Youth development challenge
THE youth constitute critical elements in societal development. Whatever the human and material resource endowments of any geo-political entity, no serious government can afford to neglect or overlook the youth, who indeed are the foundation for the future.
For a long period in the Nigerian experience, the youths (18-35 years age bracket) did not receive a fair deal in the developmental scheme of things. From acts of omission and commission, they suffered neglect, marginalization, discrimination and even persecution.
This sorry state of our youths clearly poses threats to national security, stability and sustainable development, which no leadership worth its salt would treat with levity. In deference to these realities, the Jonathan administration incorporated that critical element into its programme of action.
The (Nigerian) National Policy on Youth conforms to the United Nations’ guidelines and extends to Nigerian youths in the Diaspora. It succinctly rates the youth among “the greatest assets that any nation can have … They serve as a good measure of the extent to which a country can reproduce as well as sustain itself …”
Under the present dispensation, quite a number of initiatives and activities have come on-stream towards giving Nigerian youths deserved places in the economy, polity and society.
The National Youth Employment Action Plan (NYEAP]) is anchored on diversification of the nation’s economic base (particularly into agriculture and agro-business]); operation of vocational, entrepreneurial and skills development centres for tertiary level students and youth service members by states and FCT administrations; audit-evaluation, restructuring and strengthening of such job creation agencies as the National Directorate of Employment, National Poverty Eradication Programme and Industrial Training Fund, and enhancing the enabling environment for enterprise development.
The Jonathan administration stepped up gear on youth engagement with intensified collaboration with the private sector. Strategic areas of focus include small and growing businesses and entrepreneurship, vocational education and job centres, graduate employment and business process out-sourcing (IT-enhanced services), public works programme, agriculture and agro-processing, local content development and innovation, and housing and construction. Under these schemes, concrete support is being given to the organised private sector, informal sector, women and youths to lead the way in building a more-inclusive democratic and economically-stable Nigeria and hence, enable the country attain a pride of place as the economic Giant of Africa.
Entrepreneurship Development Centres have been set up in the six geo-political zones to bridge gaps in various elements of youth entrepreneurship development. To date, over 200,000 youths have benefited from the programme. The Federal Government is also setting up Comprehensive Youth Centres in those zones to be operated and managed under Public Private Partnership arrangements. Included in their schedules are demonstration farms, standardised vocational training programmes, small business bureaux for entrepreneurship training, referral and counselling programmes for youth in conflict situations, those afflicted with disease and the traumatised, and sporting & leisure facilities. Such is the attractiveness of the youth centre initiative that some of the state governments are setting up similar facilities to engage their youths constructively.
The Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) was inaugurated in the wake of the Federal Government’s partial removal of oil subsidy in early 2012. Co-ordinated by the Federal Ministry of Finance and managed by a team of proven integrity, SURE-P is complementing other development programmes of the three tiers of governance. Its mandate (which actively involves the youths) covers development of a National Safety Net programme targeted at the poor and most vulnerable members of the community on a continuous basis, rehabilitation and restoration of abandoned railway infrastructure, construction of 3,430 kilometres of standard gauge railway lines across the country, rehabilitation of abandoned road and bridge projects, creation & maintenance of a stable mass transit system, promotion of vocational training, maternal & child health care and women & youth empowerment programmes.
The attainments of the programme to date have been acknowledged across the country — in jobs generated, projects implemented and its sustainability prospects. For instance, one of its components (Public Works and Women/Youth Empowerment — PW/WYE scheme) has been generating several thousands of direct, quick employment opportunities for women and youths in labour-intensive projects.
For Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises [MSMEs], a N200 billion fund is operational to offer inexpensive, long-term support for youth and women entrepreneurs, with foci on credit, insurance, capacity building and interest draw-back. The fund is thus facilitating job/wealth creation, innovations and general economic development of the country. Tremendous boosts to the operations of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) have also engendered concrete support for the MSME sector, especially in entrepreneurship development.
The Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) has provided thousands of unemployed and underemployed graduate youths with platforms to acquire skills and experiences relevant to the labour market.
The youth enterprise with innovation in Nigeria (You WIN) programme of the present dispensation provides one-time equity grants of N1 million—N10 million to each of 1,200 selected aspiring entrepreneurs to start or expand their business concepts and cushion start-up risks. The facilities are further expected to generate some 110,000 new jobs for unemployed Nigerian youths over a three-year period. There is also provision for training 6,000 aspiring youth entrepreneurs as well as business expansion, specialisation and spin-offs, and exposure to professional networks.
The administration remains committed to the Niger-Delta Amnesty and Post-Amnesty programmes. Aside from investments in the training of affected youths in various institutes across the world, over 5,000 others are enrolled in formal educational institutions and vocational centres locally and abroad. There are now thousands of beneficiaries skilled in welding and fabrication, entrepreneurship, pipe-fitting, carpentry, plumbing, oil drilling, electrical installation, ICT, and marine-related activities. Total investments to date are in excess of N155 billion.
The Jonathan Administration re-invigorated the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) to boost Nigerian capacities in engineering, geology, geo-sciences, management, economics and other relevant fields for the oil, gas and solid minerals sectors. Aside from direct scholarships to Nigerian beneficiaries, there are donations of infrastructure, furniture, publications and libraries, machinery and equipment to several educational institutions in the country.
The NYSC Venture Price competition (operated by the Central Bank of Nigeria) promotes the entrepreneurship spirit and expertise in national youth service members, to encourage them pursues self-employment options. Their exposure includes rudiments of investment and feasibility reports, business start-ups and expansion.
Even as the youth development programmes and activities of the Jonathan administration are yielding positive outcomes, there are challenges ahead. The populations of the unemployed and unengaged youths are teeming, what with accumulated neglect over the decades and increasing number of products from the nation’s educational institutions.
Youth development in Nigeria poses a collective responsibility. Governments at all tiers, their institutions, the private sector, civil society organisations, donor agencies and endowed individuals are all stakeholders. Youths are not some strange elements in our midst, but catalysts for meaningful and sustainable development and an assured future.
• Obi is the former governor of Anambra State and the deputy director-general of the PDP National Campaign Council.
*Editors note: Mr. Obi is evidently not a youth who falls in the age bracket from whom contributions are expected in Youth Speak column. He is allowed this platform in response to interrogating punditries by youths on this page.