Government’s plan to engage 774,000 unemployed young men and women has unfortunately suffered a setback while two arms of government are bickering.
When the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, appeared before the National Assembly, ostensibly to clarify issues on modalities of implementing the scheme, it ended up in a shooting match.
While the lawmakers said they were exercising their right of oversight of executive activities under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution, Keyamo insisted the Joint Committee on Labour and Productivity acted ultra vires.
We are concerned that while the two elephants were engaged in power tussle, both taking cover under the law, the N54 billion programme has been put on hold.
The scheme was conceived by the Buhari administration as a temporary succour from the pangs of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world and gobbling up jobs.
Before the pandemic, the unemployment rate had become unbearably high.
Many of those who were victims of the 2016 economic recession were yet to bounce back. The health crisis has only come to compound issues.
The Federal Government therefore decided to introduce the recruitment of 1,000 participants from each of the local government areas of the country, and saddled the Ministry of Labour and Employment with the task.
It’s a noble gesture to assist the participants for the three months it would last, with each receiving N20,000 remuneration monthly.
We agree with the legislators that this is a matter of public interest that should engage their attention.
The argument that they have the right, indeed a duty to call up the implementing officials to explain how they have gone about recruiting those who’ll participate is sound and legitimate.
This is particularly important in view of many projects suffering in the course of execution. The legislature appropriated the fund and thus had the duty to follow up as it’ll soon be three months and the rationale would thus have been vitiated either because it was not executed, or was done in the breach.
But we also note that the minister conceded this by appearing before the committee. The point of divergent was the mode of conducting the interaction.
While the committee had laid out allegations in the open, and taken engagement with officials of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) in public, it opted to have the minister’s submissions in camera, an act that Mr. Keyamo felt would circumscribe his right to fair hearing under section 36 of the Constitution. There was then a spat and then a walk out.
We note that the minister and lawmakers are public officers who should conduct themselves decently at all times. They all swore to abide by provisions of the constitution and submit personal interest, ego and pride to the national interest.
We call on the presiding officers and Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, to wade into the dispute urgently.
Indeed, we note the apology tendered on behalf of his ministry to the legislators for whatever wrongdoing Keyamo had done and think this should be sufficient, if the ultimate aim is to give jobless youths an opportunity to be productively engaged. They should not suffer the fate of the proverbial grass that suffers when two elephants fight.
Mr. Keyamo should see himself now as a public servant, rather than his status as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) trained to throw everything into defeating his opponent in court, while the lawmakers should desist from always attempting to intimidate those appearing before them.
Worse still, it should seldom be “what’s in this for us”. It’s not in the place of the legislators to impose modalities for implementing a scheme duly passed.
It is for the executive to work this out. Their oversight function, as senior lawyers have pointed out in the past is limited to ensuring that appropriated funds are judiciously expended.
If the combatants are unable to sheathe their swords this week, President Muhammadu Buhari, as the chief executive, can no longer afford to stand aloof.
Nigerians are watching, and it is programmes like this that will determine how well we cope with challenges of the pandemic.
Quickly engaging the participants would also help them achieve this objective of public works during the fast approaching August break from the wet season.