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4 August 2017
The Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) hereby calls for an increase in the pay of N-Power volunteers as well as improvement in their working conditions. This should start with increasing the monthly allowance of the volunteers from the current N30, 000 and the regularization of their employment unlike the temporary and volunteering nature of the scheme.
The Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) – a platform of the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) that focuses on promoting and defending the rights of young people to full employment, decent jobs and living wage – believes that without improving the pay and working conditions of the N-Power volunteers, the scheme stands the risk of ending up as a charade without contributing meaningfully to addressing the problem of unemployment and deepening poverty, both of which are conditions predominating among the vast youth population of the country.
As it is currently packaged; the N-power scheme amounts to no more than casual labour. It is like the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) extended by an additional year. The workers fraudulently named volunteers are placed on low pay without due cognizance of the National Minimum Wage law, condition of service and right to belong to trade union. It is a temporary employment subject to termination after two years. This is in gross violation of the extant provisions of the labour law, conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory which prohibits casualization and prescribes the regularization of unemployment with clearly defined conditions of service.
We hereby call on the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) as well as youth organisations to take this matter up with the federal government by organizing a national campaign involving mass demonstrations to begin to demand the stoppage of casualisation of N-Power volunteers and the regularization of their employment in accordance with the provisions of the labour laws. The labour movement and youth organisations must insist that what is needed to address the youth unemployment crisis is not another variant of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) but real and decent jobs that come with living wage, decent condition of service and rights to join trade unions.
Quarterly reports from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have placed unemployment figure in Nigeria around 28 million people, who are mostly young people. The trend of unemployment in the country threatens every aspect of social life, and is a ticking time bomb, given the youth demography, if not combatted headlong. It is for this reason that the Youth Rights Campaign (YRC) is worried and taken aback by the Buhari/Osinbajo government's N-Power programme which to all intent and purposes amount to window-dressing the youth unemployment crisis.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), with the Nigerian labour force population rising by a five year average of over 2.6 million annually, the economy needs to generate the same level of jobs annually just to hold the unemployment rate at its current level. Against this background, the N-Power scheme whose objective is to get into temporary jobs only 500, 000 volunteers in two years amounts, contrary to the propaganda and media hype, to a ridiculously weak, futile and ineffective approach to solving the unemployment crisis. Meanwhile the so-called private sector that is relied upon to create jobs has proved incapable even in the period of economic upswing to create adequate jobs for the teeming population of the unemployed. It is therefore not difficult to imagine what would happen in a period of economic crisis.
So as the NBS noted, the magnitude of employment in the economy has not been sufficient or adequate to meet the ever-growing labour market; hence the continuous rise in the level of unemployment in the country. "Between Q1-Q3 2016, 3.7million people have entered the labour force with net jobs of 422,135 created within that period, giving a shortfall of 3.2million for Q1-Q3 2016. This has resulted in a rise in the combined unemployment and underemployment levels from 29.2% (10.4% for unemployment alone) at the beginning of 2016 to 33.6% (13.9% for unemployment alone) by end of Q3 2016" (Job Creation Survey, 2nd and 3rd Quarters 2016 Summary Findings and Selected Tables).
YRC holds that at the root of the unemployment crisis in Nigeria is the inequitable neo-colonial capitalist system and successive Nigerian governments' slavish reliance on so-called private sector to develop the economy. Expectedly, the Buhari/Osinbajo government has proved to be no different. In an article by Punch newspaper of June 15, the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, was reported to have justified the negligible impact of N-power on national unemployment figure by saying that "we can't do everything". Here, as usual, the government is shifting the responsibility for job creation on the private sector. However, the privatization of power sector has shown that beyond scheming for more profit, the private sector cannot be counted on to develop the economy or create needed jobs especially in the face of massive infrastructural deficit. Instead, government needs to invest in value-creating, labour-intensive industries, and approach job creation as and a social responsibility of the government and a means of creating new economic value for the country. This is exactly where the current N-power scheme of the government, among other defects, is lacking in strategic planning.
For example, the quest of the federal government to employ more teachers should be motivated by the need to improve the knowledge base of the country, and further develop public education as well as science or technology which would have both short and long term impact on economic development. But with public education underfunded and consequently most schools in derelict conditions, sometimes without chalks or books, it is difficult to contemplate any modicum of planning in the government's policy.
YRC believes that job creation should be the responsibility of government. At the moment no segment of the national economy is working optimally. So therefore there exists potential to absorb all the high skilled, middle-skilled and unskilled labour in the country. Consequently, we demand an urgent national job creation strategy to be developed by a committee including elected representatives of trade unions and youth organizations that is capable of boosting the economy, and providing living-wage paying jobs anchored on standard labour practices. This would entail a nationwide programme for rapid industrialization, expansion and modernization of the agricultural sector, expansion of public education and health sectors as well as a massive public works programme to rebuild failing infrastructures, build road and rail networks as well as extensive water transportation facilities through public departments of works, rather than enriching big business contractors who spend far less on casualized workforce.