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Row Grows Over Plan to Hire 774,000 for Public Works

Discordant signals were sent from different quarters on Wednesday as the Executive-Legislature feud over the recruitment of 774,000 youths escalated.
Senators advised President Muhammadu Buhari to suspend the programme or go to court if uncomfortable with the position of the Legislature.

President Buhari approved a Special Public Works Programme (SWP), which will generate the recruitment of 1,000 youths in each of the 774 local government areas to do public works for three months.

The programme is to run between October and December.
Each of the beneficiaries is to earn N20,000 monthly.  Fifty two billion naira was allocated to the programme in the 2020 budget.

The programme, to be driven by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), is to be supervised by Minister of State for Niger Delta, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN).

Appearing before the joint committee on Labour and Employment of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Keyamo and the members engaged in a shouting match.

The meeting, which was called to enable Keyamo brief the lawmakers on steps being taken to engage the youth, ended abruptly. Keyamo refused to meet the lawmakers in camera after he had been criticised in the opening remark. Following the altercation, the minister was asked to leave the venue.

The minister accused the lawmakers of trying “to direct me as to what to do from state to state.”
The lawmakers sought to know from him how a  20-member committee charged with the  selection of beneficiaries  was selected.
In a statement on Wednesday, titled “Federal Government Public Works Programme  must benefit Nigerians… Implementation of the 774,000 Public Works to be put on hold until implementation modalities explained to NASS”, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Ajibola Basiru and his House of Representatives counterpart, Benjamin Kalu,  said:  The National Assembly reminds members of the public that the Legislature was part of the conception of the programme, approved it and appropriated funds for its implementation as part of the COVID 19 response strategy.

”In accordance with the constitutional imperative of oversight, the Legislature needed to be apprised of modalities for implementation for effective feedback to our constituents and in ensuring that our constituents optimally participate in and benefit from the process.

“In view of the foregoing, the implementation of the programme shall be on hold pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour and Productivity.”

Fielding reporters’ questions later, Basiru said: “If the President sees that his power is being encroached, he  can approach the court of law.

“What we are saying is that, this project, the way you are looking at it, it is as if it is an exclusive presidential project.

“Our people will also ask questions. This1,000 people, how were they generated? Who set up the selection committee, what are the modalities for recruitment, what are the minimum requirements for recruitment?
“It cannot be left to the whims of a person or a branch of a government, it has to be a totality of the government which is the Executive and the Legislature.”

Senator Ifeanyi Ubah described Keyamo’s action as an example of rascality.
Ubah, a member of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, said: ”I feel it is a very bad display of rascality. Such rascality should be highly condemned by Nigerians.
”I don’t know what a senator will be doing with a job of N20,000 and N30,000, if not to make sure that it is given to people in their constituencies.

“If those jobs are given to us, it will be shared equally or percentage of it should be given to senators, we will take it back to the people we are representing.

“But giving it to people who will go and mortgage it and sell it or hand it to an agency that will market it is totally unacceptable to the Nigerian Senate.”

on Wednesday night, Keyamo told The Nation on telephone that he was glad that the joint committee had started recognising the limits of their powers by advising President Muhammadu Buhari on what to do.
He said: “I think the Senate committee members are starting to know the limit of their powers based on what happened yesterday (Tuesday). That is why they are now changing it to advising the President. It is left to the President to either take the advice or not.”

But House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila expressed optimism that the dispute between the Legislature and the Executive over the SWP “would be resolved within the next  24 hours.”
Gbajabiamila, who spoke when he made a stopover at a public hearing organised by the House Committee on Public Account, however described as “unfortunate” the  fact that  ”the  National Assembly is not allowed to operate as it should.”

Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) Mr. Babajide Omoworare said the problem is as a result of “communication breakdown that will be looked into.”
A group known as the United Niger Delta Energy Development Security Strategy (UNDEDSS) on Wednesday called on Nigerians to rise against what it considers as  the National Assembly’s  bid to continue to prey on the good people.

It lamented  in a statement by its Executive Secretary, Mr. Tony Uranta that ”the ongoing brouhaha between the Labour ministry and the NASS was threatening to stifle the well-meaning orders of President Buhari.”
The group added that “if this National Assembly is allowed to continue brow-beating  everybody, in an obvious attempt to show up Buhari as a toothless anti-corruption chihuahua, the Niger Delta and others may soon resort to self-help.”

Arms of Hope Foundation (AHF), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) also gave its backing to Keyamo’s action.
Its President Apostle Eugene Ogu, who chided the lawmakers, cautioned them against undue interference in Federal Government’s programmes.

“They must not interfere with the President’s youths’ programme; they must not always be dabbling into contracts on the pretexts of ‘Oversight Duty’,” the AHF president said.
Commending the minister for calling the lawmakers’ bluff, Ogu said: “I would have lost my respect for Mr. Keyamo if he had entered into that secret meeting with them, because such secret meetings have denied Nigerians huge amount of dividends of democracy.”

”Enough is enough of this bullying of ministers and subjecting them to acts of subtracting and addition into projects meant to benefit the masses. Keyamo must note that he represents the youths in his ministerial capacity, and so must stand firm as he had always done against people who care less about the plight of our citizens.”

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