Chris Ngige and John Oyegun

APC and the Seeming Recantation of N5,000 Stipend to Unemployed Graduates
Onyebuchi Ezigbo, in Abuja, reports on the failure of the ruling party to fulfil its election promise regarding the unemployed

When the All Progressives Congress came with a promise to implement a special welfare package for the unemployed and less privileged persons in the country, it easily won the hearts of the Nigerian electorate. Most of the youth, who constitute more than half of the country’s population, were swayed into giving their support to then opposition party, in the hope that they would benefit from such welfarist initiative. Indeed, many people saw this aspect of the APC’s manifesto as a novel idea whose introduction in Nigeria was long overdue. Some were also of the opinion that anything done to placate the army of the unemployed and distressed persons in society will go a long way in curbing social vices like armed crimes, kidnapping and, more importantly, the incentive to embrace the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

As a key agenda in the manifesto of APC also, the party stated it clearly that it would “introduce the first phase of direct conditional monthly social security programme, through payment for 25 million of the poorest Nigerians.”
To further give credence to the promise made by the party to implement the N5, 000 monthly allowance to the unemployed and the less privileged, the federal government has voted the sum of N500 billion in the 2016 budget proposal for the programme.

Clarification
But clarifying the modalities for the implementation of the welfare package, Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, said contrary to the notion that all unemployed graduates would receive N5, 000 monthly as welfare package, the scheme will be implemented in such a manner as to encourage the youths to acquire special skills. Speaking in an interview with journalists at the national secretariat of the APC in January, Ngige said no country in the world could afford to pay stipend to her citizens in a manner that will make them indolent. He stated that under the federal government’s welfare scheme, some people will get N5,000 under the direct cash payment scheme, while others will get N10, 000 or up to N15,000 while in training.

According to the minister, some people will be given such stipends to enable them to go through training and later get employed by either the state or federal government. Ngige said: “We will pay some people N5,000, we will pay some N10,000, and even for people in teacher conversion scheme, we will pay more than N10,000, N15,000 as stipend while in training, and then after the training they are going to be employed by state government and the federal government in different institutions. It is not a programme we shall run alone, the state governments are going to buy into it, they are going to synchronise with us, and we are going to do it in synergy. We have the programme on the Conditional Cash Transfer. We won’t pay N5,000 for people to be indolent. No country in the world would pay people to go home and sleep and collect cash. So Nigerian would not be an exception.”

Doublespeak
The minister’s explanation came as a soothing balm to many Nigerians, as they were beginning to doubt the sincerity of the federal government to implement the welfare project. However, that reassurance was short-lived. President Muhammadu Buhari recently said the welfare programme was not a priority of his administration. In what appears to be a major U-turn from the campaign promise of his party during the 2015 presidential election, Buhari said payment of the N5,000 stipend to unemployed youths in the country was no longer his priority.

The president sounded what looked like a death knell for the matter during an interview in Saudi Arabia. He said it was wiser to use federal government’s funds to invest in infrastructure that would empower unemployed youths through agriculture rather than direct cash transfers.

“This N5,000 largesse for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, the schools and correct them and empower agriculture and mining so that every able-bodied person can go and get work instead of giving N5,000 to those who don’t work,” Buhari stated.

The president’s position was followed by a similar one by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who as the then spokesman of APC had dangled the N5,000 package as a carrot to woo voters to support his party. Muhammed denied that his party ever promised to dole out N5,000 as welfare package to the unemployed. This position expressed by the president has since elicited concerns from Nigerians who saw it as amounting to not only policy somersault but an attempt to renege on campaign promises made by APC.

Reaction
Some opposition party leaders have reacted to the latest statement by the president on the welfare package. National Chairman of the Labour Party, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, said the action of Buhari and APC does not portray them as ready to live up to the expectations of the “change mantra”.

Speaking in an interview on Monday, Abdulsalam said LP was not surprised by the Buhari’s action, saying the APC administration since inception has behaved as if it is not prepared for the challenge of governance.
According to Abdulsalam, “When the APC was campaigning for the election they never knew they were going to come to power. They believed they will remain an opposition party. Look at how they were brandishing their change mantra. But Nigerians are beginning to see that the APC and Buhari administration are a conglomeration of elderly people treating the people with lies.

“They promised that they were going to create employment and they have failed, they promised that they were going to pay the unemployed and less-privileged allowances and stipends, but they have also reneged. We are surprised at the turn of events.”

In a similar vein, the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, has described the move to jettison the N5,000 monthly allowance promised unemployed graduates by Buhari as a colossal fraud against Nigerian youths. Fayose accused the APC of duping Nigerians by obtaining their votes by trick.

In a statement by his special assistant on public communications, Lere Olayinka, Fayose said it was more worrisome that Buhari always chose foreign lands to make major policy pronouncements, asking whether the president has turned himself to Nigeria’s diaspora or online president.

The statement said, “Everything Buhari and his party promised Nigerians when they were looking for votes, they have denied and it won’t be a surprised if one day, Buhari comes out to even deny that he was elected on the platform of APC. They have not fulfilled any of the promises they made to Nigerians. In fact, they have even told us that they never made any promise. It is close to one year that Buhari assumed office; no single job has been created. Instead of the three million jobs per year that they promised, what we have been witnessing is job losses, economic hardship and budget padding.”

There is no doubt that the economy of the country is in a dire situation and the cost implication of such a welfare programme will be difficult to bear. But many believe it is not in the interest of his administration to discard such initiatives that could endear it to populace. The APC administration can, however, take advantage of savings from the Treasury Single Account as well as looted funds recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to provide the succour it had promised Nigerians.