18 June 2017

Nigeria: Special Report - Despite Successes, Buhari's N-Power Scheme Faces Glitches Across States

Ever since she was a child, Sadiya Jubrin has always aspired to become a teacher. Born 24 years ago in Bauchi State, Mrs. Jubrin, determined to fulfil her dream, enrolled at the college of education in Bauchi where she obtained a National Certificate of Education, NCE. A few months after her graduation, she was offered a job by a private primary school.

Though her passion for teaching pushed her to take the job, the N8,000 salary was inadequate for a young woman who could no longer depend on her parents. She, therefore, became desperate to get another job that offered more pay, especially after she got married, she told PREMIUM TIMES.

Mrs. Jubrin's case typifies that of several young people who felt underemployed despite their passion for a profession for which Nigeria lacks adequate manpower.

Her friend and old schoolmate, Farida Hassan, also narrated a sadder tale.

Mrs. Hassan, 22, could not get any job after their graduation from the college of education. She lived with her parents for a couple of years until she too got married.

"I wanted even a little paid job like Sadiya's but I could not get any. Life became so frustrating for me, as I could not even bear the attendant boredom", she lamented.

However, the story suddenly changed for the friends when the federal government flagged off the Social Investment Programme (SIP) in 2016.

The two women joined thousands of other Nigerian youth in Bauchi State to register for the N-Power programme and were lucky to be selected in the first batch.

With N30,000 as monthly stipend, the scheme at least empowers beneficiaries to meet basic needs.

"I am indeed very happy that I have a job that pays well and I can even save some money to possibly further my education," Mrs. Jubrin said.

"Though as a human I hope for the best, this has come as a relief to me from those years of waiting until one's parents or husband as the case may be come to one's aid," Mrs. Hassan said.

THE N-POWER

The SIP, which was part of the campaign promises of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC, has four components. These are: the Home Grown School Feeding Programme for public primary schools; the Conditional Cash Transfer to less privileged; N-Power for unemployed graduates; and the Government Enterprises Entrepreneurship Programme, GEEP, to encourage market women, artisans, traders, and others.

The Nigerian government had in 2016 budgeted N500 billion for the SIP. However, as at May 16, only about N41 billion had been expended on the four programmes with the N-Power gulping the largest sum of N26 billion. Under the N-Power component of the SIP, unemployed graduates of tertiary institutions are to be engaged in critical sectors like education, agriculture and health.

Over one million Nigerians applied. But after a clean-up of the application portal, about 701, 000 were enlisted. About 200,000 graduates of tertiary institutions were eventually picked for the first phase. Those selected were to receive stipends for two years under the N-Teach, N-Agro or N-Health sub-components.

However, of the 200,000 selected, "162,024 unemployed graduates have been effectively enrolled and validated-meaning have been cleared to be receiving the N30,000 monthly stipend," Acting President Yemi Osinbajo's spokesperson, Laolu Akande, said in a statement in May.

The scheme started in nine states including Borno, Ekiti, Ogun, Oyo, Kogi, Niger, Cross River, Bauchi, and Kwara before spreading to other states.

Premium Times investigated how the N-Power scheme is faring in three states: Bauchi, Kwara and Borno.

BAUCHI

Although, the duo of Mrs. Jubrin and Mrs. Hassan beamed with smiles when they spoke about their experience in N-Power, it was not so for some other beneficiaries of the programme in Bauchi State.

Farida and Sadiya Bauchi N-power

PREMIUM TIMES' investigation revealed that as at April, many of them had not been getting their stipends even though they were duly registered and mobilised for their posts.

Abdulrazaq Muhammad is one of the unlucky ones. He has been working since January.

"I was deployed to teach Basic Science in Bauchi Central Primary School but N-power has not paid me because, according to them, I have problems of unmatched names on my record", he said.

"My full name is Abdulrazaq Dahiru Muhammad but N-POWER only recognized Abdulrazaq Dahiru, so they said my details in the bank do not match what they have on their platform. And since then, they kept saying they were going to resolve it but up till date I have not been paid. I go to work every working day, and I find it difficult coping".

The Bauchi State SIP Focal Person, Manu Mansur, blamed the hitch on the registration process. According to him, most of the applicants had not paid attention and did not give adequate information to the N-Power portal.

"They didn't take time to ensure that the information they gave were in conformity with their bank records," Mr. Mansur told this newspaper in Bauchi.

Mr. Mansur, Bauchi N-Power Focal Person

"As you know, any payment from the office of the Vice President under the SIP has to go through the NIPS system. And that NIPS platform works in such a way that whenever information for payment are fed into to it, provided such information are contradictory, that payment will stand rejected.

"So, that was one of the most significant challenges that we faced."

He, however, said issues associated with payments had been resolved.

"From December to date, if any applicant does not receive any payment, that means the problem is with the applicant."

Mr. Mansur said the state N-Power office began mobilising beneficiaries in January and that most of those deployed have been attending their places of assignment.

He however said there was a need to establish a monitoring team to supervise attendance compliance of the beneficiaries.

KWARA

The situation in Kwara appears worse than that of Bauchi. Officials confirmed that all the 5,104 engaged had been mobilised and deployed to their places of primary assignments since December, 2016.

A large number of them who spoke with Premium Times in the first week of May lamented that they had been working without getting their stipends.

Michael Aribisala, a 28-year old NCE holder, who had no job since he left school in 2009, said his initial joy at becoming a government worker under the N-Power scheme has faded because he could not get his stipend.

Mr. Aribisala, who was posted under the N-Teach category, said he was not given any clear reason as to why he could not get his stipend.

"No one told me I have any problem with my registration that may have led to me not getting paid. We applied online, where we forwarded our credentials and after that we did test examination online", he said.

"It was after all these that we were picked as N-power volunteers. We received text messages that read 'Congratulation you are one of the beneficiaries of N-power Teach'.

"I and others that are to work in the teaching line went to the state primary education board where they gave us a form which contains all our details, especially bank details.

"After about three weeks, we were asked to come and collect our posting letters and were posted to schools where we began to work as teachers.

"I have been teaching in my place of assignment since December but up till now, I have not received any stipend.

"They kept saying we had one verification or the other to do. But we have done all that. Even the National Orientation Agency (NOA) had all of us verified. We did all that we were asked to do.

"I was posted to a school where I teach Basic Science and I go there every day to teach. I have to pay for my transport with money I collect from my relatives. Sometimes when there is no money, I trek to work.

"Sometimes I had to go without food to avoid being late to work. This is very unfair to us. A lot of us had to leave former jobs they were doing in private schools or some organizations that paid less to join N-Power, now we are working without pay."

Salaudeen Abdulfatai, a 33-year old graduate of Computer Engineering from Ilorin South, said he registered for the programme in September last year and did verification in December.

"I was deployed in January. But unfortunately, till date I have not been paid, likewise some other volunteers," he told PREMIUM TIMES.

"I was posted to Fate Secondary School here in Ilorin, a public school. I resumed immediately I was deployed and I have not defaulted even for a single day."

Mr. Abdulfatai said the most painful aspect was that he was teaching in a private school but had left because

he was earning "not up to what the N-Power is paying beneficiaries."

"But here, we are stranded for nearly five months without a single kobo in our pocket."

Yusuf Lukman and Abdulbasir Alabi also said they had not been paid.

Mr. Lukman, Kwara N-Power Beneficiary

"After we got our deployment letter on December 23rd, 2016, we were deployed to our various places of primary assignment as volunteers for N-Teach, N-Agro and N-Health," Mr. Lukman, a graduate of Mass Communication, told this newspaper.

"We were expecting our payment alert in January but it did not come. And when it finally came on the 15th of February, only few got the alert and I was not one of them."

Mr. Alabi, 26, said he was teaching at a private school on N12, 000 a month when he stumbled on the programme on the social media.

"We were deployed at the end of January and I went to SUBEB office to collect my letter. I commenced work immediately but since then I have not received any payment.

"Even before the payment of the December stipend to some of our colleagues, we were hearing rumours that the Kwara State government would deduct tax off the N30, 000 and so on.

"But we even did not mind as we hoped that something would come in at the end of the day. But since then nothing has come to some of us ."

In April, the beneficiaries in Kwara State staged a peaceful protest in Ilorin, the state capital, over their pay.

"We took a protest to the office of the governor on the 17th of April, 2017 where we were told that the issue would be looked into. But up till now nothing has been done," Mr. Alabi said.

The Kwara State Focal Person for SIP, Solomon Ayobola, who is also the permanent secretary in the state Ministry of Sport, confirmed that about half of the participants were not paid in January.

"We had some challenges at the beginning and were unable to pay about 50 percent of the participants in January", he told this newspaper.

"When some of them later approached us with complaints over non-payment of stipends, we had to go through their data to see what exactly the problem was. It was then that we noticed that some of them used their first names in place of their surnames. We also discovered some errors in the spelling of names which were tagged as unmatched names.

"Some of them did not submit correct account details; some, their BVN number did not match their account number; some used names that are different from what they gave on the N-Power platform; some submitted account numbers that are dormant. So, we tried to correct some of these problems."

Mr. Ayobola said after the corrections they were able to pay about 4,180 of the beneficiaries.

"We were left with about 1,000 names which we compelled Abuja to tell us the reasons why they are not being paid. They sent us yet another list especially those of the females who had their husbands' names on their N-Power records while it is their fathers' names they still bear in their banks. Some could not properly copy their BVN numbers."

He however noted that some of the beneficiaries' problems may be difficult to resolve.

According to Mr. Ayobola, those who used their spouses' names as their second names in opening bank accounts may not get any payment because of the conflict with their maiden names they used on the N-Power platform.

He said the NIPS payment system used by the SIP National Cash Transfer office does tolerate such discrepancies.

"It will be difficult for N-Power to change their names especially now that they have ended the process of verification of the first batch and we are about looking at the N-Power portal to take the balance of 300, 000. And a period of four months was given by N-Power to clear and verify all participants, which we have exhausted.

"This group of women beneficiaries would not want to go back to their banks to change their second names from their husbands' to their fathers' names. And N-Power cannot help them to do that. This group of persons do not constitute (up to) 0.05 percent of those we have registered so far."

Mr. Ayobola said those not on the list of beneficiaries with registration problems had been referred to NOA office in Ilorin where they were re-verified and that a list of about 900 had been sent to Abuja for processing of their payment.

BORNO

In Borno State, the problem has a different complexion. Many of the beneficiaries have been receiving their N30,000 stipends since December, but without working.

There are, however, some who are yet to receive any payment. Muhammed Shettima is one of such.

"I was last week (in May) posted under N-Teach to Sanda Kyarimi Primary School, and we hope to resume work by the time schools resume," Mr. Shettima said.

"But I have not received any payment like my other colleagues, since December."

Mr. Shettima, however, said the SIP Focal Person in the state, Babazanna Abdulkareem, had assured him that "the problem has been rectified and I will start to get my alert by the end of this month (May)".

Mr. Abdulkareem, Borno N-power focal person

Speaking to PREMIUM TIMES in Maiduguri, the state capital, in April, Mr. Abdulkareem said beneficiaries in the state got their December stipend but confirmed that not all of the over 4,000 had been getting the pay.

As in other states, he too blamed those not receiving payment for not correctly filling their online forms.

"The December stipend was like a kind of bonus to all captured beneficiaries even though work has not even started", said Mr.

Abdulkareem.

"At some points of payments, transactions were bouncing back as invalid data or unmatched records; which means the information they have in the bank are not in sync with what they had given during the registration for N-Power. There are lots of discrepancies. It gets to tell a lot about our youth. They are very unserious.

He explained further, "In the case of the N-Power, I will still like to point out that we are facing the same challenges as in the cash transfer.

"We are supposed to make posting of beneficiaries under three key sectors, Education, Agriculture and Health. Now Agriculture has deployed to their various units, and they have given us the soft copy of the postings, which we forwarded to Abuja. And Abuja has notified us of the tendency of stopping payment to those that have not been deployed.

"As I am talking to you now, the state Ministry of Health, which even has the least of applicants, and SUBEB with the largest figure of applicants have not deployed. And we have been following it up.

"The issue is that the system here does not have the capacity, sometimes they forward to us raw data in hard copy. Sometimes I had to spend sleepless time trying to work myself out in trying to convert raw data to soft copy.

The focal person however said issues associated with payments had been resolved.

"These problems cut across the country; there are issue when it comes to setting up the banking platforms for payment."

Mr. Abdulkareem explained that applicants in the state did not initially take the programme serious.

According to him, most of the youth applicants thought it was one of those gimmicks of government, so they just went to the cyber café and filled the forms anyhow.

He also said that due to the security challenges in Borno, the state government had to improvise the process of printing hard copies of the online forms to enable those in displaced communities fill the forms and submit them in designated ICT centres for uploading.

"At the first instance, the programme was strictly an online thing. But given our circumstances, we just have to think outside the box to find solution to our problem.

"In the whole of Borno State, the northern part which has 10 local governments, there is no electricity, let alone internet. In southern Borno, which is made up of nine local governments, there are only two internet cafes in Biu. And in Borno Central, which is the most cosmopolitan, there is so much pressure on basic facilities.

"So we had discussion with His Excellency on the need to print the online forms so that our people can enrol in the programme. We did that and distributed well over 27,000 forms; but shockingly we only received about 9000 completed forms. So, these are the issues.

"We had to approach the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to help us sensitize the people, especially the youth. We had to go into massive TV and radio publicity with NOA taking the lead."

Mr. Abdulkareem also said he noticed that even those that went to the internet cafés to register, the administrators printed out the forms and were selling to them.

This, according to him, made some applicants to fill the form without attaching much importance to what they were doing.

"The guy there at the café would only attend to them at his leisure.

"And when they have challenges on what was filled in the forms, the applicant is not there to clarify, so they just input whatever comes to their minds. At the end of the day, there are lot of discrepancies in the data that were uploaded.

"There are discrepancies between what they have uploaded on the N-Power platform and the data they have in their bank accounts. Some people opened their accounts two or three years ago and they have forgotten the details they gave on those bank accounts.

"And overtime, they have continued to change their bio-data, and that have left us with a lot of issues that we are trying to resolve now."

Despite the challenges, Mr. Abdulkareem expressed joy that the N-Power has been enjoying the cooperation of the relevant state ministries.

NATIONAL COORDINATOR REACTS

The National Coordinator of N-Power, Afolabi Imoukhuede, gave several reasons why the some of the beneficiaries were not paid.

Senior Special Assistant to the President on Job Creation (N-Power), Mr Afolabi Imoukhuede speaking on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja on Wednesday (24/5/17). 02758/24/5/2017/Jones Bamidele/NAN

Some of these were inefficiency on the part of officials handling the programme in various states, failure or inability of beneficiaries to interact with the N-Power portal, failure to submit themselves for physical verification and supply of wrong bank details and BVN.

"When the beneficiaries were applying, while entering their data, we asked them for BVN at that point in time," Mr Imoukhuede told PREMIUM TIMES.

"Before we went into selection we had to crosscheck the authenticity of the BVN, and we found out that some did not match the names of the BVN; and we tried to do a general check on the BVN and we found out that a certain percentage of the BVN were actually genuine.

"After we had done the 200, 000 beneficiaries list in the first batch, we asked those concerned to go to the portal to put their BVN and bank accounts; that was when we started getting confessions from them.

"Some came to confess that 'oga sorry o, it was my wife's BVN that I used'; or 'I borrowed a friend's BVN' or that 'I just put any eleven digits to fill in the space' and others even said they used their brother's account because they did not have one.

"At that point when they realised how serious the programme is, they wanted us to give them permission to change the wrong BVN, and we said no; still put in your account numbers. I believe at that they will be able to make changes. At that time it was necessary for us to check how many Nigerians that had made claims that were genuine"

Mr. Imoukhuede, who is also the special assistant to the vice president on job creation and youth empowerment, said at the time payment began in December last year and January this year, less than 50 per cent of beneficiaries were paid.

He said President Buhari later gave instruction that they should be given a second chance because it was the first time "we are doing something transparent because Nigerian are used to systems that allow cutting corners."

Mr. Imoukhuede said, in order to remedy the situation, the N-Power Abuja office sent the lists of those with such problems down to the states, and instructed the state focal persons to help them collate all their updated bank accounts and as well as their BVN printouts.

On the issue of beneficiaries not being paid even though their names were not in the list of those with problems, as in Kwara, the national coordinator said such occurrence was an error on the part of the state focal persons.

He, however, said the problem in Kwara was not a good representation of efficiency of the officials handling the programme.

Going forward, Mr. Imoukhuede said, proper terms of reference and job description for focal persons had been fashioned out to avoid the challenges experienced in the first phase.

The federal govt last week opened the N-Power portal for the second batch of applicants. About 290,000 applicants registered in the first three days, Mr. Imoukhuede said.

As more unemployed and underemployed Nigerians seek to join the N-Power beneficiaries, and despite the challenges faced by many, current beneficiaries like Mrs. Jubrin only have commendations for the Buhari administration.

"We cannot thank President Buhari enough for making this happen in our lives," she told PREMIUM TIMES.

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