Seated behind a wooden desk in the fairly large room that serves as the principal’s office, Alima Muthar spoke calmly into the phone.
”I am not aware of your redeployment from my school to another school, your desk officer is here with me,” she told the person at the other end, an N-Power beneficiary who is repeatedly absent from work.
“I would have to report you to him and confirm if truly you have been redeployed.”
The principal at Aliyu Mustapha Junior Secondary School in Yola, Adamawa State, Mrs Muthar regularly makes such phone calls to more than half of the 17 N-Power beneficiaries in her school to demand a reason for their absence from class.
She said she rarely sees more than seven of the N-Power Teach volunteers deployed to her school on any given school day.
Mrs Muthar also said she could not fathom why many beneficiaries posted to schools across the states abscond from their primary duties.
”I have to be frank with you sir, most of them (beneficiaries), do not come to school, maybe they are engaged in another job,” she said. ”Every working day, I resume to work, I do not see up to seven N-Teach volunteers a day.
”Whenever I call any of the beneficiaries on the phone, some say they are in Cameroon or not around. I don’t know why they dodge their responsibilities,” she said.
The principal suggested that the government should embark on strict measures in handling the issue.
The school head is one of the many principals who complained about the N-Power volunteers who are absconding from their Place of Primary Assignments (PPA), a PREMIUM TIMES fact-finding investigation has shown.
The investigation is in collaboration with Zeitgeist Aesthetics, a not-for-profit organisation on how the National Social Investment programme (NSIP) has fared in three selected states: Katsina, Kano, and Adamawa.
The assessment included interviews with officials, beneficiaries in various schools under the N-Teach and N-Agro sub-components.
A laudable initiative
The N-Power was introduced in 2016 as part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), aimed at curbing the incessant increase of unemployment and poverty in the country.
The programme volunteers are paid N30,000 monthly as stipends and given tablet computers to aid further learning. It has five components, which are N-Teach, N-Tax, N-Health, N-Agro, and N-Build.
According to data from the National Social Investment Office (NSIO), as of August 2018, an estimated 500,000 graduates volunteer in N-Teach, N-Tax, N-Health, and N-Agro which are designed for graduates,
About 26,000 non-graduates in the N-Build, which consist of automobile, hospitality and technology categories are currently being trained in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The government in 2016 budgeted N500 billion for the SIP. However, as of May 16, only about N41 billion had been expended on the four programmes with the N-Power gulping N26 billion.
Out of the SIP components, the N-Teach subcomponent is the most popular, due to a large number of youth deployed to teach in public schools.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) in 2017 criticised the programme ”for trying to kill quality education by deploying unqualified teachers to public schools”.
Apart from Mrs Muthar, her counterpart from another N-power component in the state, Asabe Jefe, from Aliyu Mustapha Memorial Maternity clinic popularly known as Yola Maternity Centre, also shared the same views about the ‘laziness’ of the N-Health volunteers posted to her health centre.
The 56-year old female health worker described the N-Power volunteers as ”thieves.”
”I do not know that she (beneficiary) works here, the only one that comes is not even punctual. I do not even understand why they are here, and they still get paid for nothing,” she said in the Hausa language through an interpreter.
”What they are doing is no different from people who go around with guns and steal from people.”
Mrs Jefed, who is the principal community extension worker said she has two N-Health volunteers deployed at her clinic, a male and a female. She said, the female volunteer never comes to work.
”Although the other person comes, he is never punctual,” she added.
Asked what could be done regarding the truancy, she said: ”It is very sad because President (Muhammadu) Buhari designed this programme to reduce poverty and unemployment, and these young people have refused to come to work. I do not know; maybe they should stop paying them.”
Also, PREMIUM TIMES visited Mustafa Government Day (JSS) also in Yola: an afternoon day secondary school that begins academics at 12:30 p.m.
Usani Usman, the school’s vice principal, said they have 27 N-Power Teach volunteers deployed to the school.
Mr Usman, who spoke on behalf of the school principal, said as at 1:12 p.m., only 16 volunteers had resumed for work on the day the reporter visited.
”I was posted to this school not more than three months ago, many have been punctual to school, but the others stay some distance away,” Mr Usman said.
Similarly, at the primary school section, the Head Teacher, Samira Hummawa, told PREMIUM TIMES that the N-Power volunteers have been punctual, ”but some do not come to school regularly”.
‘’I can tell you our the N-power teachers have added more impact to this school and the society at large,” Mrs Hammawa said. ”Before they (N-Power teachers) came, we did not have enough teachers in this school, but now they have been very helpful most of the classes are no more empty.”
Silence in Kano; commendation in Katsina
In Kano, PREMIUM TIMES visited Danwere Primary School, in Sabon Gari. When asked about the FG’s N-Power volunteers in his school, the head teacher, who refused to give his name told PREMIUM TIMES: ”Those ‘useless’ people, I have not been seeing them for a while.”
He then declined to answer any more questions ”unless we got a letter from the Kano State Education Board.”
PREMIUM TIMES visited three more schools across the state. In all of them, the principals asked for letters from the state Education Board before they can speak.
In Katsina State, Mariam Salele, the principal of Lami Abba Community Girls Secondary Science School, in Kofar Sauri, a district in the state capital, said 10 N-Teach volunteers were deployed to her school, ”and all are punctual.”
She showered the N-Power programme with praises, thanking the federal government for introducing the programme. Mrs Salele said: ”They (beneficiaries) are punctual, and enter their classes.”
Mrs Salele told PREMIUM TIMES that in the past, the government did not provide the school with enough teachers, leaving them to go source for their teachers.
”Before, we just had four teachers from the government, now the programme has helped us with ten N-Power volunteers in this school which they have been very helpful,” she said.
One of the many hurdles characterising the N-Power programme is the lack of proper supervision by the federal government.
Experts say the federal government could have adopted the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) strategy whereby corps member would have to get a clearance paper from their various Place of Primary Assignments, (PPA), signed by their principal officers.
They would also have to take their papers to various local governments for biometric clearance. There every corp member has to present evidence that they attended their Community Development Service (CDS) before their names and state numbers are forwarded to the accounting department for payment.
In the N-Power programme, there is no such mechanism placed to check the volunteers before payday.
Despite the various irregularities that characterise the scheme, it also has some level of success.
For example, most of the schools PREMIUM TIMES interviewed said before the N-Power, they had never had an inter-house sports activities.
Similarly, the N-Power programme is undoubtedly the most successful means of employment. It was designed majorly for the poor.
Checks by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that the N-Power officials at the state level lack the adequate manpower and resources to help supervise and check the irregularities marring the process.
For instance, all the officials who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES complained of inadequate vehicles that would assist them in supervising.
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) helps the government to provide a level of supervision for the project but has its own unique challenges.
Manu Garcia, the NOA Yola North supervisor, told PREMIUM TIMES that ”the agency is aware that some of the beneficiaries are going to work while some are not going to work”.
“We did mapping out of N-Power programmes, across the LGA areas, we have submitted the form to the N-Power office,” Mrs Garcha said.
”There was one N-Power Teach volunteer I called, telling her that the school principal reported that she has not been going to school, she responded that she thought it was a monthly N30,000 stipend empowerment programme,” Junadu Abubakar, the N-Programme desk officer in Adamawa state, explained to PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Abubakar urged the federal government to create a special team within the N-Power office to help supervise the scheme.
”There are schools that are in remote areas that cannot be located easily to supervise,” he said. ”We are only limited to the metropolitan and use their private resources to move around.”
Meanwhile, the N-Power coordinator at Kano State Secondary Schools Management Board, Abdurra’of Madaki, told PREMIUM TIMES that his office lacked the resources like vehicles to move to rural areas to monitor the volunteers.
“The ones that are deployed in the rural areas are still fair, they are punctual, but those that their place of primary assignment is located at the Kano city are not punctual,” Mr Madaki said.
He also lamented that he once enrolled some beneficiaries to a vocational programme ”just to keep them abreast in the labour market; in case the programme comes to an end to prevent over-dependence, but many refused to attend.”
The coordinator said he went further to get the beneficiaries identity cards as a means of identifying themselves in case to weed out impostors and for their security. but the attempt was rebuffed.
Most of the beneficiaries who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they want their engagements made permanent.
Maharazu Abdullah, a 30-year-old HND holder, told PREMIUM TIMES he joined the scheme because he was jobless.
Mr Abdullahi, a father two, who teaches about 40 pupils at the Civic Education at Lami Abba Community Girls Secondary Science School, in the state capital, said he has been able to develop and expand his fish pond business from his monthly stipends.
”After I graduated from school and completed my NYSC in 2010, I was jobless,” he said. ”I was just managing a fish pond at small scale, but since I joined in 2016, I have been able to expand my business. Now I am a distributor. The programme has helped both my family and other relations.”
He urged the federal government to emply them as permanent staff and give them computer tablets. ”Whenever we ask for our tablets, they tell us to wait”.
Aliyu Abubakar, a graduate of Physics from Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto State teaches Physical Health Education in Mr Abuduliah’s school.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that since he joined the N-Power programme he has been able to purchase three hectares of land for his cultivation of beans and groundnuts.
”Before I joined the programme, I used to teach in a private school here in Katsina. I did not earn much, but now things are better.”
Ishaq Bugaje, studied Islamic Education from Bayero University Kano State. His place of primary assignment is located at Jibya local government in Katsina.
Mr Bugaje told PREMIUM TIMES he joined the programme in 2016.
He said before he joined, he was a tailor. ”Since I joined the scheme I have learned more things about agriculture and modern farming, the programme has changed my life. I have been able to visit communities and impact the lives of farmers in rural areas.”
Simon Abiraqkwa, the N- Agro desk officer in Adamawa state, told PREMIUM TIMES the state recruited 2,636 beneficiaries in 21 LGAs from different academic backgrounds.
”We train the N-Power Agro volunteers on the timing of planting, weeding, fertiliser application and encourage zero tillage and discourage mechanised farming.”
Mr Abiraqkwa further said after the training, the volunteers would disseminate the knowledge that had been aggregated.
”They have also been trained on how to use cloud application that they would use to gather data on local farmers.
“The information would contain location, age, and the cash crop they sell, and it would later be used as a data bank for government to access the farmer in order to purchase goods for the Home Grown Feeding programme.”
Achoda Akuma, a beneficiary from Yola South, said the only time she ‘absconded’ from work was in August last year when the FG did not pay them stipends.
“It was the period when I newly resumed work and the FG did not pay for about two month,” she explained.
Ms Akuma, who teaches Mathematics at Bambam Primary School in Yola South further said, “After I started receiving my money, I have been going.
“Although I cannot say I go regularly every week but I go at least three times a week.”
Another beneficiary, Glory Bulama, from Mubi South said she does not go to school regularly because where her PPA is located is far from where she lives.
Ms Bulama, who teaches English language at Ayiwa Primary School at Ayiwa town, Mubi South LGA said she spends N700 daily on transportation.
She also said she suffered miscarriage which has made it difficult for her to go to work “in the past few months”.
Asked if she informed the official’s about her health, she said, “No I did not, I think it is personal for me.”
Authorities keep mum
Afolabi Imoukhuede, the former Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Job Creation and Youth Employment, Office of the Vice President, the office directly in charge of the scheme, did not respond to calls and messages sent to his known telephone numbers.
Meanwhile, Tunde Ajileye, a finance expert and partner with SBM Intelligence, said there is need for more supervision by the authorities to ensure the programme’s success.
“The N-Power is essentially the NYSC without the structure plus checks and balances put in place to ensure people stay in their places of assignment found in the NYSC. In spite of those structures, people still abscond during NYSC, not to then talk of a poorly designed N-Power.
“Why has the N-Power, which was meant to be an intervention, been rolled over with beneficiaries continuing? Of course, because the work is ‘decoupled’ from value creation. They see it as free money” he said.
The coordinator, Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Olanrewaju Suraju, also urged the federal government to strengthen its evaluation team who supervise the N-Power volunteers.
”What the N-Power are doing is a disservice to the nation,” Mr Suraju said. ”If such beneficiaries are getting paid but not discharging their expected responsibilities, it is a disservice to the nation.
”The N-Power should have monitoring/evaluation mechanism. I suspect that they do, they should remove such persons from the N-Power scheme and get serious people onboard,” he said.