By Olubusuyi Adenipekun
Based on his awareness that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has a programme on sustainable educational development of the environment, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Educational Research and Development Councils (NERDC), Prof. Godswill Obioma has informed the world body of the need for it to partner with the council in training the teeming Nigerian youths in vocational skills in order to keep the society peaceful given the hydra-headed problem of youths restiveness across the country.
In this exclusive interview, he talks extensively on the project and the need for state governments, the Millennium Development Goals Office in Nigeria as well as international development partners to commit resources towards this noble project.
HOW many trainees are undergoing this training on trade and entrepreneurship skills?
Thirty trainees from each geo-political zone where we have 6 states each. Then each state will nominate six or five trainees. So, we have an average of 30 trainees from each zone. In some zones, it might be a little more than 30. We have six trades we are focusing on and it is assumed that these six trainees from each state will be spread across these six trades.
What are these trades?
They include barbing, screen printing, GSM repair and maintenance, battery charging, hair dressing and of course, there is entrepreneurship which cut across because we thought that we wouldnâ€™t let them just acquire the vocational skills but they have to start their business. That is where entrepreneurship comes in.
How did these trainees emerge from their respective states?
We gave criteria to each state. We first provided the trade to enable them know the trade in which the trainees are interested. We said that because we didnâ€™t want people to just volunteer themselves without having interest in the trades they choose. That is one criterion we gave to the states. The other one has to do with qualification. We wanted people who have attained the qualification of Junior Secondary School who, of course, couldnâ€™t proceed to Senior Secondary School. People who have passed through basic education but for one reason or the other, either because of finance or because of circumstance beyond their control, they couldnâ€™t go to Senior Secondary School.
We wanted it to be highly transparent, and with due process. We didnâ€™t want a situation where we would ask the states to nominate people and state government officials will nominate their brothers and sisters. So there was a little bit of competition in each state whereby we used NGOs as part of the nomination process. The people that eventually emerged were people that are desperately in need of these skills not those that have affiliation with people in authority. They are people that were selected from grassroots where the civil society, the NGOs and community leaders made input.
How much is involved in funding this training programme?
Let me give an example. To mount this training for 30 days will involve procuring the trainers who are professionals and keeping the trainees, keeping them for at least 30 days as the training for some of the trades will take 30 days, some will take six weeks. Trades such as barbing or battery charging will take 30 days to learn from what the experts told us. Others such as GSM repair and maintenance, screen printing may take a little longer.
And so we had to get this training venue which is like an incubation centre, the equipment are there, facilities are there. We needed also to pay the trainees some stipend daily for their breakfast and dinner. We gave them group launch. We also keep them in the hostel which is gender friendly where you have the female section and the make section. But at the end of the day we will enable them have the equipment and facilities, the equivalent of N50,000 per trainee. To mount this training, we will spend about N10 million, including the fees of resource persons, that is the trainers. But this amount is not inclusive of the equipment we have procured. If we do that for all the six geo-political zones, we are talking of N60 million. This is aside from the equipment which we have procured earlier for their training. So, the total funds that are needed for the training programme in the six-geopolitical zone is about N100 million. For the South-South alone, we are talking about N10 million for the training, about N5 million for the equipment. That gives you about N15 million.
When is the programme going to be implemented in other zones?
The training programme has been flagged off nationally in the South-South zone. For the other zones, the training centres are ready, the trainees are on stand-by, the trainers are on stand-by, all the equipment are on ground. If you mount the programme at the same time, you will make systematic error. There are issues that may arise which we are going to learn from and then close the gap. So after this training of 30 days, we would have seen the challenges and gaps which will be closed in other centres. By next month, we are going to mount the programme in the other five zones simultaneously at Abakaliki, Lagos, Minna, Kano and Damaturu.
We have a large number of out-of-school youths in this country. Donâ€™t you think that 30 trainees from each geo-political zone, making 180 trainees from the entire country is too small?
I will speak about expansion from two vectors.
The first vector is that of number of trades. We just have six of them. So we are going to scale up the number of trades. We may have three or four or six more trades, depending on resources available to us. We want to look at the vector of number of trainees. Now, we are talking of only six trainees from each state giving us an average of 30. We think about making them ten or 15 in terms of the number of trainees. In my remarks during the flag off ceremony, I did talk about the essence of sustainability and I did say that we have requested the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) office to provide more funds to sustain the programme and also to expand it in the vectors of trades and the number of trainees.
Something came out strongly from this flag off ceremony, that of the policy statement made by the Cross River State Deputy Governor on behalf of the state. He did say that the state government will buy in into this programme. In other words, that the state government will collaborate or partner with NERDC, which is a federal agency, to expand the programme within the state.
Iâ€™m exactly looking forward to it as not just being a general project but also state level-driven project, where each state will be able to buy in into the project. On our own part, we have said that in spite of the fact that the MDG funds that were not sustained beyond 2008, we have used our internal funds provided for curriculum and training to also invest them into this noble project. Having started this out-of-school skills acquisition programme for youths we will not stop it. We will always provide for it in our action plan. And Iâ€™m happy that our Governing Board has bought that idea,Â that as long as we keep getting funds through our budgetary allocation we will keep the programme running.
I sold this idea to UNESCO when I had interaction with them last year that they could come into partnership with us because UNESCO has a programme on sustainable educational development of the environment, environment in generic sense. To keep the environment peaceful you need to train these youths. Not just talking about environment in terms of physical, but talking in terms of cultural environment, social environment, architectural environment where it should be peaceful. One area to make it peaceful is to train the youths. So if we are lucky, for instance, not just funds coming from budgetary allocation or partnering with states or even from MDGS, we may likely get into the area of playing with the international development partners.