It is two years since the first batch of beneficiaries of N-POWER were enrolled and it has been a story of success. Yes, Success. In a very long time, and perhaps the very first time, that a government social intervention programme is working so seamlessly. I have chosen to highlight the success of N-POWER because among the numerous social intervention programmes of the current administration, it is the one I have followed carefully and have close relations who are beneficiaries. In addition, having witnessed how similar programmes- conceivably in name only- were run by previous administrations, it becomes easy to compare and contrast. To get an insight of the success of N-POWER, it is pertinent to provide background on similar programmes ran by previous government since the return of democracy in 1999.
Starting with the Magnus L. Kpakol-run National Poverty Alleviation Programme, NAPEP, of Obasanjo-Atiku’s administration, it was anything but poverty alleviation programme. The programme which was to provide succor to the unemployed merely became an avenue for the boys to chop. It was just money meant for politicians’ hangers-on. I recall that in most local governments across Kogi state, all was needed to be eligible for enrollment was to be a political thug. List of beneficiaries were concocted where a single person could be collecting the allowance of 15 non-existent beneficiaries. The poor and unemployed for which it was intended never got it. The tricycles popularized by the programme in some states were shared by politicians to their undeserving supporters.
Then entered the Jonathan’s Subsidy Reinvestment Programme, aka SURE-P. It was ostensibly intended to cushion the harsh economic effect brought about by the increase in fuel price. However, many of us know how the story ended. It purely became a pocket money for the boys. The head of the programme, Elder Christopher Kolade, a man who knows that a good name is better than ill-gotten wealth, resigned when it became clear to him that the fund was just a branch of corruption in a government that was notoriously corrupt. Like its predecessor, the programme hardly reached those for it was supposedly crafted.
When the idea of N-POWER was muted, it was no surprise that many people had a misgiving about it. The background provided above gave the foundation to some of those doubts. However, others were just about mischief making. Supporters of the rogue party who were ousted from power mocked the programme hoping it would failed like its predecessors. It turned out most of those who doubted it, genuinely and mischievously, are current beneficiaries of the programme.
The very first right decision the Buhari-Osibanjo administration took was to shield N-POWER and other social intervention programmes of their administration from politicians both at the federal and state levels. Involving politicians as intermediaries in the scheme could have made it dead on arrival, as it would have been a programme to enlist columbines, thugs and the most unqualified. Having noticed that they were edged out, our politicians known for their anti-people tendency did not give up the fight to corner the programme to themselves or made it abolished completely. In the very first budget that fund for the programme was listed, for all the budget entries, it was the one the Danjuma Goje-led senate budget committee found unfit to be in the budget. They ‘advised’ the executive to remove it under the guise that oil price was down and the economic was in recession. The National Assembly did not see the morale to cut down the 130 billion Naira in the budget allocated to idle NASS members. However, the Buhari administration could accept anything but not this and so the fund was retained.
Then the recruitment phase came. It was another masterstroke decision to make it fully online without any third party intervention. It was so transparent. Countless testimonies from beneficiaries confirmed the transparency of the process. Staying far away from Nigeria, I applied for people who had no access to good internet. Majority of those are today beneficiaries. However, those who discredited the programme and refuse to apply, hoping it would fail are regretting their folly. The online recruitment process also prevented politicians from harvesting from where they did not plant. During the application, a family member alerted me that forms were being distributed by unscrupulous people to fill in their data with a promise of N-POWER slot. I told them pointblank that application was wholly online and that anyone doing that was a fraud. Those who did not listen but believed their politicians are today licking their fingers.
Today, about 500, 000 qualified Nigerians are enrolled in the programme receiving a steady flow of stipend without any interference. It is called alert. Many have built entrepreneurship from the alert and acquired skills that even after the expiration of their tenure in the scheme, they will sustain a continuous inflow of income. I have seen many in the N-Agric programme displaying fishpond, fruits and vegetable farms, poultry farm etc. of their own. I have seen many who did not before the programme realize they had good teaching skills until the N-POWER programme. Therefore, the scheme has helped to unlock talents and put many on the path of career. Besides the 500,000 beneficiaries, there are those in the N-build, a sub category of the N-Power, who are being trained with trade and artisans’ skills.
The N-POWER is a scheme with a difference. The provision of smart devices to beneficiaries enhances their service delivery and assists them in personal skill development. There are countless of testimonies available from beneficiaries, some of them very emotional, on how the scheme has helped them moved away from poverty line and bequeaths them with skills that will forever remain useful.
The scheme may have enlisted 500, 000 Nigerians, but it indirectly caters for two million people or there about. For every Nigerian who is an income earner, even a bachelor or unmarried woman, he/she has at least two other people directly under his or her responsibility. This is a fact in Nigeria anyone can do research on. For instance, three close relations whom are beneficiaries of the scheme have eight dependents to whom they are directly responsible for their well-being. One of such person is not even married, yet he has his mother and the daughter of his late brother to look after. This is the chain benefit of the stipend from N-POWER.
Does the scheme solve the unemployment cum the poverty problem? The answer is a definite no. However, it has cushioned the effect of the two and it must be appreciated. N-POWER is the proverbial little thing that matters. If previous administrations had taken similar stride by temporarily employing jobless graduate and bequeathing them with skills, in the last sixteen years, at least 4 million graduates would have benefitted directly from such scheme.
While the Buhari’s administration should be commended for this initiative, the office of the vice president would be specially recognized for the competent and professional way it has handled the scheme. For many, both within and without, the scheme should be a failure like its predecessors. However, the quality of people, both young and old, from the boardroom staff, logistic staff, desk officers to field staff, who work for the scheme has made it to be one of the most successful of all intervention programs. I have on many occasions spoken to the helpline staffs to make inquiry for a friend’s wife who had her data mixed up and for most of the times, the response was explicit and devoid of impoliteness. Corruption, incompetence, irresponsibility and lethargy in government service would be greatly reduced if any government at any level can build such a dedicated staffs into it civil service.
Again, while the federal government is commended for its many short-term programs at alleviating poverty, it must also find a perennial solution for the incidence of poverty among the populace. I suggest that the success of the N-Power programme especially in skill development can be internalized in our academic programme in order to graduate students with skills. In addition, government at state and local government levels should do more in job creation and social intervention program.
This now brings me to drop a word for the ruling All People Congress (APC).
For a party to be successful and build trust, it must put its entire elected representative on the same pedestal. The party must make its entire elected members realize that party manifesto is not for the federal government alone to implement. It is preposterous that majority of its governors are working at cross-purpose with the federal government. The profligacy, lack of vision and sheer wickedness of most of the state governors are major contributor to the poverty in the land. The Federal Government cannot be making sincere effort at reducing poverty while state governments are working aimlessly at spreading same. It is unbelievable that some of the beneficiaries of N-power could not even get a placement at their state and local government of assignment. Elsewhere some unscrupulous state and local government officials were demanding for bribe from beneficiaries before they are confirmed.
Rather than buying weapons and drugs for thugs in the name of empowerment, states should make similar sincere effort at job creation and skill development like the apex government. Such synergy with the central government will go a long way in reducing the incidence of poverty and social vices. Aside Osun state, I have not seen any other state with any robust socio-economic and job creation program that benefit the people.
For me, N-POWER is a success story so far. Although it is not yet uhuru, we have however moved a step ahead.
- S. M. Jimoh can be reached on @firstname.lastname@example.org and on twitter @anehi2008.