President Muhammadu Buhari considered a grant for all employees of private schools in the country to help them mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but backed off after it became clear such payments would be too costly, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said Monday.
Mr Osinbajo said the government decided instead to “rationalise”, and pay some employees.
About 100,000 workers in private schools have so far been paid, the government said.
A statement by Laolu Akande, the spokesperson to Mr Osinbajo, said the vice president said this during two virtual interactive sessions on Monday.
“What the President wanted was to pay every private sector employee in the education sector.
“But the cost was humongous so we had to rationalize,” he said.
The government has rolled out multiple initiatives that provide cash payments and other support to some businesses and individuals in response to the economic impact of the pandemic. But those interventions, under the Economic Sustainability Plan, ESP, are seen as largely ineffective as they have only reached a tiny percentage of the population.
The statement said so far over 146, 811 transport sector beneficiaries have been paid N30,000 one-off grant each, while 114,557 artisans have received payments.
“One of the very important things for us, when we were drafting the Plan and design, was that we wanted to look at certain critical sectors of the Nigerian economy that required intervention in the wake of the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, we recognized that schools were vital,” the vice president said.
“We designed the ESP to focus on certain critical sectors, and the education sector, particularly private schools, was one of them because, during the lockdown, private schools were in a much difficult place.
“So, we felt that we should also support private schools through the MSME Survival Fund platform,” he added.
The Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mariam Katagum, said since the enumeration of the first set of beneficiaries on 17th January 2021, a total of 155,920 beneficiaries in the transport track have so far been approved for payment while 9,109 pending cases are being processed for payment.
She added that the balance to be enumerated is about 19,689 but noted that only 22 per cent of female beneficiaries in the track were reached because of the peculiar nature of the transportation business.
According to her, the education sector alone had about 850,000 applications during the one week the survival portal was reopened, compared to about half of the number when the portal was first opened for six weeks.
She said that so far, 43 per cent of the Survival Fund beneficiaries are females.
“At least 100,000 employees in the education sector have been paid as at the last count, and more employees in this sector have been whitelisted for approval of payment.
“Private schools play an important role, the government cannot do it alone in terms of educational provision. So going forward, whenever we find the opportunity to assist, we would do as much as we could,” she said.
“Preparations are ongoing to pay the balance of beneficiaries under the various tracks while prospective beneficiaries of the General Grant and Guaranteed Off-take Scheme are being enumerated for payment,” the statement said.
The statement quoted the president of the Road Transport Employers Association (RTEAN), Musa Muhammed, as saying that the implementation of the Survival Fund was unprecedented in the history of the country, noting that beneficiaries remained indebted to the government for the show of concern during the COVID-19 pandemic period.
Mr Muhammed urged authorities to do more for the sector by creating a Transportation Bank to cater to the growing needs of road transport operators in the country.
In the statement, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Tony Asogwa, while appreciating the effort of the vice president and the coordinating committee for a smooth implementation of the scheme, noted that the scheme was not a tribalistic programme as beneficiaries are spread across persons from the different ethno-religious backgrounds.
Also, Yusuf Usman of the National Association of Road Transport Owners (NARTO), said over 60 per cent of members of the group had received payments under the scheme and appealed to the federal government to also look into the plight of the owners having catered for the workers.
On her part, Precious Ukpe, representative of Bookyard International School, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said the intervention from the federal government has been very impactful, noting that it enabled many schools to resume normal activities.
Another beneficiary of the Payroll Support, the Proprietor, Adebabs Inland Montessori School, Babatunde Lateef, thanked the Buhari administration for the payroll support for private schools, adding that “I wish this scheme can continue for long for private schools across Nigeria.”
Speaking on the transparency of the scheme, Mr Osinbajo noted that “the first problem is that we are limited by the resources available to us. But it was very important for us that this process be a transparent process so that it is an auditable process, anybody can check where the money is going, who is receiving money and how many people have received the money.
“And this is one of the reasons why we are extremely proud of the work that has been done by the survival fund steering committee under the very able leadership of the Honourable. Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment.
“They had ensured that this is a transparent process.
“It was at the urging of the Honourable Minister that we brought in one of the very important private sector players – the Chairperson of First Bank Nigeria PLC, Ibukun Awosika, to co-chair the MSMEs Survival Fund, so that we could bring in private sector discipline and the efficiency of the private sector into this whole thing,” Mr Osinbajo added.
Mr Osinbajo appreciated the feedback from both the private school owners under Payroll Support and beneficiaries from the Transport sector, noting that their positive response was evidence of the excellent work being done by the Survival Fund scheme.
He added that the Project Delivery Office of the MSME Survival Fund will also look at the suggestions and address the issues raised.
“I can assure you that we will look at the suggestions raised and see how we can address them,” he said.