In 2016, the federal government of Nigeria under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari launched a national social investment power (N-POWER) to employ Nigerian unemployed graduates and make them engage in productive activities in the economy. The N-Power is a programme of the government to help trim down unemployment by helping to create jobs and engaging them in activities. The goals of the programme include: to reduce the rate of unemployment in the country, to bring about a system that would facilitate transfer-ability of employ-ability, entrepreneurial and technical skills and to bring solutions to ailing public service and government diversification policy.
N-power, christened as the largest post tertiary employment programme in Africa engaged 200,000 beneficiaries out of 700,000 Nigerians graduates who reportedly applied. It cuts across several sectors; education, health, agriculture. Every month, the federal government of Nigeria spends about 15 billion naira as stipends on 500,000 beneficiaries of the N-power scheme. The scheme includes; N-teach for the education sector, N-health beneficiaries to serve as public health assistants, N-agro to serve as the intermediaries between researchers and farmers to help them with tips for better farming practices to make Nigeria self-sufficient in terms of food, N-build aims at engaging applicants to become skilled and competent, technicians, artisans and service professionals and N-tech to teach applicants on software development and hardware.
MISSION STATEMENT OF N-POWER
Under ‘What we do’, the N-power’s website reads: Skills and knowledge are the driving force of economic growth and social development. Despite the current high level of unemployment, harnessing Nigeria’s young demography through appropriate skill development efforts provides an opportunity to achieve inclusion and productivity within the country. Large-scale skill development is the main policy thrust of the N-Power Programme. N-Power is also linked to the Federal Government’s policies in the economic, employment and social development arenas. N-Power addresses the challenges of youth employment by providing a structure for large scale and relevant work skills acquisition and development while linking its core and outcomes to fixing inadequate public services and stimulation the larger economy.
The modular programmes under N-Power will ensure that each participants will learn and practice most of what is necessary to find or create work. The N-Power Volunteer Corp involves a massive deployment of 500,000 trained graduates who will assist to improve the inadequacies in our public services in education, health and civic education. Some of these graduates will also help in actualizing Nigeria’s economic and strategic aspirations of achieving food security and self-sufficiency. N-Power will also be a platform for diversifying the economy. N-Power is preparing young Nigerians for knowledge economy where equipped with world-class skills and certification, they become innovators and movers in the domestic and global markets. Nigeria will have a pool of software developers, hardware service professionals, animators, graphic artists, building services professionals, artisans and others. N-Power also focuses on providing our non-graduates with relevant technical and business skills that enhance their work outlook and livelihood.
For decades, unemployment has been a major socioeconomic issue in Nigeria, importantly; menace of youth unemployment has become a hovering disaster ready to be unleashed. According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), Nigeria youth’s unemployment increased from 8.05% in 2015 to 13.06% in 2016. What are the definite measures taken by governments and concerned institutions to see a drastic reduction in youth unemployment? Are there any measures employed to improve the labour market conditions? How are the policies and programmes enacted to change these appalling statistics implemented?
Flipping through the history books; N-power is not the country’s first labour-focused social intervention programme. Interestingly, each democratic administration introduced similar initiatives intended to promote gainful employment for youths. SURE-P was introduced in 2012, this initiative invested fuel subsidy savings into vocational training of Nigeria youths and community services for the unemployed. Through short-term employment and business expansion stipends, the scheme was reported to have benefited 41,000 graduates. Despite all these great testimonies from beneficiaries on how the scheme had provided them with practical knowledge needed to enter into the labour market, it did not tackle the youth unemployment in the country that year. In the same vein, the so much ‘talked-about’ N-power is yet to bring to the table achievements in the labour market. Many have faulted the Buhari’s model of job creation and termed it as a ‘scam’, is N-power a wrong scheme to employ?
IS N-POWER TRULY A SCAM?
The appalling issue of youth unemployment in the country birthed the scheme to bridge the gap in the society, in the first year, the programme recorded 200,000 beneficiaries. Currently, about 500,000 young Nigerians receiving 30,000 Naira monthly as stipend can give sketchy evidence that the scheme has transformed their lives. However, are these testimonials enough to work out a structural change in the labour market and the economy growth? The country’s youth unemployment increased from 13.06% in 2016 to 13.41% in 2017, the issue of the youth in the country has gone far beyond unemployment to underemployment.
No one can say categorically that the introduction of the scheme has made things to fall apart in the labour market; however, it is obvious it has not improved the market either. Although, N-power seeks to bring equilibrium in the labour market by ensuring excess supply of labour is absorbed by deploying them to place of assignments, unfortunately, the scheme has failed to address the increase in demand of labour in the market. Training the youths to be skilled in any field without a corresponding increase in the demand for labour across sectors would result into an economy with high skilled labour, but unemployed.
In addition, the concept of unemployment has gone beyond individuals willingly and ready to work. It has moved to the concept of searching and matching, where individuals searching for jobs will find one if there is any sector willing to match with their search. When the available jobs in the economy do not commensurate with the rate of job findings then unemployment is inevitable in that economy. As beautiful and promising N-power sounds, it is not sufficient if there cannot be assurance of increment in the demand of labour. It is time to industralised the economy beyond monthly stipend!
More so, the high rate of corrupt practices in the scheme makes it a wasteful programme rather than a productive one. The N-teach which is the most popular of the scheme experiences wasteful expense as many connive with corrupt officials; some of these volunteers abscond from their duty post. They receive monthly stipends from which they bribe school authorities. What is the economic importance is this scheme?
Another downside of the scheme is that, it is not a permanent one but for two years. What is the surety that beneficiaries would not end up adding to the enormous rate of the unemployed in the country? Although, the idea behind the two years duration is to make way for new beneficiaries as opposed keeping the same set of individuals within the system; which would result in distribution of wealth to as many as possible. The old beneficiaries are expected to have saved up enough to be self-employed after the duration is over, but is it hilarious how such a scheme aimed at equipping youths for the world has no future plans to place beneficiaries on their career path or objective. What is the long-term benefit of this programme beyond 30,000 for just two years?
Finally, N-power is unarguably a scheme that has taken quiet number of unemployed youths out of the depth of unemployment for a specific period of time. It may be a scheme to boost the productivity level of the economy across sectors, but it has been viewed as a ‘scam’ in the face of the country’s disequilibrium labour market, corruption and other several other vices. The effect of the scheme would not be felt until there is a long lasting benefits to the economy and the labour market at large.
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Omolola Lipede (The Talking Pen) is a contributor to The African Progressive Economist and the opinions expressed here are her own. She is currently an Economics post graduate student at the University of Ibadan.