NO DOUBT, there is nothing bad about the intention of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC to alleviate the plight of unemployed poor Nigerians via a N5000 monthly allowance. No sane Nigerian can fault it. Afterall, that kind of gesture will make huge positive difference in the lives of the target recipients.
It also reminds one of the era of the popular UB40, a popular British reggae/pop band formed in 1978 in Birmingham, England. . The band members began as friends who knew each other from various schools across Birmingham. The name UB40 was selected in reference to the signing-on document issued to people claiming unemployment benefit from the UK government’s Department of Employment at the time of the band’s formation. The designation UB40 stood for Unemployment Benefit, Form 40.
History records that UK’s Unemployment Benefit scheme worked perfectly till it was stopped decades later when indicators showed that unemployment figures had dipped tremendously.
The UB40 no longer exists, although the term is still well understood to refer to unemployment claims in the UK. But I fear for Nigeria’s version which I may call UB5,000; I fear for its implementation; I fear for its success and I fear for its intended beneficiaries.
In the beginning
During its electioneering campaigns, President Muhammadu Buhari and his second-in-command, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo vowed to fellow Nigerians that if elected, the APC federal government will pay the poor and unemployed across the country the sum of N5000 each per month. Yes, a lot of skepticisms followed the electoral promise with many watchers, including some from the APC fold doubting its implementability.
But barely two weeks into the administration Osinbajo was to throw up the matter again saying that government is currently evaluating the best ways to collapse existing cash transfer and social welfare schemes to ensure consistency and alignment. After that he continued, the first phase of UB5000 will commence. He spoke at the 10th year anniversary lecture of Crescent University, Abeokuta.
Hear him: “Once this is completed, we will implement the first phase of this program, using recognized identification platforms and transparent payment solutions.
“We cannot talk about the economy of the future without addressing how we move people out of poverty. One of the most striking promises we made during the campaign was the payment of Five Thousand Naira to the poorest Nigerians across the country.
“About 112 million (66% of Nigerians) are deemed extremely poor, measured by World Bank parameter of those living on less than US$1.25 per day.”
Good words; good promises and well said.
Unemployment benefit plan
I may not be good in the kind of economic figures being bandied by smooth-talking Osinbajo. And by the way, the man is cerebral; he is likeable and manifests promises of a loyal deputy to Buhari. But I fear, it ends there because in partisan politics where the stakes are higher, not at the level of Bola Tinubu’s Lagos state, there are several complicated and contending factors that can combine to rubbish whatever postulations and intentions you bring to the table of men.
Firstly, in a country where we have never been sure of how many we really are as a nation and people, it may be hard for the administration to budget for the monthly UB5000. Any rough estimate of the target population based on whatever indicators will bungle the idea and ideal behind the intention.
Talking about population, is it not in this country that till date sections are not on the same page as to what our population by state, region, sex, tribe and religion really is? We still battle over whether the north’s population is more than that of the south; whether the Itsekiris of Delta state are more in number than the Urhobos; whether we have more Muslims than Christians; whether there are more women than men, among several others indices of note.
Now should the government attempt to work its promise on UB5000, it will have to contend with the foregoing factors. But there are some more…
At the level of the unemployed poor Nigerian, how would the government pay? Is it going to be through banks when the target beneficiaries are mostly those who may never have been anywhere near the secured gates of a bank? And if it is going to be by cash through some officials of a government agency, is the government thinking of adequate security for the money and intended recipients?
In this era of insurgency, kidnappings and similar crimes, just how secure will the cash be in areas around Borno, Adamawa, Abia, Edo, Delta and Lagos that boast of several rural communities several kilometres across deserts, forests and rivers?
Another scenario the APC administration just has to consider too is the tendency of many government officials, community and traditional leaders on whom the authority may rely for needed information on the unemployed poor around them may turn out to be those that will undermine the process and intention. On this note, one may ask: Is it not in this country that we cry about the case of under-aged voters during elections. What about the case of officials and/or community/ religious leaders over-registering beneficiaries for the sake of profiting from the exercise? Compromises everywhere, you may say.
Additionally, one may ask if government can continue the UB5000 dispensation for a very long because given economic realities on ground today, Nigeria still has a long way to go in rebuilding structures, industrial capacities and creating jobs for the teeming millions of unemployed that now increase by every school’s graduation day. Here it does not really matter if people graduate from primary, secondary or tertiary institutions. What about such informal arrangements as we have them in the unschooled and apprentice artisans? The list is very long, especially, when you consider the numerous beggars on the streets in the land.
Perhaps what the APC government can do for now is to deliberately create jobs by establishing cottage industries in several of the 774 Local Government Areas in the country within the shortest time possible. In this regard, it can work with organisations like National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, Small and Medium enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, SMEDAN and the likes to get its posturing right. Matter of fact, SMEDAN has a deliberate policy on this strategy.
The moment the scheme starts, trust Nigerians, they will be patient enough to wait for it to spread. But to rely on its UB5000 policy on the unemployment and poor benefit just will not work in today’s Nigeria. APC must use its tongue to count its teeth before it bungles the already waning goodwill it still manages to have.
The government may take a cue from the first tottering steps of Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike who recently declared that “this administration is committed to the development of employment opportunities for the unemployed as a way to enhance our economy. To achieve employment for our people therefore, we shall support small and medium scale businesses. This will grow the economy of the state as we promised, during the electioneering campaigns.”
The governor believes that by such a strategy, his administration will stem the tide of migration of investments outside the state, to give life to the economy of the state.