Npower Disengagement: Cons and Advice
In June 2016, the Federal Government of Nigeria under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari in fulfillment of one of his campaign promises commenced the recruitment process of Npower Volunteers, a sub-program of the National Social Investment Program (NSIP). A program designed to combat poverty among Nigerian youths by engaging them in different categories of the program ; NTeach, N-Health, N-Tax, N-Agro, N-Build and N-Tech. The registration lasted from June to July while from August to September, short listing which saw about two hundred thousand (200000) applicants successful was completed while physical verification, posting and enrolment of the shortlisted volunteers took place between December 2016 to January, 2017. The conclusion of the recruitment process made beneficiaries to start receiving their monthly stipend, thirty thousand naira (#30,000).
The transparency and fairness displayed in the recruitment process made Nigerians to give President Muhammadu Buhari a thumb up as the masses confidence in their political leaders was gradually restored. Virtue which was long lost in the twentieth century as a result of corruption on the side of their leaders who sees political posts as avenue to loot the nation and also perpetuate themselves in office directly by doing everything possible to remain in office or indirectly by ensuring that public offices and job vacancies favours only their relatives and friends at the detriment of meritocracy ,hence, the common Nigerians job dictum 'You must know somebody who knows somebody at the top for you to get a job or public post irrespective of your technical know-how'. This confidence served as source of public encouragement in the subsequent batch recruitment application.
In June 2017 (exactly a year after the batch A's recruitment process started) , 2017 set (batch B) recruitment process started and lasted till July. With the confidence of getting a fair playing ground, hundreds of thousand Nigerians applied of which about three hundred thousand (300,000) volunteers were shortlisted in September, 2017 while physical verification took place in December same year. After the verification, Batch B's hope of getting same treatment given to their Batch A counterparts was dashed as their posting and enrollment was put on hold till August, 2018 ( the beginning of discrepancies between the two batches). This failure to post and enroll Batch B volunteers as at the time their A counterparts were posted, enrolled and started receiving their stipend rendered some B beneficiaries who had left the work they were managing before the verification stranded, hence, they had to wait for eight good months before been engaged.
In August, 2018,after several directives of upload this and that, Batch B was eventually posted and enrolled which commenced the beginning of receiving monthly stipend. The delay in posting and enrollment was forgotten after several months of receiving stipend ushering in the next benefit attached to the program, device collection. The stage of batch B's device collection met a perpetual delay after a common response beneficiaries do get from the handlers of the program when questioned on why the delay in device collection moved from "be patient, we are working on it. We will notify you when devices are ready for selection in your personal profile portal" to " there is no sufficient fund, we are working on you being paid. you have to forfeit one for the other ". meaning Batch B beneficiaries have to chosen either device or their monthly stipend.
November 2018 was the actual terminal month for the batch A but as the month and elections drew near, there were fears in every quarter on what will be the fate of the beneficiaries who are already serving as breadwinners of their families. The fear generated rumors of Federal Government disengagement of the volunteers but the rumor was turned false when the Federal government perhaps after engaging in a thorough political calculation since elections were at the corner and disengaging about two hundred thousand ( 200000) volunteers will be political foolishness announced that the batch has been transitioned to what they christened 'Enhancement stage' thereby asking them to continue working even as they get paid. As if they (handlers of the program) realized that enhancement may not pacify the permanency - crying - Volunteers, they went further to enter into a gentlemen agreement - your permanency is your voter's card. By implication, for volunteers to be absorbed into the civil service, they have to ensure that the initiator of the program, President Muhammadu Buhari secures his second tenure by voting for him. With this conditions, volunteers did everything possible not only to vote for APC but also convinced their family members to do the same ( imagine 500,000 volunteers with at least 5 relatives or friends each voting for APC for the center). The end result of volunteers' fulfillment of the gentlemen agreement was the emergence of APC as winner in the Presidential and in most of the gubernatorial elections .
The program in October, 2019 experienced a leadership change as during President Muhammadu Buhari's Independence Day Speech announced that the program has been moved from the office of Vice President Yomi Osibajo to a new ministry, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster and Social Development which is to be headed by Hajia Farouk Umar Sadiya. This was the genesis of volunteers current plight. The movement ushered in delay in stipend payment which saw the payment of October and November stipend been paid in December under the excuse of proper studying of files, little did the volunteers know that the studying won't end now. The late payment of stipend became a normal problem as volunteers receive their pay on 43rd, 44th,45th,46th or 47th day instead of the normal 30th or 31st day as the case may be. When questioned about the incessant delay in payment, the new excuse was that the mode of payment was undergoing change from Nigerian Inter Bank Settlement System (NIBSS ) to Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). Volunteers were still trying to adapt to the situation unknown to them that their exit plan was being hatched and concluded, hence, the news of their disengagement in order to pave way for new intake.
A proper insight into the whole events surrounding the failure of government to provide devices for the volunteers, move to collect loan , incessant drop in global oil price ( which is the primary source of revenue) coupling with other effects of Covid-19 which has made the economy to drop every month, one will infer that federal government is broke and its decision to disengage the volunteers and recruit another batch is a bid to lighten its burden of paying the beneficiaries beyond the stipulated time and also to buy time and save within the next six month it will take to conclude batch C recruitment process. At least before January 2021, when batch C will start work, Covid-19 and its effects will have be taken care of and federal government will have made provision for them. But, in as much as it is wise for government to disengage beneficiaries in the bid to relief financial burden in this critical period, it will also be an act of foolishness on the side of the government to disengage them in this trying time when one can not exercise their right of movement. If government is spending more in maintaining 469 federal lawmakers yearly, I do not see why the ministry should be complaining of spending approximately five hundred billion naira ( 500,000,000,000) in taking care of about 500,000 youths whose impacts are numerous for a period of 4 years ( November, 2016 - July 2020).
Going by the above, it will be appropriate for the federal government to think twice by bearing in mind that:
1. Though, deceit (promising permanency in order to win 2019 general election but failed to do so) is one of the strategies for statecraft, but there are situations the prince should be careful in leaving the people heartbroken as doing so will cause more harm than expected. Politically, especially for the ruling party, disengaging such mammoth of youths when going into two gubernatorial elections (Edo and Ondo States) coupling with the current internal crisis rocking the party is unwise.
2. Disengaging of 500,000 vibrant youths in this critical time without ready made structure(s) that will absorb them immediately (within one month of disengagement) is tantamount to mobilized 1,500,000 militants ( 500,0000 volunteers x 3 dependants each that will be affected). Which will result to counterproductive to the objective of the program.
3. Removing volunteers without immediate replacement will create a gap that was already filled in their various Places of Primary Assignment especially in education sector till when another set comes in which am sure will be nothing less than six months.
Though, federal government believes that the program is a two years initiative and beneficiaries will be completing the duration by the time proposed for disengagement even as some have exceeded the stipulated time, I will advise that the federal government should leave them till when the recruitment team will have concluded the incoming batch recruitment process (let say till December, 2020). Within this period of conducting the recruitment process for the batch C, portal should be opened for the batches A and B to take the psychometric test as plan for transitioning them (those who passed the psychometric test) into the entrepreneurship scheme will have been perfected. This will make them not to be stranded and making it easier to move directly into the entrepreneurship scheme without waiting and also take care of the gap that would have been created in their various places of primary assignment as the vacuum will immediately filled by the newly recruited batch while those who didn't make it after the psychometric test will be settled with something to start life ( in form of gratuity).
Alternatively, if the federal government insist they have to leave as scheduled, then paying them extra three months stipends in addition to the last month stipend should be considered imperative. The additional three months stipend can serve as their Covid-19 palliative. This will help them to hold body and soul together while the transitioning into entrepreneurship scheme is in progress because I know the transitioning process will take nothing less than four months.
Conclusively, if 469 law makers gulp up billions of naira annually and are compensated with assets worth millions of naira purchased during their tenure in addition to their gratuity, I don't see anything wrong if government can go extra mile to carry these youths whose six months stipends is no where near the 469 federal law makers' six months salaries and allowances till December 2020.