Revamping N-Power for efficiency and high-performance
An evaluation of the scheme shows that it has not lived up to its stated objectives.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration launched the N-Power job creation and youth empowerment programme in September 2016 to lift citizens out of poverty through capacity building, investment and direct support. The programme, which is among the portfolio of initiatives under the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), was designed for Nigerian youths between the ages of 18 and 35, to be engaged in a two-year paid volunteer programme.
The N-Power Volunteer Corps is a segment of the N-Power programme for graduates of tertiary institutions. It has had 500,000 beneficiaries under Batches A and B scattered across the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. The graduates are deployed to critical sectors such as education, health and agriculture, as well as to help enhance tax compliance.
The volunteers are paid a monthly stipend of N30,000 in addition to grants of electronic devices preloaded with various applications for skills development. There is also the non-graduate programme under N-Power for young people who are holders of West Africa Council Certificate (WAEC) or its equivalents. This category of the programme is aimed at equipping the participants with skills to enter the formal economy.
While the stated mandate of N-Power is laudable; the scheme has faced various criticisms. Critics have said the placement of volunteers in the different areas of activities does not match the educational qualifications of the graduates with the sectors where they can optimally harness their training. For example, the N-Power Teach beneficiaries are expected to teach in public primary and secondary schools. While the volunteer teachers are graduates of polytechnics and universities, they are not certified teachers.
This has often led to clashes between the government and some members of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT). The government, on its part, has argued that the N-Power volunteers are acting as assistant teachers. Besides, they are provided with materials on their devices to enable them learn how to formulate lesson plans and notes. The NUT has rebuffed such explanations.
Some of the N-Power Teach beneficiaries have been reported to have notoriously poor work ethics. Many of them have been accused of chronic absenteeism. Others appoint proxies to do the job and they share the monthly stipend with the proxies. A number of the volunteers claimed that the lack of job security in the N-Power programme is the reason for their misconduct. Hence, their relationship with the scheme is mainly to collect the stipend every month.
An evaluation of the scheme shows that it has not lived up to its objectives. Poverty in the country has increased since the NSIP was introduced, rather than reduce. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has not released the unemployment data since the third quarter of 2018 when the agency reported youth unemployment rate was at 29.7 per cent while the unemployment rate across the entire working population was 23.1 per cent. Many analysts believe the unemployment data has worsened since Q3 2018. The economic impact of the still-raging Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the jobs crisis in the country in the last few months.
The claim by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, that 20 per cent of N-Power beneficiaries now have their own small businesses is not a pass mark for the scheme. In July of this year, beneficiaries of the N-Power who were to exit the programme at the end of the month organised a protest close to the National Assembly Complex, requesting to be employed by the government and be provided a grant of N600,000 each.
This complete lack of satisfaction with the scheme came from its own beneficiaries. Excluding the 100,000 N-Power beneficiaries of Batch A and B who reportedly have set up their own small businesses, about 400,000 of the beneficiaries have been effectively disengaged, and are now jobless.
Another indication of failure of the scheme to curtail youth unemployment crisis inadvertently came from Umar-Farouq. While announcing the progress on the application process for Batch C of the programme last month, she said over five million applications had been received. Meanwhile, there are only 400,000 slots for the new batch.
There have been other challenges with the scheme. Batch B volunteers were not given any of the tablet devices, whereas the Batch A volunteers got their devices and also enjoyed free monthly data subscription. While admitting that the financing hiccups could have been due to the fall in government revenue, the underperformance of the scheme could also be due to misappropriation of funds meant for it. Thousands of beneficiaries were at different times owed their monthly allowances – which were funds already budgeted and disbursed. In fact, the National Assembly has been involved in investigating alleged malfeasance in the scheme.
Having failed to achieve its mandate, the federal government should either scrap or revamp N-Power to reposition it as a fitting programme for addressing some of the socio-economic challenges facing the youth demographic in the country. Instead of paying unemployed youths N30,000 for a few months and pushing them back into the jobs market; the government should partner with select industries and organisations who would absorb the volunteers at the expiration of their volunteer service.
Another proposition is to merge N-Power with the National Directorate of Employment (NDE). Established in 1986, the NDE's statutory mandate includes designing and implementing programmes to combat mass unemployment and articulating policies aimed at developing work programmes with labour-intensive potentials. It is the failure of this agency that led to the creation of N-Power. Merging the two entities, designing them for efficiency and demanding accountability from their managers could help in achieving high performance and some of Nigeria’s socioeconomic development targets.
Promise Jude Emordi holds a master's degree in political science. His research interests include global political economy, development studies, policy analysis and historical studies.
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