One of the best policies I have ever come across in Nigeria’s electioneering history is the promised policy of the All Progressive Congress (APC) to pay the sum of N5,000 monthly as Job Seekers Allowance for unemployed Nigerian youths. It is a policy with the proverbial human face and whoever suggested it to the APC probably won the election for them and must be commended. The fact that Nigeria has no social security system is one of the reasons why there is so much desperation in our nation with the consequence that crime and ethnic and religious crises are a sad reality of life in many parts of the nation.
I give my whole hearted support to this policy and I promise that I will do all I can possibly do to make it a reality. However, this promised policy is under threat because some of us do not believe it is practicable. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is possible to fulfil this promise and I will articulate how Nigeria can do it. The biggest argument against the policy is that Nigeria does not have the database required to make it work.
This argument, if it is not mischievous, is based on inadequate knowledge of the resources available to the government. In fact, the opposite is very much true. As at 2015, Nigeria has more than enough information based technology to make this policy a reality. In today’s Nigeria, particularly after the cashless policy introduced under the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor and now Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, every graduate has a bank account with a Bank Verification Number (BVN).
In addition to that, they each should have a Permanent Voter Card (PVC). Additionally they may also have a National ID Card. Each of these platforms are connected to a database which can identify each graduate by their bio-data and trace their whereabouts through their phones. By law, every Nigerian graduate under the age of 30 must serve his country under the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme and the NYSC gives them a call up letter with which they register these youths and capture their bio-data.
So whichever way you want to look at it, there are databases that can identify fresh graduates in Nigeria at any given time. It is almost impossible that a graduate will not be captured in at least one of either the BVN, PVC, National ID or NYSC database. The next question is how will the government know which of these graduates are employed and which are not? It is possible.
First the government must include in the law setting up the job seekers’ allowance the proviso that if you are caught fraudulently collecting the assistance you will get a mandatory jail sentence. Thereafter, the government should introduce the criteria for applying for the allowance which should, in my opinion, only be open to graduates who have passed out of the NYSC programme and should be accessible for no longer than two years after passing out from the programme.
Now, within those two years, the federal government can verify whether or not graduates who are registered under the job seekers’ allowance have regular income from the activity of their bank accounts. The central bank has access to their account activity. If they have regular monthly payments, then they are obviously employed and government will not pay them.
But then you may ask, where would the money come from? Like other nations, those that have must support those that do not have. Every employed Nigerian should pay an unemployment tax of between 2 per cent (for lower income earners) to 5 per cent (for middle to high income earners) to help pay N5,000 to unemployed graduates. This is a sacrifice we must make which will have a positive effect on our economy and will also drastically reduce crime.
Nigeria was able to help over 11 million farmers access inexpensive fertiliser under the e-wallet fertiliser distribution scheme of the Ministry of Agriculture when Dr. Akinwumi Adesina was minister. If we could do this then, we can certainly handle the logistics of paying job seekers’ allowance to our unemployed graduates. If the will is there on the part of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, this idea can revolutionise Nigeria and help reduce extreme poverty in Nigeria. It should be supported by all Nigerians irrespective of party, tribe or religion.
My support for this programme has nothing to do with politics. I believe in empowering youths. Recently, Silverbird opened a new cinema in Festac town which will give direct employment to 50 Nigerian youths and indirect employment to hundreds more. However, this is just a drop in the ocean. There are millions of youths, many of whom are graduates and try as we may, we will not be able to immediately provide jobs for all of them.
What happens to those of them without jobs? What if their parents also do not have jobs? How will they feed? Obviously N5,000 cannot feed a graduate for a month. But at least it is better than nothing. Finally, I commend the wife of the president, Mrs. Aisha Buhari, for her support for this promised policy to be kept. Mrs. Buhari, by that gesture, has validated the proverb which says behind every great man, there is an equally great woman.
My name is Ben Murray Bruce and I just want to make common sense!
• Senator Ben Murray Bruce represents Bayelsa East in the Senate and is Chairman of the Silverbird Entertainment Group