From Abiodun Alade (Lagos), Seun Adeuyi & Maureen Onochie (Abuja), Hope Abah Emmanuel (Makurdi), Salim Umar Ibrahim (Kano), Mumini Abdulkareem (Ilorin) & Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri)
The recent indefinite suspension of the N-Power programme by the federal government has dealt a severe blow to millions of young Nigerians who were relying on the initiative to combat unemployment.
Established by former President Muhammadu Buhari, the N-Power programme aimed to provide a monthly stipend to beneficiaries, offering them a lifeline in a country grappling with high unemployment rates.
The sudden suspension has left countless individuals without jobs and has raised concerns about government’s commitment to addressing the critical issue of youth unemployment.
The scheme had three core segments, namely N-Power Volunteer Corps (for graduates), N-Power Build (for non-graduates) and N-Power Knowledge, which is also a non-graduate programme for the ICT-inclined.
Almost 1million jobs affected
The indefinite suspension of the scheme by the government is expected to affect more than 500,000 young Nigerians who depended on it for survival.
According to figures obtained from the Humanitarian Ministry in Abuja in February, the programme had enrolled 200,000 youths in Batch A; 300,000 in Batch B; 510,000 in Batch C1 and 490,000 in Batch C2. While the number of exited beneficiaries is unknown, majority of batches C1 and C2 are still enrolled in the programme as at the time it was suspended.
The scheme also provided teachers for many schools in rural areas.
One of the beneficiaries of the N-Power Knowledge Programme in Abuja, Suleiman Abdul, while lamenting the suspension, told Daily Trust on Sunday that the programme was of immense benefit to youths.
“The N-Power programme helped a lot of people. There are some people out there who had never earned N30,000 before but the N-Power programme helped their lives. Even my younger sister is a beneficiary. The suspension of the scheme would really affect Nigerians, especially those hoping to benefit from it. People graduate every day, yet no jobs,” he said.
Similarly, Okeke Ruth, another beneficiary, appealed to the federal government to lift the suspension as soon as possible.
“The federal government should please lift the suspension of the programmes to give opportunities to other youths to benefit. This way, the Renewed Hope of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu would be achieved,” Ruth pleaded.
Mr Bulus Wakili, the village head of Zhiko in Bwari Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) told our reporter that the suspension would affect the community as the only primary health care in the community is being managed by a beneficiary of N-Power.
“Honestly, the suspension would affect us in the community because our hospital is being handled by a beneficiary. The sudden suspension must be looked into,” he said.
Non-payment of stipends
In Benue State, some beneficiaries of the programme decried ill treatment occasioned by non-payment of their stipends.
The beneficiaries, who spoke to our correspondent in Makurdi, regretted that they were being owed many months, ranging between nine and 12 months.
Mary, who preferred not to mention her surname, claimed to have received only three months stipends throughout the one year she rendered service under the N-Power programme. She explained that luck was even on her side for having done her verification early enough to earn the stipends thrice because there were those who didn’t receive any payment from the federal government under the programme.
Sesugh, another beneficiary of the programme, was however, among those beneficiaries who worked for nearly one year but didn’t receive a dime in the long run.
“It is painful. I am appealing to the federal government to consider paying the several months they owe us,” he pleaded.
Meanwhile, the head teacher of Arabic Primary School, Alhaji Musa Jibril, told our correspondent on telephone that nothing changed in the absence of the N-Power staff in his institution.
“The N-Power teachers left. We haven’t seen them since the beginning of this term. It was the government who sent them to us and it is government that gives us teachers.
“Their absence has not in any way created a gap for us. We are fine with the teachers on ground,” he said.
In Kano, the Batch C, Stream II beneficiaries are the most affected as they are yet to be paid 9 months outstanding allowances.
They claimed that despite not being paid, the government decided to suspend the programme without recourse to their plight.
One of the beneficiaries who claimed to be a widow said the non-payment of the stipend compounded her woes as she could not fend for her four children.
“It is nine months and we have not seen anything; and we go to work every day. We are really suffering. The government needs to understand that we are among the less privileged members of the society.
“I am a widow with four children; and sometimes what to eat is a problem because we highly rely on this.
“Currently, I have run into a debt of N195,000, which I have to settle the moment I get my allowances.
“Secondly, my daughter will be getting married in the next two months and I have not bought anything for her. I don’t even know what to do. We are really anticipating,” she said.
She lamented the suspension of the programme without the government settling their outstanding allowances.
“We heard that the programme has been suspended; how do we deal with that? I just hope they would pay us our money because we have served already,” she said.
Suspension might affect schools
In Kwara State, some of the beneficiaries said it had been terrible coping with the situation.
They said the situation was compounded by the non-payment of their stipends.
“It is difficult to survive in this circumstance. We were owed nine months salaries. What kept me going was the hope that we would be paid after the expiration of our engagement. But now, our hope is in our mouths with this suspension,” one of them who refused to mention his name said.
One of the coordinators in Kwara State, who also pleaded that his name should not be in print said, “Those that have been suspended now are of the Batch C, Stream II, which started in October last year to end September this year.
“They are supposed to be paid for 12 months but were only paid three months —October to December last year. They didn’t receive any payment from January to September. But there is a promise to pay. Because of the situation, we don’t go hard or harsh on them. Some report once or twice weekly.”
The principal of Ilọrin Grammar School (senior), Hajiya Muslimat Abdullahi, told Daily Trust on Sunday that, “The situation cannot have any effect on the school because the programme has not been doing well for some time, and whatever complaint you give to their supervisors don’t usually yield any positive results because of the peculiarity of their situation.
“On our part, we discovered that most of the N-Power beneficiaries also work in private schools. There was a time we accepted 66 of them but they were inefficient, so we only accepted three from the suspended stream after we found out that most of them also taught in private schools. They were made to produce a surety to write an undertaking on their behalf. However, we were also handicapped when we realised that they were not paid.
“It may affect schools that accepted a high number of them and lack teachers. But the government has given us enough teachers; however, we still need some in some areas.”
Our correspondent in Maiduguri gathered that about 25,000 beneficiaries in batches C1 and C2 N-Teach were still enrolled in the scheme in Borno State.
The beneficiaries urged the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu-led government to pay their stipends.
An N-Power-teach beneficiary, Suliat Adeyemo, said the non-payment of their nine-month stipends had brought untold hardship to them.
“I am highly disappointed with the recent pronouncement by the minister, to say the least. We have worked for nine months without pay,” she said.
Another beneficiary, Abba Saheed said, “We are being owed for months, a situation that has left many of us stranded. It is unfortunate that the Tinubu administration has failed us.”
Programme lacks accountability
A beneficiary of the programme in Ondo State who pleaded anonymity said there was the need to reassess its purpose.
He said, “It is a laudable project, especially in creating a source of income for youths without meaningful engagement. The stipends meant a lot to us, but I think the government should look at a better way of exiting beneficiaries. Government should also monitor the posting of beneficiaries to where they are needed,” he said.
He noted that some beneficiaries did not go to their places of primary assignment because they had arrangements with their supervisors, who in turn got financial benefits from them.
Why we suspended scheme – Minister
Meanwhile the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Betta Edu, who announced the indefinite suspension of the programme during a live interview on TVC News, said it had been marred by irregularities.
She noted that some of the beneficiaries of the programme were not found in their places of assignment, yet they were receiving monthly stipends.
Edu added that the government had launched an investigation into the utilisation of funds since the inception of the scheme.
In a subsequent communiqué signed by the national programme manager, N-Power, Dr Akindele Egbuwalo on behalf of the minister, it was noted that, “It is imperative to inform Nigerians, particularly beneficiaries of the N-Power programme across the country, of its temporary suspension.
“This action has become necessary to give room for a detailed investigation into the operations of N-Power in the last 12 months. The total number of persons enrolled on the programme since inception to date is 960,000 people. Most of them have exited from N-Power 1.0 and N-Power 2.0, batches A and B.
“There is a need to audit the number of people in the programme—those who have exited, those who are being owed, whether they reported to work or not, and how funds have been utilised over this period of time.”
The communiqué added that the ministry had discovered instances of beneficiaries whose participation lapsed since 2022 but had remained and continued to expect payments from the government while not honouring their obligations to the scheme.
“They did not report to their places of primary assignment as required but still received monthly payments. Some have other jobs and left this bracket but still benefitted from the payments, while those who truly worked are not paid,” it added.
While acknowledging that graduate and non-graduate volunteers of batches C1 and C2 are in this category, it noted that an audit would offer the opportunity to establish the exact number of people owed, thereby eliminating ghost beneficiaries.
“Preliminary findings of our audit have shown that some consultants are holding on to beneficiaries’ funds disbursed to them long ago, even when their contract ended in March 2023 without any renewal. We condemn this practice and will not tolerate it going forward. Work is ongoing to identify those involved, understand why the payments didn’t get to the final beneficiaries and recall the funds to pay those owed.
“We appeal to Nigerians to understand the rationale behind the temporary suspension and investigation of the programme as we work to restore the country’s confidence in the programme and for the new N-Power to serve Nigerians better. Things have to be properly done for us to move forward,” the communiqué noted.
It hinted that the restructuring and transformation would also birth an expanded programme to reach beneficiaries aged 18 to 40, targeting 5million people in five years at a pace of 1million per year under the graduate and non-graduate stream.
“In addition, the restructuring will accommodate some new programmes in education, health, works, agriculture, technology, fashion, entertainment and other relevant areas of skills acquisition and employability.
“To earn the confidence of Nigerians in the expanded programme, transparency and accountability will be the benchmark. It shall no longer be business as usual as we make concerted efforts to put the country on the right footing, ensuring that no one directly or indirectly unleashes suffering on Nigerians.
“We assure all beneficiaries with genuine claims that we will resolve their cases once we complete the verification exercise. We will honour all valid outstanding obligations. Nobody will be owed,” the communiqué added.
When contacted, Mr Rasheed Olanrewaju, the special assistant to the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, said they were studying the activities of the past administration.
8 months’ debts to be paid soon – Minister
But the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Poverty Alleviation said it had recovered funds held by the consultant for several months.
The national programme manager of N-Power, Mr Akindele, made this known following the meeting held with representatives of beneficiaries.
“The good news is that the funds have been recovered yesterday and you will be getting your money soon.
“Payment for Batch C beneficiaries who have been owed for eight months will begin soon,” he said
Akindele revealed that the minister had been working round the clock to arrest irregularities in N-Power and other social investment programmes.
“These irregularities have made the common man to lose faith in the ability of the government to provide social safety cover for its population, but Dr Betta Edu is engaging all necessary steps to resolve these issues and deliver the Renewed Hope Mandate of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to Nigerians.
“Many irregularities, which hitherto sabotaged the smooth implementation of the programme, are being addressed. It would be recalled that on assumption of duty, it was noted that many beneficiaries did not receive payment for their monthly allowances while monies were being held up by the consultant managing the enrollment and payment system, whose contract had long expired. The good news is that the money has been recovered and it would allow for payment of beneficiaries,” he assured.
This and more are irregularities the minister is committed to resolving so as to create a good foundation upon which the Renewed Hope N-Power will expand to reach 5million young Nigerians.
Akindele called on Nigerians to be patient as the restructuring was in their best interest as it would lead to an expansion that would accommodate millions of young people.