging on its electoral promise, Lai Mohammed, in a statement called on Nigerians to ignore what it called a mischievous attempt by the PDP to confuse and mislead them on the issue. But can the unemployed also be categorised as vulnerable?

A psychologist and lecturer in the Department of Psychology, University of Lagos, Dr. Olufemi Akintayo said classifying certain people as vulnerable in a society depends on what the person using the word is talking about. And so, to have a clearer picture of the term, he said the user of the word would need to be definite.

“But in social psychology, we call them the disadvantaged group and there are so many people that could be categorised as vulnerable from the point of disadvantaged group.”

Akintayo, however, noted that while it is one thing to have an understanding or definition of those who could be classified as vulnerable in Nigeria, how would those who fall within that category be identified to enjoy the benefit, since there is the problem of statistics in the country?

“We do not have planners and psychologists within the Federal Government,” he said. “But it is not that we do not have statisticians. At least we have the National Bureau of Statistics, but in most cases, you discover that when it comes to policy formulation, so many things are wrong. And this is why development is far from us.”

He, therefore, suggested returning to the drawing board to ensure that there are statistics of those who could be classified as vulnerable, which must be narrowed down to the local governments.

With the level of criminal activities in the country, Akintayo believes the unemployed could be classified and categorised as vulnerable.

“If somebody wakes up in the morning and does not have what to eat or cannot provide for himself, including not being able to meet the first item on the Maslow Hierarchy of Need, then such a person is vulnerable.

“You wake up in the morning, you are not sure of three square meals or where to sleep. Then, what are we saying? These are issues facing us in Nigeria. Thus, we have to sit down and look in so many directions, when talking about vulnerable groups. Despite the fact that the University of Lagos is a federal university, where the fee being paid is minimal, many students still struggle to have basic needs. And such students cannot concentrate in class because they are thinking of what to eat.

“In the case of female students for example, I cannot remember how many of them stop my car daily, asking for assistance to get home. We need to define them and from different perspectives, too. There are people, who after finishing primary school, cannot proceed to secondary school. Many secondary school graduates cannot also move up, not because they are not qualified, but there is no space for them. We have to get the statistic rights. I know students with Masters degree who have to hide their certificates to get a lesser and demeaning job just to keep body and soul together,” Akintayo said.

Another lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, Dr. Nwanna Chinwe Rosabelle, said unemployed people fall within the vulnerable group. She wondered why the unemployed are being separated from the category of people classified as vulnerable.

“I do not know who say they are not. This particular government has not really come out to tell us what they want to do. These were their campaign promises and they even promised to pay after the election. But for them to now change is incomprehensible. They have no reason at all.

“People voted for them based on these promises. So, shying away from fulfilling them now, does not speak well of the party. They should live up to their responsibilities. Many people are classified as vulnerable. Women, whether employed or not, are vulnerable, just like children, whether employed or not. This does not include those who are not employed. There is another group of people also classified as vulnerable. These are those living with one form of terminal health challenges such as HIV/AIDS.”

The sociologist stated that the country has the money to provide the stipend for the unemployed in the country, but that the available fund is just being mismanaged.

“If they provide stipends for the unemployed, there will be little left to steal. The unemployed are vulnerable people, particularly the youths,” she said.

To some Nigerians, however, there is a need to look beyond the N5, 000, whether it is for the unemployed or not, and whether the unemployed could be categorised as vulnerable.

Some analysts are of the view that had the APC started fulfilling its many promised programmes aimed at job creation and targeted at the unemployed, then the debate about the N5, 000 stipend would surely fizzle out.

The APC’s electoral promises relating to job creation include: Empowerment scheme to employ 740, 000 graduates across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory; three million jobs per year; embarking on vocational training, entrepreneurial and skills acquisition schemes for graduates along with the creation of a Small Business Loan Guarantee Scheme to create at least five million new jobs by 2019; provision of allowances to the discharged, but unemployed Youth Corps members for 12 months while in the skills and entrepreneurial development programme; recruitment and training of at least 100, 000 officers into the Nigerian Police force and the establishment of a Federal anti-terrorism agency; the establishment of at least six new universities of science and technology with satellite campuses in various states, as well as the establishment of six centres of excellence to address the needs of special education.

Many Nigerians are reacting to the N5,000 stipend debate. Commenting through one of the media platforms, Igwe Emmanuel said: “To make promises without fulfilling same is also one of the heights of corruption and deception in this nation. It’s a show of shame that our president can’t live by his words.”

On his part, Ben Mustafa said, “Kai! Truly, there is no such thing as a ‘dattijo’ in politics. His campaign or campaigners did make such promises, so he made those promises. It should be beneath even “PMB” to invoke technicalities in denying promises he made personally or through proxies. It is simply too late for such ‘clarifications’. They should have been made before we squandered our votes on lies.”

At the weekend, the National Assembly faulted media reports that it was behind the stoppage of the payment of the proposed N500 billion for social welfare package to the unemployed in the 2016 budget.

In a statement jointly signed by the chairmen of the appropriation committees of the two chambers, Senator Mohammed Danjuma Goje and Rep Abdulmumin Jibrin, the lawmakers maintained that there was no iota of truth in the story carried in a section of the media.

The lawmakers maintained that there was no way they would “kill” such a laudable initiative of the president Muhammadu Buhari-led administration aimed at serving as a palliative to the plight of the unemployed.

The lawmakers particularly recalled that during their meeting with the ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Accountant General of the Federation and Director General Budget Office of the Federation on the 2016 budget, they only made observations on the proposal.

They noted: “The Committee expressed concern over reports indicating that the government has yet to put in place sufficient structure for proper take off of a programme which is expected to bring succour to the poorest of the poor in the society.

“It was our considered view that the amount involved is so huge that adequate preparation and structure needed to be put in place for it to succeed and achieve the desired result; and also to avoid mistakes of the past where similar laudable programmes were initiated but did not succeed as a result of poor implementation.
“We therefore suggested that the take off of the programme be postponed to next year so as to enable the government prepare adequately and avoid any failure.

“The committee further suggested to the Executive that the money proposed in the 2016 budget be invested in some critical sectors and much needed infrastructure, which will give same or even higher result of lifting the most vulnerable citizens from poverty; while adequate preparations be made for its full take off in 2017,” they said.

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