Keep your N5,000, give me a green job! By Greg Odogwu

To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/

When the wind of controversy surrounding the All Progressives Change’s promised N5,000 pay for unemployed Nigerians blew my way, the first thing I did was pick up my calculator and punch in the numbers. If the Muhammadu Buhari government paid N5,000 to 25 million vulnerable Nigerians, it means that it would be expending N125bn every month. And this translates to paying out N1.5tn per annum – roughly a quarter of our annual budget. This is big money, by all standards.

I am not suggesting that unemployed Nigerians do not deserve the promised token. My worry is that the amount in question is a humongous sum when we consider that we are today crying of a fast dwindling national purse; and that given the nonexistence of accurate data and good governance structure, the money may as well be a post-election largesse for party faithful. So, I must state here and now, that arguing over whether the APC should pay the money or not is actually a distraction at best.

How will this fund be raised? When the Peoples Democratic Party accused the APC of using the promise as a campaign promise it never intended to fulfil, the APC replied that, “the non-implementation of the payment policy so far is due to the fact that it was not included in the 2015 budget, which was prepared by the PDP-led Jonathan administration, and because of the need to first block all financial leakages.”

Still, I do not believe that the APC government, which is struggling to find its feet in a fast-sinking fiscal lifeboat, will afford to cough up a trillion naira from the country’s purse just for the sake of fulfilling a campaign promise – which after all is not an “impeachable offence”.

And how will this money be disbursed? I understand that the APC believed that the programme would be tantamount to social security policy as practised in advanced countries, where stipends and meal stamps are given out to the unemployed and the indigent. But it is obvious that this is not a policy that could be implemented overnight. There has never been any social security policy in the country up till date. We live in a nation where everybody is “in God’s hands”; and the government never gives anybody anything free. Even the workers who have worked for their pensions find it hard to draw them after retirement.

So, as revolutionary as the N5,000 stipend sounds, it is a policy that can never see the light of day, whether we like it or not.

Most times, we get promises of people-oriented projects which when implemented end up becoming an avenue for the politicians and the elite to siphon more money from the people’s purse. SURE-P is one of such projects. It started out as a project “to cushion the effect of partial removal of the petrol subsidy”, but ended up as a cash cow for political cronies of the then ruling party. It said it repaired roads, but the people still die on the bad roads. It duplicated the (non-existent) works of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency and the Federal Ministry of Works.

Therefore, it will be a disservice to the good people of Nigeria if in the name of fulfilling campaign promises, the new administration takes the country back to the past days of impunity. It is common knowledge that the level of impunity in the country is mind-boggling. That was why everybody did what was good in their own mind, not minding whose ox was gored. For instance, the current government’s Treasury Single Account policy exposed hundreds of idle/dishonest accounts opened in the name of the government by various individuals.

In Kaduna State alone, N24bn was discovered in over 470 hidden accounts opened in 23 different banks. Similarly, the Niger State governor recently said the state’s decision to adopt the TSA policy was as a result of the discovery of 400 bank accounts being operated by various Ministries, Departments and Agencies which made monitoring and control of state revenue accounts difficult. There are lots of leakages, wastage and corruption in government. Until we totally plug these holes in the body polity, disbursement of N5,000 to 25 million Nigerians will end up opening a fresh Pandora box and truncating the emerging New Nigeria.

Nevertheless, if the Buhari administration wants to make an impact, let it establish a Green Fund with the money it is currently mopping up from its anti-corruption war and the ongoing TSA policy. These funds could be dedicated to the establishment of green jobs. The environment has the potential to create new money just as Nollywood did for the country.

It is a move that will separate it from past administrations. Our leaders used to neglect the environment in governance. A remarkable example was when the Governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Geidam, recently scrapped the state’s Ministry of Environment in its bid to cut down the cost of governance. It became obvious by this singular action that the governor is ignorant of the actual importance of the environment; that he probably perceives it as just a tree planting outfit.

The sceptic may doubt the usefulness of a Green Fund in a time like this, considering the existence of the Ecological Fund. But it has to be understood that according to Nigerian perception, the Ecological Fund is an intervention fund reserved for ecological emergencies and similar national needs. In fact, this is why the fund had become a slush fund of sorts. Governors with any kind of need – mostly luxurious and logistics – rush to Abuja to “borrow” from it. In contrast, a green fund is for creating an infrastructural environment for green enterprise, green research and development, environment stewardship and job creation.

Germany is the country with the highest number of green jobs in Europe. At the onset of global recession, the country announced that its key strategy to tackle the downturn was to create thousands of new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Its leaders announced that it would also boost spending on environmental protection.

The then Germany’s Deputy Environment Minister, Astrid Klug, made a remarkable statement: “We need more climate protection, now more than ever, in this current situation. Investments in climate protection can help us get out of this crisis faster. Climate change and energy policy are directly related to technical development and economic growth.”

The government then put its money where its mouth was. In 2009, Germany allocated 5.5 billion euros ($7.05 billion) for environmental protection. About four billion euros from that budget was used to refurbish and better insulate apartments, schools and kindergartens – an energy efficiency strategy that has long lasting positives.

That is why today nobody should be surprised that Germany is a world leader in environmental technologies. It has more than one million jobs in the sector.

Likewise, Nigeria has all it takes to be a leader in the environmental and renewable energy sectors, and also create millions of jobs. Germany does not have even a quart of the sunshine we enjoy over here; the forest and fertile land we have; and the natural resources God has blessed us with.

All the jobs that the APC promised Nigerians can be created right from the country’s environmental and renewable energy sectors. In fact, even the foreign investors we yearn for can be attracted through these sectors too. We can see the example of this already happening in Lagos State, which has attracted some foreign recycling firms simply by ensuring that the waste in Lagos is efficiently collected. And in this way, there is a whole new value chain of waste to wealth overseen by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority. This is just a fraction of what we can do, even as a country. The world is waiting for Nigeria.

PUNCH