By Nnamdi Ojiego
Mallam Abubakar Nuhu Fikpo was recently confirmed as the substantive Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, by President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview, Fikpo lists measures the agency is taking to fight poverty and create wealth including the introduction of the Lady Chauffeur scheme. He also discloses his plans to retool and upgrade NDE’s training and facilities to meet the skill needs of the country. Excerpts:
You were in Oyo State recently to sign a MoU with the state government. What’s it all about?
Yes, we were in Oyo to assess what started a few months ago and to sign into action a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the state government.
The objective of this partnership is to promote skill acquisition, job creation and employment opportunities.
The government of Oyo is desirous of working closely with the NDE to impact skills on its teeming unemployed youths and women to make them skilful in areas that will make them employable.
Any plan to extend this partnership to other states?
Yes. Some proposals have been initiated by some states government. However, the partnership with Oyo is the first of its kind to have seen the light of the day. This is the first that we have started and have seen to a conclusion under my leadership. Yes, some states have indicated interest in working with us.
For instance, Osun State has indicated interest to partner with us and has gone ahead to donate a parcel of land and even structures within the land to the NDE to develop and use as our operational office as well as skills and entrepreneurship development centre. So, there are a good number of states that are willing to partner with us.
What is the core mandate of the NDE?
NDE was established in 1987 with the mandate to design and implement programmes to combat mass unemployment; articulate policies aimed at developing work programmes with labour intensive potentials; obtain and maintain a data bank on vacancies and employment opportunities and implement any other policy as may be laid down, from time to time, by the directorate. So, in a nutshell, and going by its name, NDE’s core mandate is job creation and poverty reduction.
How far has this mandate been achieved?
So far, so good. We take cognizance of the fact that the interest of the youths especially, the unemployed, may not be found only in one sector, and the fact that there are different categories of unemployed Nigerians.
For example, some went to school while others did not. There are also those with special disabilities.
In view of this, the NDE always designs projects and schemes to meet the needs of these categories of unemployed Nigerians.
To this effect, I can tell you that we have achieved a lot and still working assiduously to meet the dynamic trends of unemployment in the country.
To actualize the mandate, the directorate launched four well-articulated programmes at inception.
These are the National Youth Employment Programmes; Small Scale Industrialist and Graduate Employment Programmes; Special Works Programme; and Agricultural Programme amongst many others put in place to help empower the youths and generate employment across the federation.
At the moment, we have different schemes ongoing in various states of the federation. For instance, some states are undertaking skills in areas such as food production and packaging; interior decoration and management; and makeup and gelle making.
Only about a few hours ago, we met with the participants who are undergoing training in agricultural skills in Ibadan.
And I know that in other states, a good number of graduates has been recruited and attached to acquire practical skills in the area of their endeavours.
So, you can see that the accumulated effect of all these will amount to a reduction of unemployment as well as alleviate the poverty level of Nigerians who partake in these activities.
Again, our four core programmes are broad. They are broad in such a way that they encompass most of these social-economic sectors of the economy.
Therefore, for us to become relevant and dynamic, we always design and fashion out schemes that will be relevant at every particular time.
That is how we remain afloat, in the changing demand of the labour market.
So, we keep designing schemes relevant to whatever economic situation we find ourselves in as a country.
One of the core programmes is vocational skills development and it is under it that NDE leverages the opportunities in ICT to impact skills on people.
I have also mentioned to you that we have a window of collaboration, we are working on a collaboration with a non-governmental organization that would provide these skills on digital and ICT and impact them on Nigerians and in the end, the organization will make its contributions by giving them working tools and equipment such as laptops, for them be on their own.
After training, do you also provide startup capital?
Yes, though funding has been an issue. There are different issues why we suffer inadequate funding, but so far, so good.
We use whatever is available to provide the training and in some cases, give stipends to these unemployed persons as well as the facilitators of the training programmes.
We also make starter packs available to the trainees to show that they are capable of learning, and can establish businesses that they have learnt to become self-employed. So, we do as far as resources available to us can carry.
Aside from lack of funding, there are other very relevant schemes and projects of NDE which were relevant at the time they were initiated and still relevant today that we are not able to implement. Let me give you an example.
We used to have what we called a bloc farming scheme where people who were interested in farming were put together and the NDE acquired and made land available to them either through the state or local government.
NDE would clear the land and portions given to participants with inputs like seeds, fertilizer, herbicides, etc. This has been very relevant and fruitful but unfortunately, it is not given the attention it requires.
Also, in the early ’90s, the NDE was one of the first organizations if not the first, to introduce what is popularly known as Okada today.
At that time, we introduced it as a form of empowerment, a motorcycle loan scheme, where unemployed young people were provided with training in the areas of motorcycle riding and maintenance and in the end, motorcycles were given to them.
This initiative is still relevant today because you can hardly go to any part of the country without finding people engaging in Okada business. The other one is popularly known as Mai Ruwa (water vendor).
We called it the water trucking system. To date, it is still very relevant and profitable and people still engage in it.
Some people who have the facility do it at an advanced stage. They now use vehicles and water tankers.
This and many more schemes from the NDE still find relevance in today’s Nigeria but no longer part of NDE’s programmes.
We are also trying to introduce what we called ‘Lady Chauffeur’. Attempts were done in the past by one of my predecessors to see that this scheme comes to life.
We want to see how feasible it is to introduce the scheme where ladies will be formally involved in the transportation business.
We are also looking at exploring the tourism sector to see how we can take advantage of the potentials there to create job opportunities for our people.
So, there are so many things in the pipeline but because of paucity of fund, we can’t execute all of our initiatives and projects the same time.
Do you recommend trainees to other sister agencies for loans?
It all depends on the resources available to us. We give stipends to some while we empower others by granting them loans.
We also monitor and mentor them. And for those we are not able to grant credit facilities, we now explore our other windows, and that includes the window of collaboration, in which we collaborate with other organizations, government or private, and link them up with these beneficiaries.
In most cases, we also assist them to develop and conduct feasibility reports in the area of their interest and link them up with financial institutions for financial facilities to establish or run their businesses.
What is your take on the calls to include entrepreneurship in our education curriculum?
We are one of the advocates of that inclusion.
It’s not only entrepreneurship development that we want to be included in our school curriculum, we are also thinking of the possibility of bringing back those good old systems where children were given the choice to acquire technical and vocational skills.
Do you have any new programme or initiative you would want to introduce as the DG?
NDE under my leadership will witness many innovative schemes.
We have set the ball rolling and very soon, the impact will be felt in the system.
New schemes are being generated and formulated in other to meet the prevailing situations and the current demand in the labour market.
For instance, we are beginning what we called the Women Empowerment Collaboration Scheme, which is an open window for women.
It is open because we believe that there are peculiarities and these peculiarities vary from community to community.
So if any organization or philanthropist wants the NDE to intervene in any area and location, we will oblige them.
We will go there to determine the demand or need of that community and design schemes that will be very relevant to them. That is being pilot tested.
NDE oversaw the 774,000 job scheme. Is there a need to make the initiative a regular exercise?
Yes, because the exercise made great impacts on the lives of many poor Nigerians. The 774,000 jobs initiative has come and gone and we still believe that it was a successful project coming from the fact that Nigeria is not the first to execute a special public works program.
More so, the Nigerian case came at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic where people lost out in most of the activities they were doing.
So this project became very handy and it was embraced by so many and it is about one of the projects that have reached every local government in this country.
We believe that based on the record on the level of success, we hope that the Federal Government will see the need to let us repeat it or make it a regular project to alleviate poverty, and for financial inclusion of the poorest of the poor in the country.