The Nigerian government has been consistent in the payment of the N30, 000 monthly stipend to beneficiaries of N-Power, the flagship component of the Federal Government’s Social Investment Programme (SIP), despite the hitches in the programme.
Apart from providing them with their daily bread, some beneficiaries have also used the modest sum to start and run personal businesses.
Okuchi Okechukwu said she opened a bakery business by saving a part of her monthly stipend for a year.
Ms Okechukwu is among many beneficiaries in Ebonyi State who spoke in an individual video recording from their places of Primary Place of Assignments (PPAs) in the state. They narrated how the vocational programme has enabled them to deploy the resources they earned to improve their small scale businesses.
The recordings were made available to the office of the SIP and sent as a statement to PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday.
N-Power was introduced with the aim of reducing unemployment among Nigerian graduates and non-graduates between the ages of 18 and 35.
Volunteers are paid N30,000 monthly as stipend and given tablet computers to aid further learning.
Under the N-Power, unemployed graduates are engaged in critical sectors like education, agriculture, and health while non-graduates are enrolled in the infrastructural sector.
The programme started in 2016 with over 200,000 thousand young Nigerians selected in the first phase.
Those selected have received the stipends for two years under the N-Teach, N-Agro or N-Health components. N-Build and N-Tax were later introduced in 2017.
Like Ms Okechukwu, most of the beneficiaries who spoke enrolled in N-teach.
The N-Teach component is the most popular, due to a large number of youth deployed to teach in public schools across the country.
The Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) criticised the programme. In 2017, the union said the government was trying to kill quality education by deploying unqualified teachers to public schools.
However, PREMIUM TIMES’ checks in three selected states of Ekiti, Kano, and Niger in 2018 revealed gross shortage of teachers in public schools; and that N-Teach was filling the gaps in many of the schools.
Ms Okechukwu who teaches at Urban Community Primary School in Abakiliki, the Ebonyi State capital, said her monthly payment has been consistent since she enrolled in the scheme about 15 months ago.
She said beyond the financial benefits, she has gained and passed knowledge and experience.
”I teach Primary Two Pupils who are mostly from the Hausa Community. Since I resumed as an N-Power teach volunteer, I have made a lot of positive impact on the lives of these pupils,” she said.
Igwe Jude, also an N-Teach volunteer, said in the statement that the scheme has provided a platform that has sharpened his skills for higher responsibilities in the future.
Another beneficiary, Ude Victoria, said she set up her own her soya beans trade from her monthly stipend.
“I learned how to make soya beans a long time ago, but due to lack of funds, I couldn’t do anything,” said Ms Victoria. “The programme helped me raise some money to invest in my business.”
As for Obodo Anthony, an N-build volunteer working in one of the automobiles servicing companies in the state, within a short period of his internship as an automobile trainee, he had ”covered enough grounds and is gradually becoming an expert in car maintenance services.”
Bane of N-Power Programme
Of the many hitches in the N-Power programme, the question of ‘what next?’ for volunteers who have spent the two-year plan seems to be of most concern to beneficiaries.
Many N-Power volunteers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in the past had said they wanted their engagement with the federal government made permanent.
However, amidst the success stories emanating from various quarters on the huge impact the programme is having on beneficiaries and society at large lies a few reported cases of misconduct which the NSIO has been dealing with.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the Nigerian government clamped down on its volunteers who were reported to have absconded from their primary places of assignment (PPA) across the country. The NSIO in July sacked an estimated 2,525 beneficiaries of its N-Power programme.
The NSIO said it had increased its number of ‘monitoring partners’ which would monitor beneficiaries “who are seen to be undermining the smooth implementation of the Federal Government social intervention initiative.”
The development comes weeks after a special report published by PREMIUM TIMES in July, on how some N-Power beneficiaries absconded from duty and abuse their opportunities in three selected states in Kano, Katsina, and Adamawa.
The federal government, however, urged the beneficiaries to understand that “the N-Power programme is a not a charity program but a job enhancement scheme aimed at imbibing the learn-work-entrepreneurship culture in Nigerian youth.
“Consequently, to ensure seamless execution of the programme in order to achieve the set goals, the NSIO has increased the number of monitoring partners, with fresh discussions having commenced in earnest to seek enhanced supervision and the strengthening of monitoring, for effective and efficient service delivery of all components of the NSIPs.”
The Focal Person in Ebonyi State, Ugo Nnachi, said in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES that the federal government needs to strengthen the supervision of the programme.
She also called on the NSIO to give the states the power to discipline and monitor the beneficiaries who abscond from duties.
“The programme is a good initiative, it is quite impactful. The programme has reached out to a lot of youth, taking them off the street. Give the state the powers to strictly supervise them (beneficiaries) and be part of the selection, even though we know the selection is done electronically.
“You know it is the state that is on the ground, they know the location properly. Some of the volunteers even stay in neighbouring states even while they were still serving as youth corps members and they were registered as N-power volunteers. All this happened because they know they are not supervised,” she said.
Mrs Nnachi also called on the federal government to permanently absorb the beneficiaries as staff. According to her, permanent employment would aide better supervision.
“It would be better when you give them permanent employment. Iit means that they have someone who is supervising them and know that the moment they don’t perform or go to their place of assignments they would be removed.”
She also recommended vocational training skills for the beneficiaries to keep them abreast and gain more knowledge.
She called on all beneficiaries to be committed to their duty.
“The problem is not with the federal and state it is with the beneficiaries in terms of absconding they lack the commitment may be because they feel it is not permanent.
“The beneficiaries should be committed to what they are doing, the programme is very good and it is helpful.”
The NSIO Communications Manager, Justice Bibiye, said the programme has since strengthened its monitoring mechanisms to put beneficiaries and other stakeholders on their toes.
“We, continue to encourage and embrace feedback, as well as constructive criticism in respect of perceived malpractices in the field, as such information would enable us to enhance programme delivery around the country,” he said.
According to Mr Bibiye, the programme is centred on providing an enabling environment for youth to acquire relevant skills and experiences for future endeavours.
”The whole idea is to engage the young Nigerian and expose him/her to the work environment with a view to helping them acquire relevant skills and experiences for future endeavours.
”The testimonies we get across the country on the massive impact the programme has had is encouraging,” Mr Bibiye said.