ON FG’S N5, 000 UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT
A recent comment credited to the Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige in which he referred to unemployed Nigerians as indolent is unfortunate. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) condemns this statement. The word “indolent” is an insult to many Nigerians who are unemployed not because they are not willing to work but because the inequitable capitalist system that Ngige works for denies them a means of livelihood.
According to The Nation newspaper (16/1/2016), Ngige made the following comment: “we won’t pay N5, 000 for people to be indolent. No country in the world would pay people to go home and sleep and collect cash”.
Ngige’s statement betrays a perception that the government would be doing unemployed people a favour by paying them monthly allowance. To start with even the proposed N5000 is paltry. However, as far as the ERC is concerned, an unemployment allowance is a right. Any serious government has a responsibility of ensuring a minimum living standard for all of its citizens including the old, infirm, children etcetera as well as those unfortunate to be unemployed until such a time they are able to get a paid employment.
Indeed, the suggestion that no country pays unemployment allowance shows that Ngige is unfortunately ignorant of development around the world especially in the West where there are social security provisions including unemployment benefit even though presently under austerity attacks.
Unemployment is a product of the failure of the capitalist system. It is not a failure of individuals. At least 50 million Nigerians are unemployed or under-employed. Many of these are not lazy bums that are not willing to work. In fact some of these are University graduates. Some lost their jobs as a result of the job-shedding ravaging both the public and private sector at the moment. Just a few days ago, the Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha who happens to be a member of Ngige’s party, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), added to the army of unemployed by sacking 3, 000 civil servants.
If there is any group of people in this country that are being paid to be indolent, it is the group of ruling elite and bourgeois politicians that Ngige belongs to. Just about 17, 000 political office holders cost this country over N1.5 trillion annually. Majority of these are lawmakers and ministers together with their retinue of aides who do little or nothing. Lawmakers sit just a few times and for a few hours in a week. Yet they collect millions of naira monthly and fat gratuity that are paid promptly once their tenure expires. The same goes for ministers. Aside presiding over official functions, press conferences and making speeches, what exactly does a Minister do? Most of the so-called policy decisions and plans are drawn up by an army of aides while implementation is carried out by ministry staff. So indolent and perhaps unnecessary are ministers that no less a person than President Buhari once called them “noise makers”. In actuality therefore, it is the likes of Ngige that are being paid to be indolent.
However government responsibility does not stop at paying monthly unemployment stipend. The government must also endeavour to find a decent job for every unemployed person as soon as possible in order to take them off the dole.
Going by our observation since May 29, 2015, the ERC is forced to conclude that the Federal Government does not appear to have any clear or reliable strategy for job creation. Aside the promise to train and employ 500, 000 graduates as teachers, the rest of FG’s job creation strategy is anchored on the private sector. Suffice to note that private sector-led job creation strategy has been tried before by previous administrations and has failed to produce adequate and secure jobs for Nigerians. Even its social security plan is not only feeble but embarrassing. So far, the N5, 000 that is being promised is not enough to feed for a month not to talk of other basic human needs. A National Youth Service Corp member gets far more than this monthly.
Now going by Ngige’s explanation that the unemployment benefit would be tied to a training programme, we hope this will not end up like the slave labour scheme floated by Osun, Oyo and a few other APC states some years ago under several names like OYES or YES-O where unemployed graduates are made to cut grass and perform other menial tasks for ridiculous monthly allowance for a promise of absorption into the civil service. At the end, only a few of these were ever absorbed into the civil service. The idea of training University graduates in so-called new skills so that they can set up mushroom businesses is not a workable strategy to address the chronic unemployment situation in Nigeria. In a depressed economy without basic infrastructures like regular electricity supply and motorable roads where even big companies are folding up, many of these mushroom businesses will soon crash thus sending all of these people back into the employment market.
As far as we are concerned in the ERC, any reasonable effort to address the condition of unemployed people must be tied to massive creation of decent minimum wage jobs as well as a crash public works programme to improve public infrastructures like electricity supply, transportation, housing etc so that self-employed people, owners of small and medium scale enterprises and artisans can have a more supportive environment to thrive. This means that government, not the so-called private sector, must be at the centre of a job creation programme.
Hassan Taiwo Soweto Michael Ogundele
National Coordinator (07033697259) National Secretary