The N5000 stipend controversy

PRESIDENT Muhammadu Bu­hari and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are in the eye of the storm over their promise, during the 2015 presidential campaign, to en­sure the payment of N5000 monthly stipend to unemployed graduates if voted into power. Another version of the promise is that the APC govern­ment would create a social welfare programme to pay at least N5000 monthly to the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens.
Whatever the promise was, Nigeri­ans are holding the president to this promise of N5000 stipend, which it has since said is actually to be paid to the nation’s poorest citizens.
President Buhari, during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, said he would not pay any stipend to unemployed Nigerians but would de­ploy the funds to build infrastructure that would aid job creation. There is nothing wrong with the government spending money on infrastructure because infrastructure is a universal enabler. The availability of electric­ity has a multiplier effect on the productivity of citizens. As the president was quoted as saying, it would empower able-bodied men and women to work. He later explained that the stipend would be paid to the poor and the vulnerable. Our view is that no government can go wrong trying to help the poor and the vulnerable.
The provision of funds for this payment in the 2016 Budget, by the Executive arm of government, is however not enjoying the support of some federal legisla­tors, who want the scheme to be postponed till next year, when all the modali­ties for determining the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians and the mode of payment would have been resolved.
We sympathise with the government on this promise, which we believe was made in good faith. It is glaring that the government has good intentions on this promise, even if it is not well thought out yet. We urge the government to take the next important step. It should work hard on the proposal to make it realis­able and sustainable. If the government fails to work on this promise and make it a reality, it will go down as a broken promise, to its detriment.
We want to assume that the infrastructural needs of the country are being taken care of by the various ministries. Electricity supply remains the Achilles heel of the country and there are no realistic signs of change in this vital area. So far, the administration seems to have defined the problems with accuracy. What is missing is the solution and Nigerians are beginning to get impatient.
The President’s final choice of paying the stipend to the needy and the vulner­able deserves the support of all Nigerians. We suggest the constitution of a small group to look into how to define the poor, the needy and the vulnerable. We think it is about time to begin a study on how to set up a social security system for the country to spare our aged senior citizens, especially those who have no regular pensions, earn no income and have no responsible children to care for them in their twilight days, the indignity of living and dying in abject poverty.
Our traditional ‘social security system’ of extended families caring for the aged and those who are incapacitated in one way or the other is gradually breaking down. The challenges of urbanisation and widespread unemployment among Nigerians have made it difficult for many citizens to care for their aged.
This situation calls for new structures, new institutions and new thinking on how to care for our most vulnerable citizens. After many years of hard thinking and planning on the type of problems we are having in the country today, the United States enacted into law its social security system in 1935. That is some 81 years ago.
We have citizens of 65 years and above who are in dire need of food, clothing and shelter. Many of these men and women are often too weak and too sick to help themselves. Many do not have children and other close relatives who could help them. The government should, therefore, consider starting this scheme with people in such desperate situations. The true measure of a nation is how it treats it weakest, its poorest and its most vulnerable. We wish the president suc­cess in the implementation of this scheme, whenever it takes off.

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