Jobseekers and other opinion leaders are angry over President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to dump the much awaited N5,000 stipend promised unemployed graduates in the country, writes GBENRO ADEOYE
There is an old saying that, “Promises are like babies: easy to make, hard to deliver.” There is perhaps no set of people that the saying aptly applies to than politicians. They are the ones who seem to have mastered the art of making promises.
It is also not impossible that some politicians understand the voting population and the one language that often resonates with them.
One of the most famous quotes from The Knights, a comedy by the ancient Greek playwright, Aristophanes, says: “To win the people, always cook them some savoury that pleases them.”
Aristophanes may have lived in ancient Athens as he was born in 450BC and died in 388BC, human beings have remained largely predictable from generation to generation.
Some politicians are like womanisers, who have no scruples about telling women what they want to hear.
It is normal for politicians to have campaign promises but keeping to their word is another matter entirely.
Even though, broken campaign promises are not peculiar to Nigeria, history teaches that keeping campaign promises is often a rare feat for politicians in the country.
During the electioneering that preceded the 2015 presidential poll, a lot of promises were made by candidates to Nigerians.
So in the buildup to the election, the All Progressives Congress presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, who is now the President, used the opportunity to remind former President Goodluck Jonathan about his broken promises.
They reminded Jonathan about his failure to among others fulfill his promise to deliver constant electricity supply, rescue over 200 abducted Chibok girls, raise power generation to 4,747megawatts by December 2011, create 1.5 million jobs in two years, bring industries to the Niger Delta and revive the Ajaokuta Steel complex and Itakpe Iron company.
They then made a number of promises of their own, which naturally included some of the failed promises of past governments.
One of the promises made by the Muhammadu Buhari/Yemi Osinbajo (the current Vice-President) campaign team as displayed on advertising billboards with the APC logo was to pay allowance to graduate job seekers.
But recently during an official visit to the Middle East, the President said he would not pay N5, 000 monthly stipend to unemployed Nigerians.
The President said he would rather channel resources into the building of infrastructure, education, agriculture and mining to create employment opportunities for able-bodied young men.
“This N5, 000 largesse for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, the school and correct them and empower agriculture, mining so that every able- bodied person can go and get work instead of giving N5,000 to those who don’t work.”
Already, mixed reactions have continued to trail Buhari’s statement with some Nigerians describing the President and the APC as attaining power through deception and lies.
Unemployed persons, who had counted on the N5,000 monthly stipend, have also expressed disappointment with the President’s statement.
While some see the reversal as a consequence of the economic realities of the time, some others have described it as a betrayal by the APC.
A member of the National Association of Unemployed Graduates, who identified himself as Tony, said it was unfair for the government to break its promise regardless of the economic meltdown.
Describing the government as “dishonest”, Tony said he did not trust it to improve on the country’s infrastructure and create employment.
“Our government is simply unable to solve our problems because the government is not honest and does not keep to its word,” he said.
“It is unfair that the government cannot implement it (the N5,000 stipend promise); it should have gone ahead despite the economic meltdown. This government has no pragmatic method to solve the problem of unemployment.”
Interestingly, the Presidency had swiftly followed its controversial statement up with yet another, saying President Buhari never promised to pay N5,000 to unemployed graduates.
Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, had told journalists that what was stipulated in the budget was that N5,000 would be paid to one million extremely poor Nigerians and not unemployed graduates. He had said, “The budget for 2016 which has been submitted to the National Assembly has made an allocation of half a trillion naira, the first time in the history of this country’s budget, where you have that huge chunk of money allocated for social investment.
“In that N500bn which is half a trillion naira, close to about 20 per cent of the entire budget, there are six social safety net programmes.
“One of them is the Conditional Cash Transfer where government is going to pay N5, 000 monthly to the vulnerable and extremely poor Nigerians. That promise stands.
“The President never promised to pay unemployed graduates N5,000; the President never made that promise and the government never made that claim that it will pay N5,000 to unemployed graduates.”
Akande had said that the programme the government has for unemployed graduates “is the direct creation of half a million teaching jobs so that they will be trained; 500, 000 unemployed graduates will be trained to teach and they will be deployed to teach, while they are looking for their career paths or jobs. That still stands.
“In addition to that, there is also a scheme to train 370, 000 non-graduate youths for skill acquisition and vocational training. During the time of that training, they will also be paid.”
However, some analysts have described the President’s plan as a clear departure from his party’s manifestoes if indeed it was not the President who had made the promise.
They said the situation is a reflection that the ruling party, the APC, was not ready for governance.
For instance, a political scientist with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, Dr. Ezeibe Christian, said Buhari has failed Nigerian youths with his statement.
Christian also described broken promises by leaders as capable of damaging the public trust of institutions and the public image of the respective country.
“It brings to play the level of decadence of our image; why should people make promises they cannot fulfill?” He asked.
“I think the APC would have done well as an opposition party. It should have continued to check the excesses of the Peoples Democratic Party.
“From all indications, they are a group of people with no plan. Having come to power, they have yet to come to terms with the difference between being in government and being in the opposition.”
Also in Christian’s view, the blame should not only go to the APC and the current government but also to the country’s political system and the Nigerian people.
He said, “Analysts would have known that it was not a statement that was meant to be fulfilled. You can compare it with the statement that a man makes to a woman in bed to lure her to sleep with him.”
“I am aware that the government of Buhari does not know the number of unemployed Nigerians, so how can he pay them? I would be surprised if any Nigerian voted for Buhari because of that promise.
“Besides, the quality of a leader reflects the character of the people. Most Nigerians are unreliable people. If they tell you ‘yes’, you must look closely to be sure it is ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because sometimes when they say ‘yes’, they actually mean ‘no’.
“And because politicians are desperate to access political power, they would lie to have access to it.”
Blaming the people for their failure to drill political candidates enough, Christian said, “Ideally in politics and electioneering, when you make campaign promises, you provide proceedings for attainment of such promises, but in Nigeria, there is no proceeding.
“Politicians will just say ‘I will make every man to be a woman’, the party people will clap and they will share the money and go and people will vote.
“You will not ask the question ‘how will you make men to be women? So when the politician gets to power, he will start complaining and speaking English grammar in the media.”
According to the President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwumadu, issues of promises bother on integrity.
Ugwumadu, a lawyer, said, “My understanding is that the government is not saying that it didn’t say so. On the contrary, it is proffering a more effective disbursement of such funds to create jobs and wealth in a sustainable manner that will increase the pittance of N5,000 per month.
“But if the masses of a country partly voted for you on the basis of a promise made, then promise denial at this stage will be a very dishonest thing to do. It would also amount to shifting the goal post while already in the game.”
He, therefore, recommended that the government should consider building infrastructure and also giving stipend to unemployed persons.
He said, “I am of the view that by and large what will be of benefit to the Nigerian people is the creation of abundant jobs so that the Nigerian people can be gainfully employed and fight for their independence beyond the N5, 000 projection.
“But in the interim, given that people are already dying of hunger, need and lack of medicare, such handouts can be encouraged to ensure that life is first of all sustained before you go to the bigger plan of enduring economic policies.”
However, the former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos State chapter, Onyekachi Ubani, described broken electoral promises as not actionable in court.
“You can say anything during electioneering but after you have won, you have to look at the reality,” he said.
“The party might have made those promises believing that the money was there but when it got into office, it discovered that the money was not there. It would be foolhardy on the part of the government to continue to stick to the promises.
“I can promise my son that if he makes first class in the university, I will buy him a N10m car. But after making first class, I may realise that the N10m could send him to Harvard University. So, I may tell him ‘I’m sorry, but it is better for us to use the money to send you to Harvard University to do your Master’s Degree and PhD.
“He will be disappointed but in the long run, he will realise that it is better for him to do that.”
But if anyone has any hope that the current administration would keep to its other promises, this may be the time to purge themselves of such optimism.
After all, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and culture, had said in a recent interview that President Buhari’s promises were based on a more buoyant economic outlook than the current situation.
He had said, “When you campaign, you say you’ll do A, B, C, but when you win elections, you’ll prioritise. We were elected for a four-year period, not for one year. Things, we hope, will not be bad all through these four years.
“We are still faithful to those promises, but when we were campaigning, the price of crude was $100 a barrel. Today, it’s $30 a barrel, so definitely, we would have to downsize some of the things we intended to do, or prioritise them.”