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Keyamo And His 774,000 Street Sweepers, By Simbo Olorunfemi

There is something about the vocal segment of the intellectual elite that can wear one out, if one does not take care. Between the lack of attention to the facts of the matter before embarking on a voyage of criticism, the perpetual cynicism that colours thought and viewpoints, there is the perennial grandstanding and whining founded on a top-down view that no-one else knows what is right.

So, I have been seeing stuff here and there about Keyamo and a plan to engage youths as street sweepers around the country for N52 billion. I have also heard there is a role for Tinubu’s daughter and MC Oluomo in this arrangement to fritter away money. This morning, someone even directly charged at me with a cynical query -“Simbo Olorunfemi have you heard that MC Oluomo is in charge of FG recruitment Nationwide?”

You know how you are trying to keep to your lane and some people won’t just let things be. Of course, I had heard about a face-off between Minister Keyamo and a Committee of he House and read his letter, but I had not seen the video and will usually not take a stand until I had all the details. So, last night, I decided to find out what the furore was all about.

As to be expected, I beckoned on google. I see Punch with its “FG to pay jobless youths N20,000 to sweep markets, clear gutters.” No prize guessing that this mischievous headline must have something to do with the mischief that has since been set loose. I dig into the paper. This was not some exclusive story. This was a report from a news conference addressed by Minister Keyamo.

But Punch must have felt it will serves us better if it frames the headline to present this programme as a ‘demeaning’ one about sweeping markets and cleaning gutters. Now, the paper itself reports that as was done under the pilot scheme in 8 states, the programme would involve “drainage digging and clearance, irrigation canals clearance, rural feeder road maintenance, maintenance of the Great Green Wall nurseries and orchards in Borno, Jigawa and Katsina states; traffic control, street cleaning, cleaning of public infrastructure like health centres, schools and the likes.” But Punch chose to make it about street sweepers with which the programme has now been rebranded.

Premium Times, reporting the same news conference, headlines its story thus : “Federal Government releases details of programme to employ 774,000 Nigerians.” The reports give us some details of the programme. It is an extended Special Public Works programme, building on the pilot scheme executed in rural areas of 8 states. It is being organised under the auspices of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and each state will be have a 20-member State Selection Committee of the Special Public Works (SPW) which deliberate, select and recommend 1,000 persons from each of the Local Government Areas in the States to be engaged. The Committees would also identify the projects to be executed in those Local Government Areas as it is not some national street sweeping exercise or drainage-clearing festival as some have now tagged it. Perhaps those talking about tree-planting do not know that the “Great Green Wall” programme that was incorporated into the pilot programme.

It is not as if the Public Works programme is some novelty that we should be struggling to understand it. Other countries have adopted variants of this under circumstances not dissimilar form ours. Tope Fasua has been making a case for this for a while. The Minister equally acknowledged that this initiative was “acquired and adapted by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) from one of the capacity-building collaborations with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in the late 1980’s to the middle of the 1990’s,” while citing the different instances and countries that have put it to use.

But just as it was with the Social investment programmes – Tradermoni, Marketmoni, Conditional Cash Transfer, School feeding programmme, the critics seem to be as ignorant of how they work and the benefits as they are unaware that the same programmes have been implemented in other countries successfully and that the World Bank is a collaborator in the implementation. A little lifting of the veil of cynicism can be a little helpful, but do these people know?

Obviously, the Minister is determined to make the recruitment process more democratic and not one for rewarding party loyalty which predictably cannot but pitch him against politicians ever on the lookout for avenues to reward supporters and loyalists. To do otherwise comes with the added risk of it being hijacked by politicians.

It is to make it more inclusive that led to his submission that the sate committees must comprise of representatives of CAN, NURTW, Market women, civil society Organisations, etc. And then comes The Punch again to our rescue. It proclaims – “774,000 jobs : Tinubu’s Daughter, MC Oluomo, others to supervise FG recruitment”. Lagos sets up its committee, in accordance with the Minister’s guidelines for all the states and the impression had to be sold that this was a Tinubu-MC Oluomo management of recruitment at the Federal level. That guy, likely one of those who simply glance at headlines from afar before launching into elaborate analyses, must have been prompted to fire his shot in my direction – “Simbo Olorunfemi have you heard that MC Oluomo is in charge of FG recruitment Nationwide?”

What exactly he was expecting me to do about this, I wouldn’t know. Hopefully, at some point, people will start getting serious, set aside mischief so that policies can be meaningfully engaged and debated so that we can get the best out of them or get them set aside. But where ignorance and mischief propel endless rabble-rousing, it is difficult to make any sense of the ensuing noise.

Rather than issue out a top-down directive on a uniform programme around the country, this initiative had done well by adopting the bottom-up approach, with each local government allowed to address needs that are of priority to each area. A one-size-fits-all, top-down focus on one area will not be as locally-relevant and will not make as much impact.

To each its own within the framework already established. Those who want to plant trees, let them plant. Those who want to fix their health centre, let them do so. Those whose priority is the drainage system, let them address it.

Beyond talk here and there, people can make more meaningful impact at the local level by organising thought and action on the direction should take within their local government area, while also serve as voices of reason and watch over the recruitment process. There is a lot that we can do at the bottom to bring about change. As little as this 3-month programme is, properly directed and managed, it is capable of meaningful impact at the bottom.

About Ademola Aderele

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