President Muhammadu Bihari is creating jobs, Afolabi Imoukhuede, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Job Creation and Youth Employment in the Office of the Vice President. He spoke on federal government’s interventions on job creation and youth empowerment. Excerpts
What have you done in the last couple of years to address the growing unemployment among youth in the country?
It is always a privilege to speak about the work that we do to invest in our people especially under the Social Investment Programme. As we journeyed, I think it is always good to remind ourselves and remind Nigerians all of the time about the passion of President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice, Yemi Osinbajo about Nigerians, especially the youth.
One of the key challenges we have with our youth is the issue of jobs. Anytime we meet in any youth fora it’s always about jobs. The good thing is that it is not only peculiar to Nigeria, incidentally in any and every global conversation right now, it is also about jobs. I remember the last election in America, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it was about whose plans will produce more jobs. So, it is a global problem that we all face and it’s more global because of the advent of technology and impact of technology even on us as humans.
If you put all of that together and begin to look at our demography as a people, our greatest population we will know that Nigeria is actually a youthful population and so we really must begin to look at how we can address this issue. In Nigeria also, our problem is a bit systemic and it stems from education. And that is why you will always realize that in Mr. President’s mandate for the second term, as he declared on June 12, it’s really about education and really looking to reform our education from basic education so that our children, youths really begin to get the right skills from the onset that will therefore reduce this challenge of employability. This is really what we have as a problem in Nigeria.
What we did in the last four years was having realized we have had a bit of shaky foundation in education producing our graduates, and even our post secondary school graduates not necessarily our tertiary graduates. We asked what can we then do because even if we reform education as we have began to do, they can’t go back to school to start all over. They have finished and need to get into the labour market, we need to attuned them to the challenges of the labour market. We have to constantly engage with different sectors in the labour market, one word always stands out, employability. People are not ready for the jobs that are available.
That was why we decided, under the National Social Investment Programme, it was important we have one component that would speak to job creation and ensure that it is focused towards the youths, and that is the N-Power. We then decided that we will use N-Power to address Nigeria’s employability challenges. Our focus therefore is that you must be within the bracket of at least secondary school, post secondary school and above, because those are the ones going to to labour market or are already in the labour market.
The next step was to speak to the sectors and understand the challenges they are having with our people and create what is almost like a remedial, let us use this N-Power to correct the gaps that they say our people have. So that after that remedial time, it will further enable our people to be employable.
Secondly, we also need to change the narratives of jobs in our youth and for our youths. The era of you finish school and you are waiting for white collar job is over. We are in the era of how can I even create jobs, so entrepreneurship, enterprise becomes very critical. We said, how can we use this N-Power platform to build entrepreneurship skills amongst our people such that the skills will be well measured to the sectors that require a lot of enterprising youths.
Lastly, remember we also designed what is called the Economic Recovery and Group Plan (ERGP) which Mr. President launched which took certain sectors as priority sectors with agriculture being one and even moving to agro business, construction being roads, rails, housing and others, technology, entertainment, creative sector, we looked at basically none oil and gas sector really.
So putting all of those together, what we then did was to come up with different segments that helped to address the needs of youths and at the same time meeting the needs of the market.
You know about the N-power graduate programme which as we speak has 500,000 youths engaged across the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. There is no single local government area that you will not find N-Power there. Let’s also remember that but for the dedicated commitment of Mr. President, we won’t even have the N-Pawer programme. We started this programme in the heat of recession, December 2016 was when we actually recruited the first badge. So if there was no strong commitment to the youths and to Nigerians in general, that was going to be one programme we would have ditched.
Now, we are not just ditching out money because each of them get N30,000 monthly stipend which as we speak, none of them is being owed. Every one of them has been paid to date, which is not the case in many states as you would know. Our N-Power volunteers in some local schools in every community are sometimes envied by civil servants where they worked together because they are never owed.
What we also did was that we are not just going to pay you, we are going to use this investment Mr. President is making in your life to impact the communities. By impacting the communities through this paid programme you are also impacting your life. Because, the biggest challenge employability tells us is that they don’t have the requisite work experience post NYSC, the youths will come back and say how am I going to get the work experience if you didn’t take a risk on me.
This programme now solve that issue because they are now able to work and apply the work to align with our ERGP, we focus on public primary and secondary schools in the state, the primary health centers which aligns with the reform health plan of Mr President to revive the primary health centers in every state. And we focus on the agric farms and it goes without saying our reforms on that agriculture are across all communities.
The most interesting part is what we have done differently, we work collaboratively with all the 36 states of the federation including the FCT irrespective of party affiliation, the programme is for all Nigerians. When we did the batch 1, the highest number went to Rivers State. The last time I checked, Rivers State is a non-APC state but it didn’t matter the party colouration, we worked that way and we deployed.
Another thing is that technology has been the main backbone of this programme and we have worked with technology partners, Nigerian youths as well. Our technology partners is a Nigerian company made up of Nigerian youths and every technology we have deployed has been home grown, we have not had cause to bring in Indians or any other nationality to work with us on this programme.
What’s the total investment in the programme so far?
It is every simple in talking about amount that has been invested. I am saying that in Batch 1, they started earning from December 2016, so roughly we invest N72 billion annually just for Batch 1 alone. That is aside from the gadgets that they get and aside from from all the sponsored trainings that they get. For instance, all the trainings on agric for N-Agro, training for health for those who are in health, we sponsor all of that through the federal agencies, ministry of agriculture and ministry of health.
So direct in our people is N30,000 x 200,000 = N6 billion every month for the first batch which started in 2016. So they have been there for over two years, that is N72 billion multiply by two years or thereabout. But since August last year, the wage bill moved from N6 billion to N15 billion because it’s now 500,000 of them that earn N30,000 monthly. We have been on N15 billion for almost one year because by end of July it will be one year that we have been making that investment every month. So if you put it together that just tells you how much investment we have made and like I have said, we don’t owe anyone because the money is paid directly to them not through a proxy.
The Batch 2 we are just finalizing with the Bank of Industry to procure their gadgets and get it out to them.
There are plans by the federal government and governors of the 36 states of the federation to recruit N-Power beneficiaries for community policing. What’s the level of your involvement in this?
We know the security challenges we have and we also know the challenges and limitations of the Nigeria Police Force. We know that they wanted to recruit another 10,000 but the governors felt as Chief Security Officers (CSOs) of their states, 10,000 in the whole of Nigeria is small and how many are you going to give every state. They thought we have N-Power volunteers that are community based, the beauty of this programme is that it is so transformational because they impact their community where they reside unlike the NYSC where you are yanked from your base and taken somewhere else. Also remember in N-Power, beneficiaries must be post-NYSC graduates except you are in the non-graduate programme which I will speak about or you are in NCE programme which obviously you are not deployed for NYSC.
That is the beauty that the governors saw and realize that these are foot soldiers and no state has less than 10,000 N-Power beneficiaries now. Ten multiply by 37 is 370,000 and that tells you that some states have more than 10,000 beneficiaries. Like Osun state has 17,000, FCT has 14,000 and when you divide that into local councils, it tells you how many foot soldiers they have. So the governors realize, this is the community policing we have been talking about, this is an opportunity to engage our N-Power volunteers. This is something we have marketed to the governors, the ministries, departments and agencies.
For the past four years, federal government has been investing directly in lives, so these people should be your right of first refusal. So if police, immigration wants to recruit, why not first offer the opportunity to those who qualify within this programme, so that as they are going out more people will come in. That is the promise Mr. President and his vice made during the campaign, that we are not even going to reduce N-Power, we are going to expand it. That explains why you have been hearing the figure one million. That means if we can move some of these people into other opportunities, we will have space to bring in more Nigerian youths into the programme. You will get the re-skilling, re-tooling, as well as so you too can go out and merged into opportunities. So yes, we are working with the NGF because we supply the data to them and Nigeria Police.
What’s the outcome of your engagements with the heads of centres to review your programme?
Entrepreneurship is a non-graduate programme which we use to address entrepreneurship, skills training, vocational skills training and what have you. Remember that another name we use to describe Mr. President is Mr. Inclusion and so the whole social investment programme was designed as an inclusion programme. The programme has everybody from a child to the aged. With school feeding we feed our children in schools, we also take care of our rural women who cook the food and our rural farmers who we buy from to cook for the children. With conditional cash transfers we also take care of our widows, the elderly in all the poor communities. With Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) we take care of our enterprising business people, the market money/trader money we take care of traders and lastly with N-Power we take care of the youths.
In taking care of the youths we needed to be careful so it won’t look like an elitist programme so it won’t look like we are taking care of only graduates. So that was why we designed the non-graduates programme. But I can tell you that 50 percent of the beneficiaries of non-graduate programme are already graduates, who are not looking for white collar job but want to learn a trade. Recall I said we created the non-graduate programme based on sectors, the N-Built deals with vocational skills for construction industry and automobile industry and more recently we added hospitality industry.
We also have the N-Tech which deals with training of our young people on software development, we have 4,000 of them. We are just about to role that out but we have rolled out already the first series of the hardware which we call N-Tech Hardware where we will train 6,000 young Nigerians, 1,000 per geo-political zone how to repair this smart phones, laptops and all that. The reason for that is that…remember I said we have our 200,000 devices, that is 200,000 devices in the market that are at community level. So if something happens, it freezes and all that you will have to come to the city, so we needed to train new set of young people that can really be repairing these things at community level.
Another component is N-Creative, here they learn animation, graphics, script writing, videography and all of that. We just launched the one for the 17 southern states in Benin recently and the one for northern states will take off in another two months in Abuja.
The last one is Social Investment Innovations Hubs, where we have one hub per geo-political zone but north central zone will be here in Abuja, North East is Yola, North West – Kaduna, South East – Enugu, South South – Benin, South West – Akure.
What we did with the skills in the N-Built, was to work with the Technical Colleges as training centers and other centers that are training on these technical skills after we did assessment and they passed. To pass it means you must have the equipment, the instructors and the structures because we recruit and send trainees to them. As at last year we had 250 centers but by early this year, we now have 401 centers that are participating in the N-Built programme. So far we have trained 20,000 in Batch 1 and another 20,000 already in Batch 2 began their trainings in March just before the elections and will train for another one year. Out of this number, construction has 28,000, automobiles getting close to 10,000 and hospitality getting about 2,600 trainees.
What we do is work with the government councils like the council of registered builders or Nigeria, they regulate all that happens in construction industry, we work with national automotive design development council and with the hospitality council.
Do Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) benefit from your programme?
Yes. One is Mohammed who lives in Bama local government. His story is such that he went to work and by the time he got back his house was raze down. According to his story, he rode to Maiduguri with his bicycle and his rosary and of course his family had dispersed. He didn’t know who survived and who didn’t until months later. His certificates had gotten burnt and he became a resident in the IDP camp. Some of them heard of N-Power in the camp, applied and they got selected without knowing anybody. From the savings from their stipend, five months later he had moved out of the camp and rented a place in Maiduguri. In May 2018 when the Vice President went to launch the innovation hub in Yola, he was the one that walked up to us and reminded us that he was the Bama story we met in Maiduguri. He said he was hired by NTA and he is now the correspondent of NTA in Yola at that event.
Such is the story of N-Power, whether it is IDPs or whatever. With our conditional cash transfer, we are focused on IDPs, all IDPs are part of those enumerated for the cash transfers and even the school feeding programme.
Your job creation programme is centred around youth. How about other groups such as those who have lost their jobs, retired and what have you?
We have only spoken about social investment programme, even though I have said we have not excluded anybody from the little child to the elderly. But anybody in that category can be beneficiaries of the GEEP loan, trader money, market money or any of those opportunities. It could be the farmers producing the food for the school feeding. Let’s understand that the economic programme is wider than the social investment but it was important we take care of these people who before now have been excluded in any of our national planning.
But beyond that, the ERGP already addresses the multi-sectors and you and I know that Mr. Vice President champions the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) clinics it doesn’t have cross country or age limits. We are bringing in the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency ( SMEDAN), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), to see how we can help the small businesses. He also championed the ease of doing business because a lot of these people who are not youths, would have gone into small business, export, farming etc. So all of these policies address them one way or the other.
For those exiting the programme, how do they have access to startup funds?
That is one of the broad areas we are looking at as exit options. We have brought our GEEP counterpart to the table, who are already designing what could be the startup capital for each N-Power programme. The beauty of N-Power beneficiaries is that no matter what segment they were in, they learnt the business of cooperatives very well, understanding that my own N10,000 savings cannot do much but if 10 of us come together that is N200,000. So what we are looking at is with the startup kits we are looking to give them, cluster them as well so they can set up a garri processing cottage industry for instance. So if our startup is at N90,000, they already have what it takes to start up the cottage industry and own it.
We also have NESA which is ready to work with us in the 15 economic agric value chains that we have and we have spoken to CBN which is ready de-risk because they know they have market for the produce. We are also speaking to state governors to give land through anchor-borrowers programme to these youths in agriculture. We are also working with BOI to give small loans.
We are also looking at taking up opportunities like community policing, of any copy wants to hire a number of people, we link them through job matching. That is why each time Mr. President engages that he tells them, nobody is going to throw you back to the streets. The assurance to N-Power volunteers is that nobody is throwing any of them back to the streets because throwing them back to the streets negates the purpose of why we started it. So we ensure that you exit into something, it may not be Hilton comfort but some kind of comfort that enables us to bring in more people and recycle them as well and give them opportunity life line.
Let us remember that as we expand the economy with all these programmes, we continue to create more opportunities for our young people and our not so young people as well.