Dr. Kingsley Emu is the Commissioner for Economic Planning in Delta State. A seasoned banker, he is charged with evolving options for creating a clement entrepreneurial environment for the state’s younger generation for whom Gov. Ifeanyi Okowa is targeting to solve the unemployment challenges. He spoke on the journey so far.
Your government came in at a time when oil prices are much lower, sales figure severely reduced. How has the government coped with the challenges?
Yes, projects are being executed and performance up to the month of September in terms of actions is about 58 per cent and that is a good pass especially for having a project under very tight and challenging environment. Very clearly, there has been a lot of prudence. The Governor is focused on delivering the goods to the people in terms of infrastructure. Over 60 projects out of over 100 projects are completed and about 30 percent are in advanced stages of completion. He has tarred both roads in the urban and rural areas and in particular the riverine areas where he has spent in excess of N64 billion on projects. It all boils down to micro management. A lot of people may not be happy about it but the times demand that we do that and the operating environment is unfriendly and dynamic. A shining example is our internally generated revenue.
In his inaugural address, the governor’s major point was the appointment of the Office of Chief Job Creation Officer? Why was that so important?
He was looking for a panacea to address the myriad of challenges that have become commonplace in our environment, not just in Delta State, but in Nigeria. It is only expedient that he has a platform to tackle the problem of unemployment.
What is the programme like? We know its all about creating jobs for the younger generation. Beyond that, what is the road map?
The governor has a very rich background and that actually guided most of the things he did. First is that he has been a grassroots politician and that gave him a major insight into the workings of government and the attendant challenges. He believed that if he engaged the private sector, he would create the enabling environment to tackle unemployment. How was he going to do that? Before the elections, we had to hold series of stakeholders meetings to get to where we can begin to drive policies, conceive policies, develop policies and address them frontally. It was obvious that we had a robust engagement with the private sector. Very clearly from day one, even though oil and gas account for well over 80 per cent of GDP, it accounts for less than 20 per cent of jobs.
We have sufficient land in Delta State and it was obvious that we needed to address both technical and vocational education for youths and then strongly intervene for people who are above the youth level and begin to provide platforms for them to expand the potentials that they have, and that would begin to drive job creation. So, what we did is that using the platform of the chief job creation officer, we were able to develop five products that were tailor-made to suit these specific target audiences. We have the YAGEP programme which is for youths between 18 to 35 years, and all they needed to do was to focus on aquaculture, select enterprises in aquaculture, rice cultivation, tomatoes, vegetables, and there has been a string of successes. Today, we are reaping in excess of 650 of them and most of them are graduates. When you get a graduate deployed into this, they begin to appreciate what they are doing. For the STEP programme, it is where we have graduates as tilers, plumbers, ICT, caterers, hairdressers, welders. You begin to address the available jobs in the environment. What we did was to look at the labour market and build up their skills around the available jobs for them to key in very strongly and that has helped out. Today, under these programmes, we have in excess of 2,324 people and over 80 per cent of them are graduates. We also have the PPSP that is an intervention into the small and medium farm produce. For the first time, we are able to separate the provisional farmers from the political farmers. What did we do? We send inputs directly to farmlands, not in their offices, not in their homes, not in a central place, give us the farm address and then we would drop the inputs. We began to give them money for land preparation once we identified what they needed. We have rice processing mills in the three senatorial districts, also as an involvement in processing. We ensure that we equip them to be able to drive the economy. For fish, we have done quite a lot.
The last exhibition was a celebration of success in the originality of it that every item you found there was created by the beneficiaries of that scheme and so many people made so much money in the process. You also have micro credit to ensure financial involvement, and to support them financially, we had to expand our micro credit scheme. Well over N835 million have been deployed in the state, also to market them. All of these is to build prosperity. Prosperity is for those who are ready to work, we are not getting across to practically everybody but we are systematic and methodical about it.
To promote agriculture further, we moved to mechanized agriculture. We inherited 46 tractors and we are able to professionalize them. In the past, it used to be run by tractor hire services but we decentralized them in the 10 federal constituencies, for proximity and a 60 per cent subsidy. That is bringing tools closer to their doorsteps to facilitate mechanized agriculture. The job creation office is a very well structured programme.
Talking about the fair, it was an interesting array of products out there. The concern is about sustaining the programme and giving these young men and women a bigger market. AGOA is one area that Nigeria has failed woefully; other African countries are able to make inroads into the American market. What’s the game plan in making sure that the products are good enough and they get the opportunity of plugging into the AGOA platform?
First is to provide for the local market and make them sustainable. To be able to do that, even the first set of graduates (2015) are still within our radar. What do I mean by that? We have mentors unleashed on them in their field of endeavours, and not just having those mentors around them we also pay them for oversight functions. These mentors must be chosen in their area of specialization and must be practicing professionally. The Governor also set up a youth monitoring and mentoring agency under his office. That agency moves round to have an oversight function between the mentor and the mentee.
When they raise issues of financial support in terms of operational capital, we give them the critical cushioning and we have had them in clusters and in cooperatives to share experiences and expertise, which is even a more winning success factor. Like the last outing we had, you see the very best, and there is a pull factor. It was very exciting, some people say they sold N700,000, some N600,000 and they are happy and didn’t want that fair to close.
By taking them to exhibitions, we are also beginning to introduce the concept of proper packaging. Also don’t forget that part of the development in the agro business value chain where the medium to long term sustainability plan of the state is to run the agro industrial park which has been approved. The $22 million park which the government owns 40 per cent and the private sector own 60 percent. We already have anchor tenants for crops, some other people are coming for cassava and some other people are coming for aqua culture. So we are very excited about the development. What happens now is that we have moved that number to the huge scheme running along those lines, and that is the direction we took, we empower people, teach them best practices and keep away this initial burden that has been saddled on the steering committee and job creation and focus on strategies and issues of tactics to address those problems.
By the way, about 300 companies are coming to Delta State. Agro All Africa is taking off in February with 1500 hectares of land, another 300 hectares of land in Ugbodu axis and that is strictly vegetables. We also have Norseworthy, the agro end of Rain Oil has just acquired 3,000 hectares at Akwukwu, the whole idea is to grow oil palm along the value chain and take them through processing. We also have Agro step, we have a lot of suitors and a lot of people who are interested.