By Dapo Bruce
It was the English bard William Shakespeare who wrote the enigmatic play All’s Well that Ends Well, which is regarded alongside Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida as Shakespeare’s problem plays on account of the heroes and heroines who are flawed in many ways.
A consideration of the trending news about N-power, one of the Federal Government’s flagship National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) will lead one to the same conclusion; all is well that ends well because despite some flaws in its original design, especially around the exit strategy, Sadiya Umar Farouq, in whose ministry the programme is now domiciled and her team have found a fitting denouement.
The introduction of the N-power programme was greeted with joy and applause especially among Nigeria’s teeming and unemployed youthful population. As part of the NSIP, the N-power was critical to the realization of the Buhari’s administration’s vision of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty over 10 years.
According to the NSIP website, the N-power programme “is designed to assist young Nigerians between the ages of 18 to 35 to acquire and develop life-long skills for becoming change-makers in their communities and players in the domestic and global markets and given a stipend of N30,000 monthly.”
Ambitions and audacious were words employed by pundits to describe the vision but there was a method to the FG’s seeming “madness”.
As of July 31st 2020 when N-power Batch A and B beneficiaries began their transition and exit from the programme having spent over 40 and 24 months respectively on the programme, there was much to applaud.
The dream of upskilling the beneficiaries to make them suitable for employability and entrepreneurship had been largely achieved. In fact, of the 500,000 beneficiaries in Batches A and B, about 109,829 beneficiaries had set up small scale businesses as of July 2020. This number, approximately 22%, according to the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, were running small but thriving businesses in their communities and some were eagerly onboarded as aggregators for the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme, another component of the NSIP in a clear case of the NSIP providing a pipeline of skilled labour for the NSIP.
This is significant in a country like Nigeria where statistics from the CBN tell us that small and medium scale enterprises contribute 48% of national GDP and also make up 98% of businesses in the country which provide employment to 84% of Nigerians.
Aside the 109,829 entrepreneurs, many beneficiaries of the programme have also found employment in the organized private sector after passing entrance and psychometric tests of those companies.
The ministry highlighted these achievements via a series of mini-documentaries entitled N-Power Success Stories which ran on their social media pages.
These successes are not easily obvious if you monitor chatter on social media especially on Twitter where N-power Batch A and B beneficiaries are very vocal. Their tone is often angry and the conversation usually around exit plans and unpaid stipends.
The complaints reached a crescendo in June 2020, when the ministry announced plans to begin enrolment for Batch C and the transitioning of Batch A and B. The beneficiaries of Batch A and B demanded clarification regarding the exit plans.
That clarification has now been made. A news report in Vanguard of January 21, 2021 announced – “FG offers former N-Power beneficiaries exit strategies” and according to the report Batch A and B beneficiaries now have three (3) exit options.
One; 200,000 beneficiaries will be onboarded on the Shared Agent Network Expansion Facility (SANEF) scheme operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The SANEF scheme is, according to the Vanguard report, “a project powered by the Central Bank of Nigeria, Deposit Money Banks, Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems, Chattered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Licensed Mobile Money Operators, and Shared Agents with the primary objective of accelerating financial inclusion in Nigeria. Under the scheme, the beneficiaries will be trained in different areas including customer service, transaction settlement, liquidity management, anti-money laundering, among others, while government would facilitate the initial funding for the scheme for each beneficiary.”
Two; another 30,000 beneficiaries who served under the N-Agro have been employed under the “Mass Agric programme as geospatial experts and enumerators. The goal is to engage the beneficiaries in the geo-mapping of farmlands and the enumeration of farmers, across the country for the programme. The Mass Agric programme is a component of the Economic Sustainability Plan designed to, among other things, engage millions of farmers, cultivating thousands of hectares of land across the country.”
Finally Three; “N-power beneficiaries are offered the option of applying for a proposed GEEP loan to fund their small businesses. Joint collaboration is encouraged to form registered cooperatives in line with earlier established GEEP loan requirements.”
With these three exit options, N-power beneficiaries can put their newfound skills to use as gainfully employed Nigerians or as entrepreneurs thus helping to realise the vision of the NSIP.
It has taken time and there have been hiccups along the way but what is important now is to acknowledge that a fitting exiting strategy has been arrived at and those coming in Batch C and subsequent batches would have a smoother transition.
All’s well that ends well, indeed.
- Dapo Bruce, a public analyst, writes from Lagos