The Special Public Works Recruitment Impasse and its Implications – By Kamal Ololade Ahmed

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The extended special public work program of president Muhammadu Buhari which is expected to start by October 1 this year has become a subject of accusation and counter accusation between the Minister of State for Employment, Labour and Productivity, Festus Keyamo and members of the National Assembly.

Following the heated argument between the minister and members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity particularly on the recruitment plan of the special public work, the National Assembly has called on the president to suspend the programme.

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The minster has also in his reaction asked all stakeholders involved in the execution of the program to carry on their works unhindered alleging that the action of the joint committee contravenes the principle of separation of power.

The avoidable deadlock culminating in a cliffhanger ending during the investigative hearing between members of the two arms of government on who determines who gets what in the program has become one of the major issues of public debate in the country.

Background to the Special Public Works

According to the information on the Special Public Works website, the idea of special Public Works is an employment-intensive technique adapted by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) from one capacity building collaborations with the International Labour Organization (ILO) between 1980s and 1990s.

According to the Development and Technical Labour Department of the ILO, these types of programmes were used during the Great Depression by industrialised nations to immediately respond to grinding poverty at the lowest level of society that normally bore the brunt of such economic upheavals. It was also effectively used during colonial Africa to quickly respond to situations such as drought and famine by mobilising the unskilled populace to engage in other labour intensive infrastructural projects as a means of immediately alleviating their situation.

The concept was later adopted and developed by most Asian countries like India, China and Bangladesh to lift their countries out of the league of poor nations. It is said that this programme was one of the main reasons India quickly dropped in the poverty index and Nigeria overtook India at a point.

Sometime in October, 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, approved a Pilot Special Public Works Programme in the Rural Areas. The programme was domiciled in the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) for implementation.

Consequently and arising from the need and desire of the Federal Government to create massive jobs at the lowest rung of the economy as well as to maintain critical public and social infrastructure at the rural base of the economy, the President approved that the programme be adopted into the Nigerian economy.

This pilot scheme was approved to be implemented in five local government areas in eight states namely: Adamawa, Borno, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Jigawa, Katsina and Kwara. Beneficiaries are engaged in: Drainage digging and clearance, Irrigation canals clearance, Rural feeder road maintenance among others.

Extended Special Public Works across the 774 Local Government Areas of the Federation

As Covid-19 began to disrupt livelihood leaving several people worse off, the Minister of Finance announced in a press conference on 6th of April 2020, the approval of the President for the extension of the Special Public Work Programme to all 36 states and the FCT from October December 2020 in order to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the economy.

The Programme is also expected to provide modest stipends for itinerant workers to undertake roads rehabilitation and social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, health extension and other critical services.

Following this, a Special Inter-ministerial Committee on the Extended Special Public Works was inaugurated by the Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment Festus Keyamo SAN, on Wednesday, 29th April, 2020. The Committee sat for some weeks and in their collaborative capacity proposed a list of projects within their Ministries that may require the intervention of the Public Works Programme. Over 3,000 projects and 42,000 Manpower are being proposed by them.

In line with Section 16(1) of the N.D.E Act, special committees comprising in each State of the Federation are to be set up for the purpose of deliberating, selecting and recommending the names of the 1,000 persons from each of the Local Government Areas in the States to be engaged for the programme. The Committees which comprise community, religious, markets, transports etc. leaders, would also identify the projects to be executed in those L.G.As.

The Impasse on Recruitment for the Special Public Works and its Implications

While the minister said that 15% slots have already been allotted to the national assembly members for recruitment into the programme it appears the percentage did not meet the demand of the law makers. This has a serious implication on how the targeted class of people benefit from the programme.

The dual purpose of the programme to mitigate the effects of the ongoing pandemic on the economy and raise high number of unskilled labour force for the maintenance of infrastructure and providing critical services may be compromised at the end. Most times these slots are shared to loyalists and cronies who use them for self serving purposes. That will not only flaw the entire programme but also dim the hope of ever getting things right in the country.

The government of Muhammad Buhari is already scoring low in the perception of the Talakawas who believed his coming to power is enough to have their interests protected even they know no one. At the same time, the government is faced with more reduced policy space to improve the lives of the downtrodden in the society with the prevailing global socioeconomic conditions. Therefore, one will not blame the minister who has decided to guide the initiative jealously.

People in power should always consider the integrity of the institution they represent. Performing constitutional functions should not be morphed into a back scratching exercise.

The hierarchy of the Assembly needs to do the proper thing; else, the ongoing row will confirm the haunch people have had earlier that the change in the frosty relationship between the executive and legislative from the last Assembly is not for the interest of the people.

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