During the 60th annual general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo announced that the federal government was planning to release survival funds for small businesses, artisans, and private school teachers.
According to the Vice President, data compilation for those who are eligible for the funds is going on while the criteria for would-be beneficiaries are already being put in place.
The VP said that the scheme was part of the federal government’s sustainability programme which is in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to save jobs and create new ones during the pandemic.
This initiative by the federal government is commendable given that small business owners, artisans, and private school teachers were the most hard-hit during the pandemic.
Private school teachers were not receiving salaries from their school proprietors because the schools were not earning money because the pupils and students were at home.
Also, artisans and small business owners did not generate incomes because they were forced to close shop during the pandemic.
The contributions of these classes of citizens to the Nigerian economy cannot be overemphasized.
They provide support services to millions of people in the country and without them, the bigger economic players may suffer.
It is indeed commendable that the federal government is coming up with this kind of initiative given that private school teachers have suffered untold hardship during the pandemic.
In some cases, both husband and wife are both private school teachers and when they do not receive salaries, they are faced with untold hardship.
This makes it impossible for them to pay house rent, take care of their children and meet general family and social obligations.
However, while it is commendable that the federal government has come up with a wonderful scheme such as this, we are worried about the implementation process.
Would the process be fair, equitable and properly spread around the country?
We therefore advise that the beneficiaries of this initiative should be spread across the country.
It should not like one of the programmes implemented by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development which was confined to one section of the country.
It does bear reiteration that the initiative should be spread nation-wide.
It should not be a party, regional or ethnic scheme where only people from a section of the country will benefit while their counterparts from other parts of the country are mindlessly ignored.
This is therefore another opportunity for the federal government to prove that it is not nepotistic, clannish, and narrowminded as has been perceived in the past.
The government should demonstrate that is a government that exists for all Nigerians. Also, the federal government should let Nigerians know the criteria for the selection of beneficiaries.
It will be proper to go through the national associations or unions of these classes of people like barbers, vulcanizers, hairdressers, mechanics, panel beaters, private school teachers and many more.
If the federal government decides to go through the National Union of Teachers, for example, to reach private school teachers, how will it work?
Are private school teachers members of the NUT? The implementation of this scheme must not only be transparent, it must be seen to be transparent and equitable.
Also, the federal government must ensure that the payment to these classes of people is done directly, in which case their bank accounts are credited directly without middlemen or consultants.
As President Muhammadu Buhari pointed out recently, middlemen pose a big problem in the smooth running of government policies and initiatives.
For this reason, the federal government should ensure that the artisans, small business owners and private school teachers receive these funds directly.
It should not be another occasion for political patronage in which case the identified beneficiaries will not get the funds for many months after the fanfare of announcements.
Leaders and executive members of these trade unions should also be contacted and carried along. Nigerians were not satisfied with the school feeding programme of the federal government during the pandemic.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development (MHADMSD) Sadiya Farouk announced that the federal government had spent N523.3 million on the school feeding programme.
Nigerians were aghast with such claims given that millions of school children across the country were at home because of the coronavirus forced holidays.
The argument that the children were fed at home does not sound convincing. Nigerians had expected the federal government to publish names of the schools which benefitted from the scheme and the names of the beneficiaries.
Unfortunately, no such information has been put in the public domain.
Owing to this, many Nigerians believe that the school feeding programme was a scam, an initiative hijacked by political patronage.
In fact, most people have argued that where the school feeding programme was successful, only a section of the country benefitted from it.
It is therefore hoped that the new survival funds for teachers and artisans will not go a similar way.
The government must ensure that this wonderful initiative is effectively monitored, prudently implemented, and concluded.
No citizen who is qualified for help should be deprived of the opportunity.
There should be transparency, honesty, and equitable implementation of the funding programme for artisans.
The multiplier effect of such a policy can work magic on the national economy which is in the threshold of a recession