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‘Why social investment programme is strategic to our quest for national growth’

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Afolabi Imoukhuede

Afolabi Imoukhuede is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Job Creation and Youth Employment in the Office of the Vice President. An Accountant by profession, he is an experienced International Development consultant with sector focus in construction, real estate and small business development. He is also a certified Project Management and Human Capital consultant with particular emphasis on Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

He is initiator and champion of SkillUp initiative, an Industry-Backed Technical Skills Competency Development solution designed to mitigate current dearth of skilled and competent technicians in the various industries by developing competent enterprise builders and wealth creators.

Prior to this, he was the Deputy Team Leader/Intervention Lead with the UK Department for International Development DFlD/GEMSZ programme with sector focus on stimulating Growth and Employment in the Construction and Real Estate. At GEMSZ, Afolabi championed the delivery of affordable housing for the lower and lower-middle income earners in Lagos state through the Private Public Partnership (PPP) procurement methodology. 

Mr. lmoukhuede is a well-sought-out Speaker on issues of National Development particularly as it relates to Education for Employment, Job Creation, Skills Development, Economic inclusion and Affordable Housing. In this interview with The Guardian, he clears the air on government’s social intervention programmes to create employment for the youths, the TraderMoni controversy among others.

Youth unemployment is one of the problems staring us in the face that this administration promised to reduce at inception. What is the population of youths already removed from the unemployment market?
Human living is a behavioural science that is not limited to absolute numbers, as such we rely on regular National statistics as released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). NBS in its periodic quarterly reviews have shown that the multi-pronged Job Creation strategy of this President Buhari’s administration especially as it relates to the N-Power job creation intervention has proven successful. Data from NBS showed reduction in youth and graduate unemployment target from 23.67 to 16.6 per cent in Q1/Q2 – 2017 when the first batch of 200,000 Nigerian youths were engaged and 32.45 to 29.75 per cent in Q3 – 2018 when the second batch of 300,000 Nigerian youths were engaged. This is aside from the numerous tens of thousands being skilled for the construction, automobile and technology industries through our N-Build and N-Tech and Technology Innovation Hubs components of N-Power respectively. We also have a significant jerk of new youth farmers across the country in several agriculture production and processing value chains. These are all signs in the right direction.

What is your mandate as SSA to President on job creation and youth employment?
Firstly, President Muhammadu Buhari has made it clear to all Nigerians since his first Budget speech of this administration in December 2015, that our National Job Creation Strategy will be private sector-driven and government-enabled. In other words, the private sector and indeed the various real sectors of the Nigerian Economy will be the drivers whilst the Federal Government will work with them to craft enabling policies that seek to unlock the potentials of our economy leading to a sustainable economic diversification. These are well captured in the Economy Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) championed by this administration. Recall also that a direct investment in our people, that is, all Nigerians across all demography groups under the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIP) is another cardinal focus of the ERGP.

To this end, my role as SSA-P on Job Creation/Youth Employment is to coordinate and champion the job creation strategies, plans and interventions linking them up to our relevant institutions at all levels of Nigerian Federating constituents – federal, state and local governments. Rather than seek to build a fiefdom as has always being the norm in our recent history of prior federal government  social interventions, my office seeks and indeed builds constructive and sustainable collaborating engagements and partnerships with constitutionally instituted organs of Government both MDAs and Industry sector standard bearers and champions.

There seems to be many programmes under this social intervention project that creates confusion among Nigerians – NPOWER, GEEP, TraderMoni…
As mentioned earlier, the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) is the bold and audacious response of Mr. President to directly invest in our people across all demographics comprising youths, children, rural dwellers, bottom of the pyramid economically disadvantaged though active and even the vulnerable poor and the aged. As such, different components of the NSIP umbrella Programme addresses each section(s) of our National demography and I will seek to make them clear below:

Youths: N-Power (ages 18 – 35)
The focus of N-Power is for the Nigerian youths and we run several sub-components further sub-dividing this broad youth category as follows:
Graduate N-Power for unemployed young graduates with focus on full time paid volunteering in their various communities of residence be it at public schools (N-Teach), rural farms (N-Agro), primary health facilities (N-Health) and as community tax advocacy liaisons (N-Tax). These are 500,000 across the country in every 774 LGA earning N30,000 every month plus a computing tablet device.
Non-Graduate N-Power, which is our Skills to Entrepreneurship Programme that is reviving our Apprenticeship culture through Vocational and Technical Skills revolution. Engaging about 50,000 young Nigerians across Construction, Automobile, Hospitality, Technology Hardware & Software industries. Each beneficiary of this component obtains an exit tool kit valued no less than N250,000 in addition to a transport support stipend of N10,000 monthly whilst in the Programme.

N-Power Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hubs…the Federal Government entered into partnership with privately-owned operators of Tech Hubs across the country, one in each geo-political zone to stimulate innovative competitive solutions that solve government and local community and or social challenges amongst our young people. Each winning idea is supported with a start-up seed grant in addition to FG paid Business Development services and incubation inclusive of mentoring and other support services.

Children – NHGSF (Children in Primary 1 to 3 in our public primary schools across the nation).
This is the National Home Grown School Feeding (NHGSF) that currently feeds more than nine million kids daily between primary 1 to 3 in state-owned public primary schools across Nigeria. It is currently active in 26 states as at December 2018, which additional states signing on to the programme in coming weeks and months. The aim of the school feeding programme is to improve the nutrition of our kids with one nutritious meal a day at school which has a direct correlation to the development of their brains and ability to assimilate knowledge. In addition, it boosts school enrollment, as it has dealt a good blow to Nigeria’s children of school age out of school figures.

At the same time, the School Feeding Programme is also an economic job creation Programme, as it is designed that we locally grow what our women cook and our children eat thus boosting economic market to numerous rural farmers across our communities and engaging over 100,000 cooks, earning N70 Feeding revenue per child/meal as at December 2018.

Traders, Market Men/Women & Artisans – GEEP
Focused on easy accessible interest free loans to these segment of our population that have consistently been excluded from Nigeria’s National Economic Planning as they complained time to time about no access to capital from commercial banks, micro-finance banks nor even our Development Banks.

At the advent of this administration, the Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme (GEEP) component of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) had its funds deliberately embedded with the Bank of Industry (BOI) to champion the operations and disbursement of the funds to qualifying beneficiaries and related loan repayments.

GEEP operates under three broad product headers: Farmer Moni – loans of up to N300,000 to farmers; Market Moni – loans of up to N50,000 in first borrowing and up to N100,000 after repaying earlier loans…must be part of an accredited legally recognized trade cooperative; Trader Moni – loans of up to N10,000 in first borrowing to bottom of the pyramid traders, petty traders etc.; Vulnerable Poor – Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). This speaks for the N5, 000 monthly cash transfer to the poor of the poor in our various rural communities.

Some of the programmes, Trader Moni for example, has been enmeshed in a lot of controversies especially with the VP’s visits to the markets and beneficiaries’ complaints. Why is the scheme being viewed as a vote-buying tactic for the ruling party?
I already explained earlier how the GEEP- Trader Moni works through the Bank of Industry, as such there has been no controversies at all except for figments of people’s imagination in particular leaders of the main opposition party – PDP; a party who ruled this country for 16 unbroken years and instituted grand corruption plus poverty and is suddenly threatened by the remarkable departure from the norm and greater impact the strides of the NSIP is having on the common man. Indeed, both the President and Vice President are men of full integrity, that is why in only three years, this joint ticket have been able to do so much with so much less for the greater silent majority (not the elites) haven earned 60 per cent less in income revenues compared to the PDP days wherein Nigeria earned revenues of $100/barrel for consecutive years. These are the years that opposition candidates such as Oby Ezekwesili refer to as the “growth years” of Nigeria; the same growth years that the World Bank she consults for have come out over the recent years as “Jobless Growth Years…” what manner of growth in an economy does not produce jobs? That is the PDP Economic growth theories that favoured a few minority…their friends, co-travelers and only the rich, as they now promise to continue by selling Nigeria to their friends.

The jobless growth years that excluded the greater silent majority that the NSIP now reaches, over 12 million direct beneficiaries, talk less of their two to three indirect beneficiaries…; that excluded the petty traders, market women and household farmers. The impact stories of our “real-life” beneficiaries are all over the place for you to read and watch their videos, you can reach them for interviews in every community and they would tell you their impact stories. Perhaps what is most fascinating and yet most troubling to the opposition is the process of transparency and equal access to everyone. These programmes and investment are not distributed through political nor religious patronage, but every interested Nigerian is able to apply and benefit with out knowing anyone, I mean anyone. This dividends of their democracy reaches down to every Nigerian regardless of the political party in the state, otherwise how do you explain that Rivers State, though a PDP-controlled State, got the highest number of N-Power Batch 1 beneficiaries simply because the highest number of applications came from the State. The question to ask is, did Nigeria ever saw this manner of fairness and inclusion in the 16 years of PDP? We know what they did with SURE-P where they say they spent over N500 billion for only 150,000 beneficiaries in the country and we in N-Power have invested about N150 billion as at December 2018 for over 500,000 genuine and identifiable beneficiaries, that is 30 per cent of what they spent for over 200 per cent more beneficiaries that they claim. If this is not doing more with less, you tell me what it is…that is what President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo stand for and represent.

Where and how did you get the Masterplan for this social intervention? Has it worked somewhere else?
Enormous planning work went into the development of the Social Investment Programmes. For N-Power, which is the Job Creation component, we developed an implementation strategy between October 2015 and March 2016 with assistance from UK Department for International Development (Dfid), the Ford Foundation and the Dalberg Global Advisers. Intensive consultation with the Organized Private Sector, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), the Public Sector MDAs, the Nigeria Governors Forum and sectoral focus groups to identify priority areas of focus which are Agriculture and Agro-Allied, Construction, ICT Innovation and Renewable Energy.

For the other components of the NSIP, the Federal Government received technical advisory support from the World Bank, the Gates Foundation that included study visits to Pakistan and Brazil where these social interventions have also been a national success.

What have been the challenges so far?
As it is common with life, there is no success without its challenges. Operating a National Programme in a Federation of Federal/States and LGA is in itself a challenge as we straddle across components that ownership and authority vests on any of the entities.

Take for example, the N-Power and the School Feeding Programmes, the public primary schools where N-Power Volunteers deliver their services or wherein our kids are fed with one meal a day all belong to the States, as such even though these interventions are purely 100 per cent FG-funded, for us to succeed, we have to partner the States and by extension the Local Governments. This is exactly what we did, as complementary partners not as competing entities, which in my opinion is one chief reason that sets this NSIP and its record of grassroots ownership and success apart from all other previous FG social interventions. We ran a purely development-based programme for all Nigerians irrespective of political/religious leanings in the various States.

But as you would imagine, much as we have succeeded with this participatory approach, it also means that we cannot force any State to take up any oversight or operational role required of them, it would have to happen at their own timing and based on their State-focused priorities, which is what explains why the School Feeding Programme for example is not in every State at the moment but in 26 states which each state signing up at various times based on their own readiness.

How many youths have so far benefited from the project?
About 550,000 direct beneficiaries, aside from numerous indirect youth beneficiaries…

Do you agree that this number is just like a drop in the ocean vis a vis the nation’s youth population?
Not at all. I already quoted the statistics from NBS citing drop in youth unemployment each time we engage these youths into the N-Power Programme. Let’s also bear in mind that this is just one of the many other various youth job creation programmes driven by other Federal agencies such as NDE, ITF, SMEDAN, NITDA aside from those driven also by States such as the Employment Trust Fund in Lagos State.

Do you think this programme is sustainable?
A credible Social Investment safety net as we have demonstrated is what every country must have in place for her people. It is not negotiable, if we desire to attain the stability and competitiveness of developed nations. Firstly, scripture teaches us from the foundation that there would always be poor people, so we must have a safety net for our poor and vulnerable.
Secondly, life is about ups and downs, as such, we must design a merit system that offers lifeline to our youths to pick up in life.

Which states have benefited from the whole project?
For N-Power, all States and the FCT, but other NSIP programmes, roll out is based on the State’s priority and its readiness.

Kindly give us instances of some of the success stories.
Too many to mention, all across the country success stories and videos can be provided.

How much was earmarked for the whole project and how much has been expended so far?
From the prior two budgets 2016 and 2017, N900 billion, but only about N250 billion released so far for the entire Programme…but we have continued to do more with less.

How can youths who want to benefit from the programme latch on to it?
When the next round of application opens, they just need to visit the website: www.npower.gov.ng; apply online inputting all required details correctly, and await further instructions for online tests and physical verification if successful through the selection process.

How do you intend to take the programme to the next level?
We plan to enhance the continued development of the existing beneficiaries, linking them to further economic opportunities whilst also expanding the Programme to take in more people. The Technology Innovation Programmes and the Skills Competency Programmes will also be expanded and scaled up.


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