The Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN), on Tuesday, said he had got the approval of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to supervise the recruitment of 774, 000 youths under the Special Public Works Programme.
Keyamo, who disclosed this in a text message sent to one of our correspondents in Abuja in response to a question, said the President had directed him to supervise the recruitment.
Buhari’s order contradicted a directive of the National Assembly, which, earlier this month, said the programme should be suspended.
Although the two chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday declined to comment on the approval given to Keyamo by the President, The PUNCH learnt that the lawmakers would on Wednesday (today) debate the issue.
Buhari had, a few months ago, approved the employment of 774,000 workers as part of efforts to cushion the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the programme, 1, 000 Nigerians, who will earn N20, 000 each on a monthly basis for three months, will be recruited in each of the 774 local government areas of the country.
The programme was, however, hit by a crisis on July 1 when the National Assembly said it had suspended it because of a disagreement it had with Keyamo.
The spokesperson for the Senate, Dr Ajibola Basiru, and his counterpart for the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, who disclosed this in a statement they jointly signed, said Buhari could challenge the decision in court.
In the statement titled, “The FG public works programme must benefit Nigerians: Implementation of the public works to be put on hold,” the lawmakers accused the minister of trying to hijack the scheme from the National Directorate of Employment, its implementing agency.
The dispute between Keyamo and the lawmakers started on June 30, when the minister was ordered out of the National Assembly because of his refusal to apologise when the legislators accused him of raising his voice against them.
The minister and the Director-General of the NDE, Mr Nasiru Argungu, were at the National Assembly to brief its Joint Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity on the public works programme.
In his reaction to the lawmakers’ decision, Keyamo had said that the National Assembly had no power to issue any directive to the executive.
In the text message sent to The PUNCH correspondent on Tuesday, Keyamo said, “I have the instructions of my boss, Mr President, to proceed with the supervision of the preparation for the execution of the programme in accordance with the law.”
A few minutes after Keyamo said he had got the President’s approval, the Federal Ministry of Labour in a tweet said the recruitment of the 774, 000 youths had started.
The tweet read, “Special public works programme of the Federal Government has started nationwide. The state selection committees have been inaugurated and have commenced work. Find the names and contact details of members of your state’s committee on the portal.”
It was also learnt that Keyamo directed the NDE DG to halt further actions on the recruitment of the workers, which he insisted would be undertaken by the ministry.
Findings indicate that the SPWG portal, https://specialpublicworks.gov.ng/site/ has started functioning. It contains the list of state selection committee members inaugurated by the minister a few weeks ago and other tips on the exercise.
We haven’t received information on Buhari’s directive –N’Assembly
The Senate spokesman, when contacted, said he would not react to the report that Buhari had directed Keyamo to ignore the National Assembly’s suspension of the programme.
He said, “I cannot react to information which was not officially communicated to the Senate. I won’t answer further questions on the issue because we don’t have such information at the Senate.”
Also, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, on Tuesday night, stated that the position of the Presidency on the matter had not been officially communicated to the parliament.
But a senator confided in one of our correspondents that the issue would be raised on Wednesday at the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The Senator from the South-South, said, “I read the report online but it has not been brought to the attention of the parliament.
“ I am sure a member would raise it as a point of order during plenary tomorrow (Wednesday) and we will have a hot debate on it.
“We will still have a debate on it even if the President sends a communication, objecting our resolution to suspend the programme, which was communicated to him two weeks ago.”
It was learnt that the action of the Buhari-led executive did not go down well with the federal lawmakers, who vowed to resist it.
The Minority Leader of the Senate, Enyinnaya Abaribe, in a chat with The PUNCH on Tuesday, said, “I’m not going to react in my personal capacity. I will make my position know when we meet to take a decision. We will definitely have a meeting on the issue.”
Also, Senator Chukwuka Utazi said he would not want to preempt the decision of the Senate on the issue with his own personal reaction.
He said, “Don’t let me preempt the Senate with my personal comments. We will meet on the matter and take a joint decision.”
Buhari telling Keyamo to shun NASS, unfortunate – Reps
Reacting to Keyamo’s claim on Tuesday, a member of the House Committee Media and Public Affairs, Mr Bamidele Salam, said he doubted Buhari could ask any of his ministers to shun the National Assembly’s directive.
Salam said, “I don’t believe that the President will tell any minister not to obey a resolution of the parliament. I don’t really think so. I doubt it.”
When asked if Keyamo lied, the lawmaker said, “I won’t use the word ‘lie’ but it will be unfortunate if the Presidency actually directed the minister to disregard a decision of the parliament. It will be unfortunate.”
The immediate past Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, said he was not sure that the President backed Keyamo against the National Assembly.
Namdas, who is now Chairman of the Committee on Army, asked, “It is confirmed? Is it true? What Keyamo said was to prove that the President had backed him. This issue of the President backing a minister is coming from the person in charge. The information, assuming it is a statement from the Presidency, then we can begin to say it is the President’s position. But we have not seen any statement from the Presidency. And the person who is having problem with the National Assembly members is the one saying the President said it. Until I hear from the President or official statement from the Presidency, I still feel that this story is not true.
“The President knows that we have a good working relationship with the executive and any decision taken by the National Assembly is taken in good faith. It is done to enhance rule of law and provide dividends of democracy. I feel that the President will always do the right thing. I believe that the position of the National Assembly is a very good position because our leaders must have done some consultations before coming to this conclusion.”
‘Keyamo can’t lie against the President’
But a Presidency source said Keyamo could not have lied against the President on the controversial 774,000 jobs.
When asked if indeed the President asked the minister to defy the federal lawmakers’ directive, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Keyamo is a minister of the government. He is an appointee of the President.
“So, if he comes out publicly to say that the President has given him a directive on an issue, I entertain no doubt on the authenticity of his information.”