Last week at the National Assembly, Festus Keyamo, fiery human rights lawyer and Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity, drew positive attention to himself. The minister took a position on the side of the masses and gave a good account of himself on the raging issues around the pending 774,000 jobs at the grassroots.
Keyamo spoke eloquently and in defence of the downtrodden, challenged the lawmakers who, as usual, wanted to determine those who will be employed by this Federal Government’s job intervention exercise. At no time in this digital age did Keyamo receive so much praise and admiration from Nigerians who still remember his vigorous campaigns to bring about political change and accountability during the military rule.
That is Keyamo, the quintessential activist and lawyer who has spent the last 30 years or so of his life, fighting for the common good and a better society.
I may not be a politician, but I must confess I am a great fan of Keyamo because of what he represents. He excited Nigerians once again with his eloquence, courage and revelations at that joint sitting of members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. As far as I am concerned, this is one of Keyamo’s finest hours under the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government. His disclosure actually gave an insight into our realities. The lawyer and Senior Advocate exposed to the world the greed and desperation of some members of our parliament even in trivial matters like this one involving unemployed young Nigerians at the local government level.
But this development did not come as a surprise to some of us who have followed with keen interest the politics of our National Assembly since 1999. As far as many Nigerians are concerned, service is far from the minds of those who make laws for us and this has remained a recurrent decimal for many years now. It is unfortunate that those elected to make laws and carry out oversight functions are always looking for advantage for self. In this instance, it is obvious that they are trying to take over executive duties for reasons that are now clear to everyone.
A couple of years ago, we read that our legislators are the highest paid in terms of salary and allowances in the whole world during a comparative analysis that shocked mankind. Nothing has changed since that revelation. In fact, the situation is worse today as the issue of remuneration tops legislative agenda all the time. These days, they no longer hide their avarice and this is understandable. For a few weeks now, the distasteful photos of hundreds of exotic cars waiting to be delivered to Nigeria’s lawmakers have been trending everywhere even as hunger, unemployment and hopelessness continue in the land.
Unluckily for them this time around, they met their match in Keyamo, a fearless lawyer and a veteran of many battles.
If one may ask, what exactly is the matter of this ongoing controversy between legislators and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment and Productivity? It will be recalled that Keyamo had appeared before the Joint Committee on Labour to present a work plan ahead of the 774,000 jobs in all the local government areas of Nigeria. Before now, the National Assembly had appropriated N52 billion in the 2020 budget for this special job creation programme, which is aimed at employing 774,000 people and ameliorating unemployment challenges at the grassroots. But when Keyamo discovered the glaring dissonance between the executive and the legislative arms in the implementation of the project, he was unhappy. Immediately, he expressed his displeasure over what he described as attempt by the lawmakers to sabotage the project even after receiving 15 per cent of the job slots.
In spite of the fact that this is a straight-forward issue, the National Assembly insisted that it is the National Directorate of Employment that has the power to execute. In fact, they accused the Minister of hijacking the project from the National Directorate of Employment.
But Keyamo as expected fired back, maintaining that the lawmakers are actually the hijackers. Even a man on the street knows that in the eye of the law, the Minister is right. After all, the NDE that the legislators hold tightly on to is under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity. So, what is the hullabaloo all about?
I am happy that even after the apology and the intervention of Chris Ngige, Keyamo’s senior minister, the radical lawyer still holds his ground as he insists that the lawmakers’ action is nothing but an attempt to bypass him and that is the truth. If these lawmakers are actually serving the interest of Nigerians, then they must serve with knowledge and integrity. They should read the enabling act like the National Directorate of Employment Act. This will aid resolution and proper understanding of all the outstanding issues. It is never too late to beat a retreat. We cannot continue to do the same thing the same way every time and expect a different result.
That is why we must support Keyamo who is one of the youngest and the most outstanding appointees in this administration. However, it is gratifying to note that this young man is fully representing my generation; this ordinarily should gladden every young person. He may be new in the game of Nigeria’s brand of grubby politics, but he is surely up-to-the-minute with issues of liberty, freedom, equality, good governance and accountability. Young people all over the country are happy with him in words and actions. He is also demonstrating that things can be done differently. He believes that Nigeria can actually move from where she is now to the next level. No doubt, this man inspires hope and it is in the interest of all Nigerians to support him and if possible, make demands on the powers that be, to give him higher responsibilities. In him, we have found hope and a reason to keep supporting this government.
. Ike-Chima is a Nigerian journalist, writer, New Media Strategist and Social Media expert.