RISING TO THE CHALLENGE OF NIGERIA INSTITUTING A SOCIAL WELFARE SCHEME
The decision of the Nigerian Senate to step down the passage of the National Social Welfare Commission, NSWC Bill again testifies to how our country has become so accustomed to caring less about the welfare of its burgeoning mass of underprivileged. We have become so inured to this undoing of government that we can hardly remember when this rain started buffeting us. Even when we try, the actual time we started accepting the culture of our government's insensitivity to the plight of Nigerians suffering privation keeps escaping our memory. Alas, we have right before us another landmark in the narrative of a tradition that leaves the poor to their fate when they should be enjoying a welfare scheme from the government.
The above submission may have been lost on you since what I'm referring to is one news item that appears to have been intended not to stay in the news. Bad news is that this article is poised to exhuming it from oblivion and putting it where it rightly belongs. The Nigerian Senate last Tuesday elected to step down the National Social Welfare Commission Bill. The proposed law is one which seeks to provide allowances for the unemployed, aged and disabled.
As noble and welfarist as the Bill is, it narrowly escaped being thrown out by the lawmakers during its clause by clause consideration. Their reason for wanting to kill it is that they, among other things, fear how the scheme would be funded. At the end of the day, the senators managed to step down the bill allowing the sponsors time to fine-tune the details of its funding with its committee on finance.
While the respected legislators should be commended for not throwing out the highly needed bill, their stepping it down raises suspicions when one considers the given that the Bill has been with them since 2012 when it suffered the same treatment. We shall return to this presently but before then, let's talk about the seeming conspiracy of silence that shrouded the near throw-away of the Bill by the Senate.
A similar step down of the news about Senate's ill-treatment of the Bill by those who should make all the noise about it, smacks of conspiracy or willful inertia – one that is possibly aimed at deepening our continued oblivion of how our leaders reflexively underplay issues that better the lot of the poor. How else can one explain that in the same day where the major business of the day was the consideration of the proposed NSWC Bill, what got the banner headlines was the Senate's approval of the appointment of Dr Chinelo Anohu-Amazu as director-general of the National Pension Commission, reducing the Senate's treatment of the bill to a mere mention or outright omission from the report in other instances.
Just as I wouldn't want to believe that our newsmen have lost grasp of news judgment, I would also not want to believe that an offer of 'fuel money' warranted their queuing behind the Senate to also step down in the media the ordeal of a Bill which, when passed, would greatly assist their parents, siblings and other relatives. Somebody had better drawn their attention to the fact that while what accrues to an average Nigerian senator can arguably take care of his entire village, same cannot be said of the Nigerian journalist, no matter how resourceful.
Please let no one tell me that my grouse with the media, of which I am proudly a part, is misguided or misplaced since the lawmakers only stepped down the Bill to allow them better consider it at a later date. That would make a good story for the marines! In actual fact, their clever use of that jargon reminds one of the 'tactical maneuvering' that the military graciously bequeathed to our parlance not too long ago. As far as I know, their choice of stepping down the Bill is a sheer tactful stunt. Remove the all-important 2015 from the mix and what we would have heard is a direct throw-out of the Bill.
I had expected the Senate's resolve to step down the Bill as one that would have stirred and encouraged the Nigerian media into giving that item of news all the attention and attraction it could get. Since their stepping it down yields hope that it can be re-presented, the requisite puff should have been exerted on the lawmakers to lobby them into passing it and speedily too. But the media relapsed, allowing themselves to be taken in by a shrewd choice of words by the Senate.
Meanwhile, since the media could not adequately bring this stepping down to the notice of Nigerians, one would have expected members of the civil societies to swoop in as soon as they got whiff of it. But they didn't, leading to skepticism if the civil liberty organizations we have in this country actually understand what they professed to be. Should this had happened in other climes, you can be sure that CLOs would have mobilized the masses into making sure that the House of Senate does the needful. But in Nigeria, complacency has come to be an infectious lifestyle.
Let it be known that the civil societies and sundry human rights organizations we have in this country failed us in this. Come to think of it, since it is generally accepted and even recognized in our ground norm that the welfare of its people is the whole essence of government, any non-governmental organization that claims to be all about the rights of the people ought to have made an issue out of Senate's stepping down of a Bill which seeks to promote the welfare of the people. Frankly speaking, our civil societies or whatever name they appropriate to themselves had better woken up from their slumber or closed shop.
Enter the institution that should get the most blame, talking about Nigeria's House of Senate. This body of government is one that has played a great role in the stabilization of our democracy and by extension the polity. As such, it is not out of place for us to accord them the respect they rightfully deserve. It should also enjoy our respect and regard because it is one legislative house that is filled with old men and sages. Remember we are Africans and Africans respect the aged. However, when someone you so much respect relegates your welfare to the background, it raises questions about how deserving such a person is of your regard.
They have used the wisdom they garnered over the years to deny us that which our people should rightly enjoy from government with reasons that are at best laughable and ridiculous. How can they get so close to throwing out the NSWC Bill just because they have reservations about where its funding would be sourced from? Like I heard someone ask, do they also have fears about funding when it comes to allocating to themselves those mouth-watering allowances they enjoy as well as funds for constituency projects? We had better told these people who feed fat on our expense that we are no fools.
Granted that fears of where to get the funding for the proposed scheme wasn't their only reason for stepping down the Bill. They had other fears prominent among which is the non-availability of a census of those who are qualified to benefit. This fear throws up the need for a reliable data of those in dire need of assistance and how much it would cost government to cater for their welfare.
The fear of the lawmakers regarding census of those qualified to benefit is with all due respect unfounded. This is because the Bill is proposing to set up a commission not as if it seeks to just gather those in the category and give them hand-outs. As a commission it would, of course, have a secretariat with staffers who would be tasked with gathering the data of those in need of help and also collaborating with the National Populations Commission to get the figures right.
Even if government thinks it can't pay such workers who would get the census, the disabled, aged and unemployed would gladly come to designated offices of the proposed commission to register their particulars with confirmation notes from respected clerics, if need be. With this as the case, I see no reason why the senators would have fears about getting the realistic data of those to benefit from the proposed welfare scheme.
In fact, I see no reason why they should step down the Bill in itself. Are they not aware of countries where the poor and unemployed are entitled to square meals on a daily? Are they not aware of countries where government establish, run and maintain old people's homes? Are they telling us that our country is not buoyant enough to handle this? Are they really suggesting that disadvantaged Nigerians are lesser humans that are not qualified to enjoy this privilege? Right is the one who cried, “there's God o!”
One thing the senators need to know is that we are blessed with lots of charitable Nigerians looking for reputable organizations through which to render help to the less privileged. Since they are having fears about how the scheme would be funded, they should know that there are people who would waste no time in donating to such a commission should it be in place. Thus, the continued stepping down of the National Social Welfare Commission Bill is tantamount to denying these people an avenue to better support the course of the needy.
Well, let's believe, like they said, that they only delayed passage of the Bill for the sponsor to better harmonize with the committee on finance. It is hoped that every stakeholder would by now have realized why they should work to have the Bill passed before the 2015 general elections. The Bill will so much benefit needy Nigerians that instituting #no-nswc-bill-no-vote wouldn't be a bad idea, I'm just saying!
Written by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi.