The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently came forward with disturbing unemployment indices in Nigeria. Joblessness in the nation, according to the Bureau, has risen from 7.2% in the previous quarter to 8.2% in second quarter of 2015. Since the third quarter of 2014, the rate of unemployment has risen three consecutive times. Further to that; “there were a total of 17.7 million people between ages 15 and 65 either unemployed or underemployed in the labour force in Q1 2015. With this unimpressive outlook, the situation demands urgent government policy direction and requisite interventionist strategies.
The issue of unemployment is an endemic social and economic challenge of all season in Nigeria. Governments in the past have shown visible lack of capacity to squarely contain it. Therefore, it has become a political bait thrown to the electorate in exchange of votes. It is a recurrent decimal central to numerous unfulfilled campaign promises of governments since the time one could vividly recollect. Among various campaign promises of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC was, “creation of Social Welfare Programme of at least Five Thousand Naira that will cater for the 25 million poorest and most vulnerable citizens upon the demonstration of children’s enrolment in school and evidence of immunisation to help promote family stability.”
The above presidential campaign pledge and the NBS report prompted a crucial motion taxing the APC led government to reduce the high level of unemployment in Nigeria moved by Senator Bassey Albert Akpan, (PDP Akwa Ibom North East). The motion sadly elicited unnecessary and unhealthy political rivalry between the APC and the PDP Senators. Senator Bassey, who described the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria as another time bomb waiting to explode also urged the government to take bold steps aimed at bolstering entrepreneurial development and employment skills, adding that government should integrate entrepreneurship, savings and investment culture and education into the educational curriculum at appropriate levels. An additional prayer to the motion by Senator Philip Aduda (PDP, FCT) that government should commence immediate payment of N5000 President Muhammadu Buhari promised during his campaign irked most, if not all the APC Senators.
Consequently, Senator Babajide Omoworare (APC Osun East) raised a point of order 53 (6) of the Senate Standing Rules. The Order reads: “It shall be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question upon which the Senate had come to a conclusion during the current session except upon a substantive motion for rescission.” Omoworare in his point of order rubbished the spirit and good intention of the motion and sought in the alternative that the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan be called upon to account for SURE-P funds to the admiration and support of APC Senators. What was the rationale behind deliberate insulation of the executive from fulfilling a promise made without prodding and one already at the public domain?
Five months down the line of the electoral triumph, is it immaterial to revisit the campaign promises of the elected political office holders? Where else is the best place to nudge the executive for the fulfilment of its promises to the nation except in the legislature? The APC had aggressively done that over the past years before now. It was totally niggling to link calls to investigate SURE-P of the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan with the stark reality of high level of unemployment on ground. The APC should be told in clear terms that the baton of leadership of our nation is no longer with the previous administration; therefore, always looking back at the errors of an old era is ridiculous. After all, much power resides with the Senate to investigate at any given time the stewardship of previous and present government it believes fall short of expectation or one which contravenes the extant laws of Nigeria. Sadly, the Senate in the end took an anti-people decision by rejecting that motion.
Whither national interest in all these theatrics? The failure of some of these distinguished Senators to rise above primordial party sentiment confirms the enormity of dilemma confronting the nation. Truth remains sacrosanct no matter who tells it. The fact that the motion came from an opposition party makes it imperative for APC to once in a long while unite and be on the same page with PDP in this noble cause of dealing with the plague of unemployment. Unfortunately, the baby was thrown away with the bath water. However, the statement from the APC leadership assuring the citizenry that government will not renege on its promise is refreshing.
Whose interests do the Senators who objected to that motion protect? Which is chief and deserves more attention: the pervasiveness of poverty in their various constituencies or the flag of a political party? It is absolutely unnecessary for some people to frustrate the fulfillment of a promised “national welfare package” which catapulted them to their present exalted political positions. Nigerians should confront standards raised against honest effort at stemming the tide of unemployment and developmental strides at large. The legislature globally remains the beacon of democracy and should function as such to preserve its responsibility. The worse disservice any democratically elected institution indulges in is utter insensitivity to the welfare of the masses.
Some critical national issues must not be toyed with or sacrificed on the slab of petty, primordial party politics. The alarming rate of unemployment in the nation is one of such national concerns, which we should all be insomniac. The saltiness of democracy is holding those in position of authority accountable for their deeds and actions. And the legislature remains the right and constitutional platform upon which the executives should be reminded of their duties and promises to the nation.