By EMMA UJAH, ABUJA BUREAU CHIEF & DAPO AKINREFON
FORMER President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and chairman of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme, SURE-P, Dr Christopher Kolade, yesterday, bickered over the SURE-P initiative of the Federal Government.
While Chief Obasanjo said he did not believe in the SURE-P, Dr Kolade, said he believed in it.
They spoke at the presentation of lectures delivered over the years by Dr Christopher Kolade titled ‘Kolade’s Canons’, at the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Lagos.
Obasanjo, who was special guest at the book launch, lampooned the SURE-P, saying it was an initiative he did not understand.
The former president said though he did not have an inkling on what the SURE-P was all about, the chairman of the programme has given satisfactory explanation about why he took up the appointment.
Said he: “I have said it publicly and I will never stop saying it that his service as the High Commissioner to Britain at the time he agreed to be exported, made tremendous impact and helped me and my administration. I don’t know about SURE-P. People come to me but I have not sent anybody to you. I have got many people who have come to me and said ‘send me to Christopher Kolade, he is in charge of the SURE-P’. I don’t know what is SURE-P.
“When he (Kolade) was celebrating his 80th birthday, those who had misgivings about him taking up that assignment challenged him and he gave satisfactory explanation. If he does not give it, those of us who have complaints, won’t understand.
“I am a complainant about the situation in my country. If we don’t feel concerned about what is bad, you would not have brought about what is good. You have to be able to identify what is not right and complain about it and speak about it. Don’t just complain and speak, try and prescribe the alternative. You know whatsoever you do in this country, I will support you”.
Commending the former Nigerian High Commissioner to England for assisting his administration, Obasanjo described him as a gift not only to Nigeria but also to humanity.
He said: “I will never be tired of showing up on anything that concerns Christopher Kolade. Kolade said I cannot be here and not be heard and I said well, I won’t say much but I will just concur with what everybody has said. But when I told him that ‘you may not like what I would say’, then he warned me that he would speak after me.
I believe in SURE-P — Kolade
In his defence, Dr Kolade disagreed with the former president just as he expressed optimism that the SURE-P initiative was a programme he believed in.
Kolade said “The SURE-P matter is not a matter for today. If I am still in SURE-P, it means I believe in SURE-P, which means I don’t agree with the person you are quoting.
“All the lectures I have delivered all points to the direction of how we can improve our country. How can we do better with what we have, Nigeria has a lot of resources and a lot of potentials, but we don’t seem to be doing too well.
“In all my career, I noticed that I was driven by this passion to see what we can do to better the situation in our country. All the speeches and lectures I have given, have the same objectives on how we can improve.”
Roll call at the occasion
Notable personalities present at the book presentation include chairman of the Honeywell Group, Mr Oba Otudeko; former Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Diamond Bank Plc, Mr Pascal Dozie, Vice Chancellor of the Pan-African University, Professor Juan Elegido; Bishop George Bako; Mr Fola Adeola, Professor Emevwo Biakolo and Owo born business magnate, Otunba Johnson Fasawe among others.
Meanwhile, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has ordered immediate payment of stipends to interns under the Graduate Internship Scheme, GIS, of the Subsidy Re-investment Programme, SURE-P.
She gave the directive when she co-launched the GIS of the SURE-P with its Chairman, Dr. Christopher Kolade, in Abuja,
The directive came on the hills of complaints by some interns who said they were not being paid their monthly stipend of N18, 600.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala had called for a frank discussion on all issues with a view to ensuring that interns received full benefits of the programme in terms of their welfare, as well as, skill acquisition and mentoring to make them either better employable by the private sector or opt out for entrepreneurial endeavours.
She said: “I am happy that you have spoken up. This is why we are holding this stakeholders interaction to enable us have a feedback upon which necessary actions can be taken to ensure that the programme achieves the purpose for which it was intended.
“All those who have not received their stipends should list their names and their firms to enable the secretariat follow-up immediately. Latest within a week all such interns must be paid”.
The minister noted that about 1.8 million employable individuals were entering the nation’s labour market annually and that with youth unemployment put at about 37 per cent, the figure as unacceptable and required concerted efforts by both public and private sector operators to address the challenge.
According to her, the GIS was targeting 50, 000 youths of ages 18-40 and that the group which formed a critical mass for the desired accelerated economic development of the nation could not be ignored.
She appealed to private sector operators to collaborate with the Federal Government with a view to making a successes of each of the programmes targeting employment generation in all sectors.
Also speaking, Dr. Kolade urged all well-meaning Nigerian individuals and corporate organisations, to borrow a leaf from the employment generation programmes of the Federal Government to save the youths from the streets in the overall interests of the society and the future of the nation.
He challenged corporate organisations to see the scheme as a new window to broaden their Corporate Social Responsibilities, CSRs, by accepting as many interns as they can and providing regular jobs or mentoring them enough to become entrepreneurs.