By Collins Adaka
DELTA State has been on the march since May 29, 2015, when Senator Ifeanyi Okowa was sworn in as the governor. The governor has since been applying a magic wand in dealing with one of the most cancerous, intractable problems facing the country which is youth restiveness and the unprecedented unemployment rate amongst the youths.
With every passing year, graduates are being churned out in their thousands, but about 80 per cent of these graduates have no chance of being absorbed for any meaningful employment. So, what becomes of them?
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No wonder these unemployed youths channel their energies into anti-social vices like robberies, kidnapping, yahoo-yahoo, and other forms of criminality. To them, that is the only way to survive and or make ends meet since their perception is that the society has been unfair to them.
Uninterestingly, the country’s unemployment rate is soaring by the day. According to the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, Nigeria’s unemployment rate is to reach 33.5 per cent by year 2020. This is alarming and frightening. Something urgently needs to be done by the government of the day to prevent this gloomy situation.
In Delta State, the governor’s approach in tackling the problem is worthy of emulation by other states in the federation. In May 2015, when Okowa assumed leadership of the state, he set up the Job and Wealth Creation Unit ably manned by an erudite scholar, Prof. Eric Eboh. The rationale for the state government’s job and wealth creation strategy is the high and rising rate of youth unemployment and the need to harness the untapped potentials of the youth for self-employment, wealth creation, economic diversification, peace and social harmony in Delta State.
In line with the SMART agenda, the job and wealth scheme is aimed at creating jobs and wealth, diversifying the economy through the development of non-oil sectors, engaging youths in productive enterprises, nurturing entrepreneurs and leaders and promoting communal peace and security.
The office of the chief of job creation officer was designed as a special purpose vehicle, SPV, in the governor’s office. The specific responsibility of the office is to plan, design, manage and coordinate job creation programmes of the state government.
In structure, design and implementation, the job and wealth creation scheme, a.k.a Okowaplus, is focused on equipping the participants with life skills, develop their leadership qualities, increase their personal effectiveness, harness their productive potentials and to enable them to become entrepreneurs, managers and leaders.
Today, Delta State is operating some entrepreneurial initiatives which include skills training and entrepreneurs programme, STEP; Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programmes, YAGEP; Production and Processing Support Programme, PPSP; micro-credit and a host of others.
According to the Chief Job Creation Officer, Prof. Eric Eboh, “By design, the job creation strategy involves direct and indirect approaches. The direct approach involves the design and implementation of job creation programmes and interventions to enable unemployed youths set up, own and run their own businesses and enterprises.
On the other hand, the indirect approach measures interventions and activities of the state government which foster the growth and sustenance of existing small and medium businesses and facilitate the inflow of new private sector investments that create new jobs”.
Governor Okowa’s dexterity in the establishment of the job creation and wealth scheme has resulted in taking no fewer than 4,200 youths off the streets. They are now entrepreneurs who are employing others. Not that they were no attempts by past administrations in the state to tackle unemployment issues, but the difference with Governor Okowa is evidenced in the professionalism and transparency of implementation which quickly elicited programme credibility and wide acceptance from the target audience and stakeholders.
Thus, from inception to date, it has been observed that the story of the job creation scheme has been a succession of notable milestones in the training, establishment and mentoring of unemployed youths in various skills and enterprises cutting across the 25 local government areas of the state.
Another milestone of Dr. Okowa’s entrepreneurial initiative is the revolution in the agricultural sector for economic diversification to reduce undue dependence on proceeds from oil. Towards this end, the production and processing support programme, PPSP, which is an agricultural value chain support programme was inaugurated in October 2015. Basically, the programme sought to upscale the use of modern inputs and technologies and increase outputs and productivity of crop, livestock and fishery enterprises.
According to Prof. Eboh, the chief job creation officer, “the PPSP story is about agricultural value chain development using target priority commodities across the state particularly cassava, fishery aquaculture, vegetables and oil palm. The logic is to support viable agricultural production and processing enterprises to increase their outputs and thereby employ additional Labour and create wealth”.
True enough, Dr. Okowa has changed the narrative of governance in Delta State through the various revolutionary initiatives of the uplifting of his people from the shackles of poverty, unemployment giving them hope and a future to behold.
It is greatly envisaged that before this his second tenure gets to its twilight, a lot more deltans would have been taken off the streets to become enterpreneurs.