By Â Shola Amodemaja
Â The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) has condemned in its entirety a statement credited to the Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige in which he referred to unemployed Nigerians as indolent is unfortunate. The word â€œindolentâ€ according to the group â€œis an insult to many Nigerians who are unemployed not because they are not willing to work but because the inequitable capitalist system that Ngige works for denies them a means of livelihoodâ€.
According to The Nation newspaper (16/1/2016), Ngige made the following comment: â€œwe wonâ€™t pay N5, 000 for people to be indolent. No country in the world would pay people to go home and sleep and collect cashâ€.
The group noted Ngigeâ€™s statement betrayed a perception that the government would be doing unemployed people a favour by pa ying them monthly allowance. To start with even the proposed N5000 is paltry. â€œHowever, as far as the ERC is concerned, an unemployment allowance is a right. Any serious government has a responsibility of ensuring a minimum living standard for all of its citizens including the old, infirm, children etcetera as well as those unfortunate to be unemployed until such a time they are able to get a paid employmentâ€.
According to Comrade Hassan Soweto, National Coordinator and Michael Ogundele, National Secretary of the group â€œIndeed, the suggestion that no country pays unemployment allowance shows that Ngige is unfortunately ignorant of development around the world especially in the West where there are social security provisions including unemployment benefit even though presently under austerity attacksâ€.Â Â Â
The unionists continued that â€œUnemployment is a product of the failure of the capitalist system. It is not a failure of individuals. At least 50 million Nigerians are unemployed or under-employed. Many of these are not lazy bums that are not willing to work. In fact some of these are University graduates. Some lost their jobs as a result of the job-shedding ravaging both the public and private sector at the moment. Just a few days ago, the Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha who happens to be a member of Ngigeâ€™s party, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), added to the army of unemployed by sacking 3, 000 civil servantsâ€.
Angered by the ministerâ€™s comment, ERC stated â€œIf there is any group of people in this country that are being paid to be indolent, it is the group of ruling elite and bourgeois politicians that Ngige belongs to. Just about 17, 000 political office holders cost this country over N1.5 trillion annually. Majority of these are lawmakers and ministers together with their retinue of aides who do little or nothing. Lawmakers sit just a few times and for a few hours in a week. Yet they collect millions of naira monthly and fat gratuity that are paid promptly once their tenure expires. The same goes for ministers. Aside presiding over official functions, press conferences and making speeches, what exactly does a Minister do? Most of the so-called policy decisions and plans are drawn up by an army of aides while implementation is carried out by ministry staff. So indolent and perhaps unnecessary are ministers that no less a person than President Buhari once called them â€œnoise makersâ€. In actuality therefore, it is the likes of Ngige that are being paid to be indolentâ€.
However government responsibility does not stop at paying monthly unemployment stipend, it noted but must also endeavour to find a decent job for every unemployed person as soon as possible in order to take them off the dole.
Â â€œNow going by Ngigeâ€™s explanation that the unemployment benefit would be tied to a training programme, we hope this will not end up like the slave labour scheme floated by Osun, Oyo and a few other APC states some years ago under several names like OYES or YES-O where unemployed graduates are made to cut grass and perform other menial tasks for ridiculous monthly allowance for a promise of absorption into the civil service. At the end, only a few of these were ever absorbed into the civil service. The idea of training University graduates in so-called new skills so that they can set up mushroom businesses is not a workable strategy to address the chronic unemployment situation in Nigeria. In a depressed economy without basic infrastructures like regular electricity supply and motorable roads where even big companies are folding up, many of these mushroom businesses will soon crash thus sending all of these people back into the employment market.
â€œAs far as we are concerned in the ERC, any reasonable effort to address the condition of unemployed people must be tied to massive creation of decent minimum wage jobs as well as a crash public works programme to improve public infrastructures like electricity supply, transportation, housing etc so that self-employed people, owners of small and medium scale enterprises and artisans can have a more supportive environment to thrive. This means that government, not the so-called private sector, must be at the centre of a job creation programmeâ€ it stated.