President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent comment in Saudi Arabia that he would not pay N5,000 monthly stipend to those who don’t work has elicited reactions from different quarters, writes JONATHAN NDA -ISAIAH.

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Last week in Saudi Arabia during an interactive session with Nigerians in the Gulf Country, President Muhammadu Buhari dropped a bombshell that he would not pay the widely publicized N5,000 monthly stipend to unemployed graduates as he would rather build infrastructure and empower able-bodied persons.

His words: “This largess, N5,000 for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority, I would rather do the infrastructure, the school and correct them and empower agriculture, mining so that every able-bodied person can go and get work instead of giving N5,000 to those who don’t work.”

Many Nigerians see the President’s comments as a betrayal of the campaign promises he made. One of the cardinal campaign promises of the All Progressives Congress (APC) was the creation of a Social Welfare Programme of at least five thousand naira (N5,000) that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens upon the demonstration of children’s enrollment in schools and evidence of immunisation to help promote family stability.

It is worthy to note that in Nigeria and other parts of the world, politicians during campaigns promise heaven and earth to woo voters. Sometimes, they make promises they know they can’t keep or don’t intend to keep. During the campaigns, most political pundits questioned the rationale behind the N5,000 welfare package in view of the present economic realities and also poor data collection in the country. They argued that how will the data of all unemployed, old and vulnerable in the country be collected in a country where records are unreliable. The All Progressives Congress (APC) promised that once elected into power, every ill of the former administration will be a thing of the past. The APC even went one step further by putting deadlines on some of their campaign promises.

The party campaigned vigorously with the slogan, ‘Change’, a mantra which Nigerians keyed into immediately. The electorate embraced what was peddled before them as a new paradigm shift from the old political norm in Nigeria by the APC which promised to deliver change to Nigerians and take the country to the promise land. On that premise, President Buhari coasted home to victory in the last general elections.

Nine months into the APC- led administration it’s becoming clearer that some of the campaign promises may not be kept after all, some due to the present economic realities, while some were at best campaign promises.

Keen observers of the polity noted that it will be unrealistic for President Buhari to fulfill some of his campaign promises as according to them, some of those promises were made when the price of crude oil was at $100 and at the present rate of $30 some of the promises will have to be jettisoned. Some argued that it is a failed promise which may hurt the President ‘s credibility but added that making the right decision is key as the economy and survival of the nation is at stake. It is pertinent to note that no president in the world including the United States of America, has ever succeeded in fulfilling all campaign promises.

Some political watchers pointed out that giving N5,000 stipend to the unemployed at this era of lean resources would be a waste. However, N5,000 for the vulnerable and old is a welcome idea if the country can fund it.

It is been said that all over the world, at every point in time, a leader must evaluate what he considers most important to the nation and make a bold decision. It is better according to some social commentators, to be criticised for not achieving a campaign promise than implementing a promise that is unrealistic just to save face. Even if it means losing the next election,or losing popularity, a leader must put the country first. Leadership is about optimising available resources for the best of the country. Not wasting it on project in order to look good and save face.

Supporters of the president pointed out that those who never supported the idea in the first place saying it will promote laziness, will still be the ones to condemn and criticise the president for not prioritising it instead of commending him for doing the needful in this time of dwindling oil prices.

A social media commentator Idris Ibrahim said: “I don’t care about what campaign promises were. I only care about good governance. Any campaign promise that is not realistic today can go to hell. For those who care so much about campaign promises, you can use your PVC in 2019 and vote what you want. Those who claim Buhari won the election because of N5,000 stipends for unemployed are not saying the truth. More than 99% of people who voted for Buhari voted for him because he was seen as a much better candidate to fight corruption and Boko Haram; not because he promised N5,000. I am not even sure he got 100 votes because of the N5000 stipend promise.

“For that primary reason of fighting corruption and Boko Haram, he may not have done it perfectly, but he is clearly better than GEJ. And he was voted because he was considered better in fighting it than GEJ and not because he will be able to fight it perfectly. That is progress, reduction of negative is positive. For that, he has fulfilled his top two campaign promises.”

“The greatest irony is that, majority of those who voted Buhari are okay with his decision. Majority of us who voted him don’t feel deceived or betrayed. Majority of us who voted Buhari fully support him on this especially with global economy and oil price. Why are those who never voted him complaining of being scammed?

It will be recalled that the Senate was thrown into a stormy session when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers urged the Buhari-led administration to live up to its promise to pay the teeming unemployed Nigerian youths the monthly stipend of N5,000 each it promised during the campaign.

The prayer was raised by the Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda and seconded by the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio.

The call for the payment by Aduda was an additional prayer to a motion by a PDP senator, Albert Akpan (Akwa Ibom North-East). Akpan, in his motion, had expressed concerns about soaring unemployment rate in Nigeria, describing it as a time bomb, which the government could not afford to ignore and therefore sought the prompt intervention of the government in the matter.

The senator had observed that the recent statistics on unemployment situation in Nigeria by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) revealed how an unemployment rate had increased to the tune of 8.2 percent in the second quarter of 2015 from 7.5 percent recorded in the first quarter of the year and 6.4 percent in the last quarter of 2014.

He said: “The latest statistics as released by the Bureau reveals that economically active population or working age comprising Nigerians within the age range of 15 to 64, are now 103.5 million, increasing from 102.8 million in the last quarter of 2015, while the unemployed labour force now stands at 74 million Nigerian youths. This is truly a calamity,”

“With a projected population growth of 200 million by 2020, we project an unemployed population of about 100 million Nigerians or more. Where lies the economic future of this country? If the unemployed youths of this country are effectively engaged in gainful employment, terrorism, kidnapping, armed robbery and other socio-economic and cultural vices will be drastically reduced as the saying goes, ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’”.

However, all the prayers for the motion scaled through but trouble started when Senator Aduda raised an additional prayer, tasking Buhari’s government to fulfill one of its numerous campaign promises that it would pay N5,000 stipends to the unemployed saying “The federal government should immediately commence the payment of the N5,000 monthly stipend it promised during the pre-election campaign” .

The additional prayer drew angry response from the APC lawmakers as an APC senator, Babajide Omoworare raised a counter prayer, urging Buhari to immediately hold Jonathan accountable for every amount spent by his administration on the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and other poverty alleviation programmes.

The Senate was thrown into a stormy session   for 22 minutes, prompting the intervention of Senate President Bukola Saraki who calmed frayed nerves.

Meanwhile, whilke the dust was yet to settle, wife of the President, Aisha Buhari, urged the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), not to go back on its campaign promises.

In a statement by her Special Assistant on Media, Adebisi Olumide-Ajayi, Mrs Buhari appealed to the party not to go back on its campaign promises of paying N5,000 to 25 million unemployed Nigerians and giving school children one free meal a day.

Mrs. Buhari said that the APC was a party of integrity and had assured Nigerians during the campaign that it would pay N5000 each month to 25 million most vulnerable citizens.

Mrs Buhari, however, asked Nigerians to be patient with the APC-led government, as the change they had been yearning for, had come to stay.

However, Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief when President Buhari sent the Medium Term Expenditure Frame Work (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) to the National Assembly with N500 billion voted to pay unemployed Nigerian graduates and school children amongst other social welfare programmes in the N6.07 trillion budget for 2016.

Buhari said the “phased” Social Welfare Programme will be created to cater for a larger population of the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians upon the evidence of children’s enrolment in school and evidence of immunization.

On the social welfare programme, Buhari stated in the MTEF/FSP: “The federal government will collaborate with state governments to institute well-structured social welfare intervention programmes such as: school feeding programme initiatives, conditional cash transfer to the most vulnerable, and post-NYSC grant.

“N500 billion has been provisioned in the 2016 Budget as social investments for these programmes. These interventions will start as a pilot scheme and works towards securing the support donor agencies and our development partners in order to minimise potential risks.”

According to the president, “Job creation and social inclusion are key to the administration’s development programme, as a means to reducing the rates of unemployment, poverty and inequality”.

The president’s statements in Saudi Arabia threw Nigerians into a state of confusion. The thinking is that Nigerians have been duped by the APC to get votes and made promises they never intended to keep. The President statement in Saudi Arabia once again brought to the fore concerns on why the President keeps making key policy statements to foreign media as in most cases, key policy statements are usually made when the President is on his foreign trips .

Making clarifications on President Buhari ‘s statement in Saudi Arabia , the Presidency, clarified that stipend promise for vulnerable and poor Nigerians still stands.

It stressed that the 2016 Budget which has been submitted to the National Assembly has made an an allocation of half a trillion naira for social investment.

The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President, Laolu Akande, who gave the clarification in an interview with State House correspondents in Abuja, said President Muhammadu Buhari never promised to pay unemployed graduates N5,000.

He said: “The budget for 2016 which has been submitted to the National Assembly has made an allocation of half a trillion naira, the first time in the history of this country’s budget where you have that huge chunk of money allocated for social investment.

“In that N500 billion which is half a trillion naira, close to about 20 per cent of the entire budget, there are six social safety net programmes. And one of them is the conditional cash transfer where government is going to pay N5000 monthly to the vulnerable and extremely poor Nigerians. That promise stands.

“The President never promised to pay unemployed graduates N5000; the President never made that promise and the government never made that claim that it will pay N5000 to unemployed graduates.

“The programme for unemployed graduates is the direct creation of half a million teaching jobs so that they will be trained; 500000 unemployed graduates will be trained to teach and they will be deployed to teach, while they are looking for their career paths or jobs. That still stands!”

Akande said in addition to that, there is also a scheme to train 370, 000 non-graduate youth for skill acquisition and vocational training adding that during the time of that training, they will also be paid.

“So the President did not say that he would be giving unemployed graduates N5,000. The N5,000 monthly which is already in the budget is for the vulnerable Nigerians and the extremely poor, and this year by the grace of God, once the budget is okay, one million extremely poor Nigerians will receive N5000 monthly.”

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