Beneficiaries of the Federal Government N-Power programme in Ebonyi have alleged that they were still being extorted by the handlers of the programme in the state, despite a clear directive by government that the beneficiaries should not be asked to make any payment.
The programme is being handled by the State Ministry of Empowerment and Job Creation on behalf of the federal government.
The youth participants in the state had December last year staged a protest against the handlers for asking them to pay N500 each as documentation fee, to which the federal government reacted by directing the handlers to stop demanding for the fee.
At the time, the Special Assistant to the Acting President on Media, Laolu Akande, had warned that on no account should any official ask the N-Power volunteers to make any payment.
However, investigations by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that in Ebonyi State, the handlers have refused to comply with that directive from the federal government.
After the December incident, it was gathered that in February, Nnanna Okoroafor, said to be an aide of the state Commissioner for Youths Empowerment and Job Creation, Donatus Njoku, resumed demanding for the fee.
He allegedly distributed what he tagged deployment/posting forms to the beneficiaries and directed that they fill and return the form with five hundred naira for his endorsement.
PREMIUM TIMES further gathered that the over 3000 youth already benefiting in the programme grudgingly complied and paid the fee to Mr. Okoroafor.
One of the volunteers, who asked not to be named for fear of victimization, told our reporter that apart from the N500 each of the participants paid, the handlers led by Mr. Okoroafor were collecting amounts ranging from five to ten thousand naira from persons who requested to change their posting due to distance.
He lamented that even after the federal government said participants should be posted to schools nearest to them, in Ebonyi, some were posted to areas where they need to rent an apartment and live to be able to carry on with the programme.
“The one going on presently is that the same Okoroafor Nnanna who claims to be carrying out the orders of his boss, has issued another form he named ‘Clearance Form’, and directed that we take it to the Head Teacher of the school we are posted to, for him/her to acknowledge through signatory that we are performing our duties and return it for signing with five hundred naira each”, the source added.
When Mr. Okoroafor was confronted with the allegations, he claimed that handling the N-Power programme requires money and that the state governor, David Umahi, had not granted a request by the handlers to support them with fund.
He said the N500 collected from the N-power volunteers were for “digitalization”, adding that it was optional.
But the participants insisted that the payments were compulsory.
Reacting, the commissioner, Mr. Njoku, said only people that made mistakes during application were being asked to pay to enable correction.
“But any other kind of payment, I am not aware and such should always be reported to me. There are things certainly they must pay for, like if one makes mistakes during application; such person will pay for it to be corrected,” he said.
According to the Commissioner, he addressed the participants before the programme commenced fully and explained to them what they should pay for, and what not to pay for, and also directed them to report any form of extortion to him, but he was yet to get any complaint directly from the participants.