By IKENNA ASOMBA
As the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) penultimate Thursday, churned out no fewer than 200,000 young graduates who had completed the mandatory service to their fatherland, eyebrows have once again been raised on efforts being made by the Federal Government to ensure the country’s teeming youths are rightfully engaged after graduation. The Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Temi Kale, had recently put the number of jobless Nigerians at 20.3 million and with the 2011 Batch C corps members joining the figure, the worry deepens.
It will be recalled that in October 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration came up with a youth entrepreneurship programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Communication Technology (CT), the Ministry of Youth Development and the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development tagged; The Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN), which it said would generate jobs through encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youths in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas, thus leading to further job creation.
As the YOUWIN programme enters its second cycle, billed to be completed in September 2013, Federal Government’s optimism of creating over 80,000 to 320,000 new jobs for the unemployed Nigerian youths over a three-year cycle, has received knocks and kudos from various quarters.
Even though the Federal Government claims it has given over 1,000 youths, who distinguished themselves in the screening and training offered them in various vocations a take-off grant of about a billion Naira, a foremost Micro-Entrepreneur, Mr. Frederick Nwokeleme, President, Association of Micro-Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN), has argued that the over-centralisation of the YOUWIN project portends a clog in the wheel of success for the initiative.
Against the backdrop of claims recently made by the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that the entrepreneurial awards would be spread across the six geopolitical zones of the country, Nwokeleme pointed out that unless Federal Government involves grassroots stakeholders engaged in micro-enterprises in the project, it will trail the path of failure as did the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) and the Micro Finance Bank initiative it introduced sometime in 2005.
It’s a game of luck
Having closely monitored the first cycle of the YOUWIN project, Nwokeleme opined that as the initiative is operated like a game of luck, it portends a great doom for its real intentions. “It’s saddening that the project is open to all manner of persons. Even some people who don’t have genuine business plans could come up with good proposals and win. Some may win N10 million, whereas what they just need as start-up capital is N100,000. This is waste of resources,” he said.
He added that in a populous nation like Nigeria, with a worrisome jobless youth population, the impact of the Federal Government’s scheme where about 1,000 people get grants, is too meager and a waste of resources on few people, considering the fact that billions of Naira will be expended on them.
YOU WIN can’t address the problem
The micro-entrepreneur in an emotion-laden voice, argued that YOUWIN project may not address the unemployment crises, noting that it amounts to solving problems from the top.
His words; “The YOUWIN project wouldn’t have been necessary if only our micro- finance banks have not failed us. Our micro finance banks were statutorily established to support and promote small and medium scale businesses, but they have woefully failed young entrepreneurs with the outrageous interest rates they charge on loans.
“The government of the day should stop solving problems from the top, and begin from the grassroots. Therefore, registered and genuine micro-entrepreneurial associations should be partnered with and made to disburse these grants. Since they are close to the grassroots people, they can monitor how judiciously they use the grants given them.
“The YOUWIN project can’t help industrialise this nation, so government should stop playing to the gallery with the project.”
Other discouraging factors
On the increase of foreign products in the Nigerian market, he opined that it discourages young graduate entrepreneurs from micro-enterprise. This, he attributed to government’s porous policies on importation, which forces young entrepreneurs to relocate to neighbouring countries like Ghana, Benin and Togo to invest.
Also, he blamed the over-zealousness of men of the Nigerian Police Force to make quick money by through dehumanizing poor and young entrepreneurs. “Just go to Ojota to purchase a mere plastic rubber as raw material, the Police will accost you, asking all sorts of irrelevant questions to delay you.
All these factors are disheartening and they seem not to encourage young graduates to engage in micro-entrepreneurship. In fact, this nation can’t be industrialized as one of the world’s top 20 best economies in 2020, if no drastic measures are taken to address this unemployment problems.
However, Yinka Fisher, Centre Manager, Small & Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Lagos Office, on his part, lauded FG’s YOUWIN project, noting that “the initiative is a right step in the right direction, as there are stakeholders who check the awardees at impulse to ensure they efficiently manage their grants.”
Lamenting the nation’s dire unemployment crises, Fisher said issues such as harsh economy, unstable education curricula, poor quality of graduates, high pricing for registration and regulatory agencies’ bureaucratic registration procedures also contribute largely to the graduates unemployment menace.
According to him: “When you compare the nation’s economy in the 80’s and today, you will realize for instance that the value of N1, 000 then is about N10, 000 today. This situation has multipliers effect in all sectors of the economy, which makes industries financially unable to go into our NYSC camps to recruit fresh graduates en masse, unlike before.”
On the quality of today’s graduates, he said: “There’s also the challenge of employable and unemployable graduates today, because of the poor quality of education our children receive today in our ivory towers. When churned out, industry operators usually find out that most of them are not good starters, especially if they don’t have good mentors.”
Addressing this issue, he suggested that “there must be change of curricula. Our curricula must be restructured away from the old British style of looking for someone to employ you after graduation to a situation where our graduates acquire basic entrepreneurship skills, while in school.
Until we restructure our curricula to nurture graduates who will become their own boss, development would never return to this nation,” adding, “in our efforts to salvage this situation, SMEDAN and other stakeholders are going round tertiary institutions, NYSC orientation camps and faith-based institutions to nurture and empower youth entrepreneurs.”
Advocating for the promotion of youth micro enterprises, Fisher implored regulatory agencies like The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to drastically reduce the high pricing of registering products, and the tedious nature of gaining product certification, without compromising high quality. He also tasked graduate youths who want to go into micro-entrepreneurship to endeavour to commence registration processes of their products, even though they are not yet set to kick-off business.
Amidst these factors, the pertinent question remains: after spending between 4 and 7 years in tertiary institutions and compulsorily serving their fatherland for a year, what next for the teeming graduate youth populace, yet unemployed?