N-Power: How Far, So Far?

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Hajiya-Sadiya-Umar-Farouq

BUSINESS/Labour

The N-Power is a scheme set up by President Muhammadu Buhari since 2016 to address the issues of youth unemployment and help increase social development. The scheme was created as a component of the National Social Investment Programme to provide a structure for large-scale and relevant work skills acquisition and development as well as to ensure that each participant will learn and practice most of what is necessary to find or create work. Kunle Aderinokun reviews the performance of the scheme in the last four years to determine whether or not the purpose of its creation is being achieved

The reason the government of President Muhammadu Buhari created the N-Power scheme some four years ago was to tackle the growing rate of unemployment and increase social development among the youth in the country. So, the programme of two-year duration was targeted at beneficiaries (graduates or non-graduates) within the ages of 18 and 35.

As of July 13, 2019, the federal government disclosed it had spent a total of N279 billion to pay beneficiaries of the scheme since it was launched in 2016.

The scheme currently has six categories namely N-Teach, N-Health, N-Agro, N-Build, N-Creative and N-Tech. N-Teach and N-Health are available to only graduates who must have completed the mandatory one-year NYSC programme, while N-Agro, N-Build, N-Creative and N-Tech is available to graduates and non-graduates alike.

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, disclosed that since inception, N-Power had trained over 500,000 beneficiaries in various vocational areas which include farming, agro-processing, financial literacy, communication, digital skills amongst a host of others.

“About 109,823 beneficiaries have gone on to set up businesses within their communities as a result of their training and time in the N-Power Programme. We are proud of the results so far and look forward to impacting even more Nigerians as we commence efforts to register a new batch of beneficiaries,” she said.

Farouq pledged allegiance to the scheme, adding, “My team and I at the ministry are committed to this programme and all efforts geared towards supporting the vulnerable. We are stronger together and we will make it through these trying times.”

The minister noted that decades of neglect on the right drivers of job creation had left a huge number of youths in the country without the skill, job, or economic means to survive.

“President Muhammadu Buhari’s led government is making deliberate efforts to address this vacuum through various social intervention programmes. The COVID-19 pandemic has unravelled a number of challenges, but it’s our duty as government to intervene and support young people, who are unable to find jobs and accelerate efforts to provide an enabling environment for businesses to create sustainable jobs,” she added.

Still on Course

Farouq claimed that the N-Power programme was still on course pointing out that, it is one of the ways the present administration plans to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.

Stating that a total of 5,042,001 Nigerians applied for the Batch C of N-Power in August, she assured Nigerians in a statement that transparency and due diligence would be applied during the selection process to ensure that the qualified applicants are selected.

She added that the N-Power programme was aimed at providing the Nigerian youths with opportunities to gain skills for employability and entrepreneurship, which will also go a long way in assisting the country towards the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.”

Unemployment Unabated

Contrary to plan to curb rising unemployment in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), in August, showed that unemployment is on the increase. The statistics on unemployment for the second quarter of 2020 revealed that the percentage of unemployed people stands at 27.1 per cent. The last report which was released in 2018 showed the rate at 23 per cent. Apparently, within two years, the unemployment rate in Nigeria rose by four per cent. According to NBS, the unemployment rate rose steadily from 16.20 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 to 23.13 per cent in the third quarter of 2018.

A Lagos-based commentator on Economic Freedom and Human Rights, Odewale Abayomi, said it was safe to admit, going by the key indicators of the rapid increase in the unemployment rate, that the social programmes initiated by President Buhari, as plausible as they seem, have failed to reduce the unemployment rate.

He sai: “In the long run, the statistics clearly show that populist handouts and welfare programmes can’t bail the nation out of its unemployment trouble. Now, what is the way forward? Luckily, about 53.57 per cent of Nigerians are between the ages of 15 and 64 years. This is a huge pool of luck if optimally harnessed. The large population of ‘active youths’ would yield optimal productivity through robust investments in education; at least 15 to 20 per cent budgetary allocation, exchange programmes, broadband and ICT expansion, investment in agriculture, technical and vocational training (informal education).”

Abayomi is proposing that government should consider an exchange programme for skills acquisition in lieu of the N-Power programme, reiterating that the exchange programmes would equip technologically inclined Nigerian undergraduates and graduates with the foundational transferable skills, which can be replicated back in Nigeria in bridging the deficient skills gap.

“Back home, the transferable skills garnered through the exchange programmes would empower Nigerian graduates to manufacture sophisticated and research-driven products. Human capacity doesn’t have an immediate impact on the economy. But, in the long run, the beneficial and exponential impact on the economy is worth the investment. Human capacity development, enabling environment, and business-friendly policies are what the country needs to leave behind the poverty capital of the world tag,” he said.

He wants the federal government to empower small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs), which are key drivers of the economy to absorb Nigeria’s teeming unemployed population.

“Entrepreneurs spend hugely in generating electricity and face hurdles in transporting goods and services on vast deplorable roads. It is counter-productive when the government formulates unfriendly business policies and requests huge licensing fees coupled with excessive taxes,” he explained.

Abayomi argued that when SMEs were choked with taxes and unfavourable policies, they were forced to abruptly close operations – culminating in a surge in unemployment.

“The government should further address excessive taxes and abolish unfriendly business policies, grant tax relief programmes for start-ups, ease bureaucratic bottle-necks and provide grants/loans for SMEs’ expansion,” he advised.

He believes that if his proposal is adopted and implemented diligently and consistently within a period of 10 years, all the suggested measures will ultimately increase the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and undoubtedly greatly reduce the unemployment rate. There is a limit to jobs that the government can create.

“Social and welfare programmes only provide cosmetic, temporary and make-believe relief while in reality, unemployment festers. The government’s job is to build enabling infrastructure, and create a friendly environment for business, innovation and creativity to thrive,” he argued.