Combating unemployment through youth entrepreneurship
With over 20,000 children born every day in Nigeria, one of the world’s highest, jobs being lost almost at corresponding rate, the country is facing one of the highest unemployment rates globally. Until the recent economic recession that made the payment of salaries a herculean task for all the tiers of government, especially the states, it was a routine exercise for every new government to employ a fresh set of young men and women into the already saturated civil service.
The reality of the limited capacity of state governments to cope with the progressively declining allocations from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) had brought the debate on the viability of the 36 states into question with calls for the collapse of some of them into viable units. Some people posited that the structure of governance should be radically reviewed given that most states, including the federal government spend a minimum of 70 percent of their yearly budget on payment of salaries and running of the government.
Rather than having a vibrant economy where jobs were been created with increased spending by government, jobs were being steadily lost as the various tiers grapple with and even default in the payment of salaries of civil servants. That was the scenario faced by states when a new set of governors were elected in the 2015 general election.
In his inaugural address after his swearing-in on May 29, 2015, Ifeanyi Okowa, governor of Delta State, raised some eyebrows when he made the creation of the office of chief job creation officer for the state one of the highlights of his speech. The creation of the office did not quite elicit excitement as it was thought to be a platform for screening the future employment of people into the state civil service.Explaining the rationale behind the move, however, Okowa said it is a Special Purpose Vehicle to design and implement job creation programmes that will tackle the unemployment problem and nurture the growth of Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs). He said he had bought into the idea that certain economic sectors and activities hold the highest potentials for job and wealth creation for the economy. These are agriculture, agribusiness, agro-based industries, vocational skills-based microenterprises, cottage enterprises, small and medium scale enterprises as well as public works such as environmental sanitation, housing and road construction.
According to him, government spending on these high-potential job and wealth creation sectors generate very high social rates of return for the economy. In his words, “interventions/programmes in these sectors/activities are generally cost-effective and go a long way to reduce youth unemployment and poverty, while ensuring social inclusion, positive economic growth and sustainable development as has been observed in many countries in South Asia, South East Asia and Latin America.”
Under the auspices of the office of the chief job creation officer, Prof. Eric Eboh, the government of Delta State evolved a new set of programmes designed to provide the younger generation with the requisite skills and tools to meet the challenges of an increasingly tough and competitive society. The initiatives are:Youth Agricultural and Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP); and the Microcredit Scheme administered by the Delta State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency.
Under YAGEP, youths trained and established in their choice of agricultural enterprises, including poultry, piggery, fishery and crop production. The scope of the training covered agricultural subject-matter knowledge, enterprise management, leadership and life skills, group organisation and group farming. The young men and women were taken through theoretical and practical training at accredited agricultural training centres over a given period, depending on the enterprise.
The STEP programme is designed to train and establish unemployed youths in preferred skills or trade fr job and wealth creation. Beneficiaries went through a three-phase training plan comprising life skills and orientation course, vocational skills training as well as business and entrepreneurship training. The available skills and trade offerings include computer hardware maintenance and repairs, catering and confectionary, electrical installation and repairs, bead making, cosmetology as well as decoration and event management. Other are hair dressing and make over, fashion designing and tailoring tiling, block making, plaster of paris and interlocking blocks.
In the 2015 maiden cycle of the programme, over 1,249 young men and women successfully went through the training. And after two programme cycles, more than 2,324 previously unemployed youths are now small business owners and employers of labour.However, it is not the first time such entrepreneurship programmes were initiated. Previous administrations had evolved similar packages and after initial expenditure of huge funds, many of the participants abandon the programme.
“We were very mindful of that from the word go. We needed to come up with something entirely different,” Dr. Kingsley Emu, Delta State Commissioner for Economic Planning, said. In the case of those engaged in agro-business, “we were able to separate the provisional farmers from the political farmers. What did we do? We send inputs directly to farmlands, not in their offices, not in their homes, not in a central place. We told them ‘give us the farm address’ and then we would drop the inputs. We began to give them money for land preparation once we identified what they needed. We have rice processing mills in the three senatorial districts, also as an involvement in processing. We ensure that we equip them to be able to drive the economy. For fish, we have done quite a lot. Fingerlings and feeds were supplied directly to the farmers on their site.“More importantly, we have monitoring and mentoring agents who regularly visit everyone of the participants. They find out the challenges facing the participants and we have machinery in place to quickly address the challenges. They are never left on their own,” Emu said.
According to him, “when they raise issues of financial support in terms of operational capital, we give them the critical cushioning and we have had them in clusters and in cooperatives to share experiences and expertise, which is even a more winning success factor.”
On December 13 and 14, 2017, over 450 of the young entrepreneurs participated in a Products Exhibition and Business Fair in Asaba, the Delta State capital. It was to showcase the products and services of beneficiaries of the programmes.
Speaking on the opening day of the fair, Okowa said his administration has been able to break the jinx on the sustenance of entrepreneurial programmes for the younger generation. “It is gratifying to note that our job creation programmes are beginning to receive national and international recognition. The World Bank recently validated the programmes for partnership and funding support in recognition of their potential to curb youth unemployment, create wealth and enhance social inclusion. In the same vein, the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria ranked our State number one out of the thirty six States and FCT in the human capital development index. This is undeniable proof that the prosperity agenda of this administration is yielding the desired dividends,” the governor said.
He added that “with the addition of these over 2,000 businesses to the economy of the State, our goal of diversifying the economy is well and truly on course.” The exhibitors came with a range of their products and the large expanse Cenotaph, Asaba taken over by the young entrepreneurs. Some of them said they sold up to N700,000 during the two-day fair.
By collaborating with the World Bank whose representatives were at the fair, the programme has won the approval and funding of the global financial institution. “They are very impressed with what we have done and have begun to fund us. In the next two years, we will be funded to the tune of N1.2 billion to run the programme because they believe in it,” Emu said. According to him, the state government has ploughed up to N835 million into the programme.
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