Tinubu pushes for wage parity as Senate calls for food stamp

President Tinubu, food

By Ukpono Ukpong, Haruna Salami, Tom Okpe

The Presidency and the National Assembly have pushed for a number of measures aimed at alleviating the effect of the biting economic hardship occasioned by high prices of food items in the country.

One of such measures, the Expatriate Employment Levy (EEL) was unveiled on Tuesday in Abuja by President Bola Tinubu.

The EEL is aimed at boosting skills among indigenous employees and close wage disparities between them and their expatriate counterparts.

The initiative is also geared towards fostering technology localisation and enhancing employment prospects for Nigerians in foreign firms operating within the country.

President Tinubu, while launching the EEL handbook, stressed the importance of not hindering foreign investment while striving for greater parity in employment opportunities.

He expressed optimism for increased revenue generation and the employment of more qualified Nigerians by foreign companies.

The President emphasised the need for clear implementation guidelines and effective stakeholder engagement to ensure the success of the programme.

He used the occasion to assure Nigerians that the country was gradually turning the corner and that the days of the current economic hardship are over.

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Tinubu said, “We might be going through a difficult period now. But when you look at the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the Federal Ministries of Finance; Budget and National Planning, and the people manning the ship of this country, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, they have collaborated. In the spirit of development and progress, we are glad that good effort is being made to re-engineer the finances of the country and make growth our hallmark.”

Speaking on the details of the initiative, the Minister of Interior, Mr. Bunmi Tunji-Ojo, explained that the project would be operated on a public-private partnership model between the federal government of Nigeria, the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), which is the implementing agency, and a technical partner, EEL Projects Limited.

The Minister highlighted the alignment of the initiative with the government’s agenda on job security and economic growth, particularly focusing on technology transfer and ensuring expatriate roles are truly specialised.

“It is worthy to mention that the project is aligned with the eight-point agenda of Mr. President, especially on the issue of job security and economic growth. This project will, among other things, lead to technology domestication.

“The essence of this is to be sure that if you are bringing an expatriate to work in Nigeria, it should be a job that no Nigerian has the skill to do. That is the major objective of this particular initiative,” the Minister said.

The initiative signifies a step towards enhancing Nigeria’s workforce capabilities and fostering a more equitable employment landscape.

The Senate on its part, urged the federal government to introduce the Nigerian version of the Food Stamps programme as an interventionist measure to cushion the effects of food insecurity/shortage in the country.

The resolution was sequel to the adoption of a motion sponsored by Senator Ali Ndume, (Borno South) and co-sponsored by Senator Saliu Mustapha (Kwara Central).

The upper chamber mandated the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to liaise with development partners and other relevant stakeholders, especially the Lagos Food Bank Initiative, which introduced the Temporary Food Assistance Programme (TEFAP).

Ndume, who is the Senate Chief Whip, noted that at the unveiling of the October 2023 Cadre Harmonisé Analysis on food insecurity, it was projected that in 2024, Nigeria is expected to see about 26.5 million people, grappling with high levels of food insecurity.

According to him, the reason for the above projection was not far-fetched, as several indicators, which include but are not limited to the ongoing conflicts across the country, impact of climate change, escalating inflation as witnessed in recent times, and rising costs of both food and essential non-food commodities due mainly to the fall in value of the naira.

He was worried that many hungry and angry Nigerians have been expressing their frustration and anger over the recent increase in food prices by demonstrating on the streets in several cities across the country.

“Aware that in other countries, like the United States of America, Food Stamps, are government-issued coupons that are given to low-income and non-income persons and are redeemable for food, have been used since 1939 to date as a measure to cushion the resultant hardships and sufferings on the poor/less privileged as well as low-income earners.

“Concerned that the clamour for a wage increase and work support cannot alone guarantee a more effective way of addressing food insecurity without the introduction of time-tested public assistance programme, as contemplated by this motion, with particular emphasis on the need for immediate food support across the country”, he said.

Speaking with journalists after the adoption of the motion by the Senate, Ndume said the system is more secure than cash transfer, adding the US introduced food stamps in 1939 and it is still in existence today.

He said experts are already waiting to make the programme a success if approved by the Tinubu government since the measure can be reviewed periodically.

Ndume, who described Tinubu as a listening President, said the government is considering N12 billion for cash transfer, but said food stamps are better than cash transfer because “if it is money, no one will reject money”.

He, however, allayed the fears of people who may think the programme will be prone to corruption like the Covid-19 palliative, asking people to look at the overriding benefits as the target. He added that food stamp is the way out of the present economic hardship.

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