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‘Incorporate Skill Acquisition Into NYSC’s Core Objectives For Sustainable Impact’

Ijibadejo
Posted: Jul 12, 2016 at 6:55 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Engr. Dotun Ijibadejo, Coordinating Director (Africa), FutureHope, a UK-based non-government organisation with interest in youth development and training and food production/agribusiness spoke with Oyeniran Apata on plans to draw Nigerian youths back to the land, the imperative for skill acquisition and other issues. Excerpts:

 

Youth development has become a major concern to many organisations like yours and all tiers of government. Why are the youths attracting so much attention at this period of the nation’s development?

The NGO basically is kicker for children, the youths, young adults and families. We run programmes that will restructure this category of Nigerian citizens and of course ensure a sustainable future for them in several ways, especially in the area of healthcare delivery, education and agriculture by redirecting their abundant energies into productive ventures. This will guarantee and support a sustainable food programme for the country at this time that the nation is facing a multiplicity of challenges.

With a predominant youthful population and government efforts at diversifying from a mono-economic base into other areas like mining, agriculture and tourism, not a sizeable number of youths that have taken into farming. What is the situation and where does Nigerian youths fall in the scheme of agriculture?

The truth of the matter is that many years ago the youths were strongly and extensively active in agriculture and allied sectors. But with the discovery of crude oil, the youths abandoned the village and rural areas and moved to the cities to partake in the ‘golden fleece’ offered by the petrol dollar. They moved in droves from the different parts of the country to be part of the rush for crude oil fortune. But now it has dawned on everybody that we have to face the reality that the era of oil dollar is fast disappearing and dying.

The youths are coming back to where they used to be because the elderly left in the villages are finding it difficult to till the land, which the youths can do effectively. Now the youths are moving back to agriculture and I think this is the only way this country can move out of its present economic and food crisis predicament.

If youths are returning to the fields to farm in a number that is apparently not encouraging to guarantee the much needed respite, what steps or measures can the government take to trigger mass interest in the sector to ensure sustainable farming and food production?

Take the case of the NYSC scheme. It has yet to woo a good number of young Nigerian graduates participating in the compulsory national service to agriculture. It is stuck to the four cardinal points of its founding fathers – orientation, passing out, primary assignment and community development service (CDS). We must understand that the world we are is dynamic and things are fast changing. People are fast adapting to changing times. At the time the scheme was established in 1973, the need for its establishment, though still relevant today, requires some adjustment to reflect the present day realities and the growing needs of the country.

Specifically, the CDS needs to be redirection. The reality on ground is that the Nigerian youth needs to acquire a skill in addition to academic qualification in order to fit into modern day job requirements and competencies. The CDS currently does not take into consideration skill acquisition and entrepreneurship programmes meant to take care of rising cases of youth unemployment and restiveness. The CDS component of the NYSC should be redirected to accommodate skill acquisition and entrepreneurship development (SAED). The SAED programme has created lots of entrepreneurs among Nigerians who have gone through the NYSC. Many youths through the programme have rediscovered their God given talents and creativity hitherto undeveloped through their stay at the tertiary institutions.

Perhaps, what many did not understand is that the SAED is also CDS project on its own because anyone learning a skill when he is deployed to a school will impart such knowledge gained in a particular endeavour to the children and students.

For example I ran an international school of languages – German, Spanish, French, Italian – where corps members learn a combination of these international languages. These sets of corps members are also encouraged to also transfer the knowledge gained to students at the various schools where they posted for primary assignments. The corps members that have undergone and mastered the languages, which most of the time are not taught in Nigerian schools, are extending them to students for free. Thus making the children global citizens. Is this not part of CDS?

In the area of employment opportunity, it is what you have that others don’t probably possess that distinguishes you and puts the beneficiary in a better position for good job and business opportunities in this competitive world. Knowledge in Italian, German and French would stand out a candidate for international job placements.

The NYSC scheme should be made to develop agriculture. Not less than 300,000 youths are enrolled for the scheme annually. If this number can be made to go into agriculture Nigeria can be turned into a world food producing country and feed the rest of the world. There will be employment for every one and food will be available for everyone just as we will also have enough to export and make more foreign income. It will usher in a dramatic change for the nation. Agriculture is the only hope for now and that is why our NGO is looking into this critical sector. To realise this objective we are asking government to provide land and necessary supports.

How can CDS and skill acquisition be integrated such that personal development through SAED and community services will not suffer at the expense of one another?

How can someone on N19,800 monthly stipend living in a place like Apapa attend CDS at Eti-Osa Local Council Area from 9am to 12 noon and is asked to return to Ikeja for skill acquisition programme in fashion designs, leather works, or language school etc. on the same day. How can such a person combine a journey from Apapa to Eti-Osa to Ikeja and return to his or her PPA and home? This is cumbersome. It is impossible while the stress is immeasurable. Cost of transportation is high and unaffordable for a corps member; all of these put together are what is killing the interest of corps members in the SAED programme and opportunity to acquire a skill that will serve as option B plan after service where a white-collar job is not available. The SAED should be included in the cardinal focus of the NYSC or combined with CDS.

Are you proposing that skill acquisition be made compulsory for serving corps members?

Yes. I have been with the NYSC since 2000 and I can tell you that most of the corps members that failed to enlist in the skill acquisition are still loitering around after service year in search of jobs. I have been meeting corps members that serve the state 17 years ago still looking for what to do.

Meanwhile, someone that obtained skill in fashion designing is making money with the second certification in addition to his or her academic certificate. The option left by government for corps members is also part of the problem why some of them will finish the service and still grope around on what to do since office jobs are fast disappearing. If it is made compulsory, whether you need it or not, it will be useful someday as money making venture or added knowledge.

Wouldn’t your proposal deny communities the benefits of CDS projects if it is dropped for skill acquisition? The only primary school in Agodo Alara community in Ikorodu, Lagos State was a CDS project built by Lillian Okafor, a female corps member. What is your take on this?

Whatever skill corps members acquire in SAED can still be transferred to impact on the lives of rural communities and residents positively. It does not have to be building of schools or infrastructure development; it could be manpower development. If you learn fashion designing it can be transferred to the students that will make them better persons.

There are various aspects of life that communities can be affected positively. Some of the young girls and boys you find selling things on the street and running after vehicles can also be assembled to acquire useful knowledge of fashion and hair dressing or photography that will put an end to the risk involved in street trading and begging. I stand here to say that all entrepreneurship or skill acquisition programmes have had positive effects on the lives of their beneficiaries. It also contributes to manpower development in rural communities.

When a child is trained in German, French or Spanish language that puts the child or young graduates at an advantage to take up jobs with multinationals.

 One recurring challenge in the SAED programme is the question of incompetence, quality and availability of trainers in specialised skills. How can this be reconciled so that we don’t end up training artisan and technicians that are mediocre?

Corps members are paying highly subsidised price to acquire skills. It is not convenient for trainers in certain skill areas that are not available in far flung parts of the state at that price. It is advisable that corps members in rural Lagos should please be contented with the trainers and skill areas that are available and forestall travelling long distances for the exercise. A programme that is not available in riverine areas really does not call for interest.

Take for instance, teaching of foreign language, nobody expects my organisation to relocate to such places to rent new apartment and probably take qualified people to run the programme and put up a language studio afresh. At whose cost will all of these be?

A training exercise that goes for a minimum of N40,000 corps members are made to pay N10,000 and one that goes for N30,000 they also pay the same cost. German and Spanish at N60,000 for outsiders,  corps member pay N6,000 only.

 

Talking about tackling youth unemployment and the recent ban on street trading by the Lagos State government. What can government do to redirect the energy of these youths into gainful ventures such that they will not be rendered redundant or be driven into anti-social behaviours?

Gainful engagement was what the Lagos State government should have put in place before sending these young boys and girls away from the streets. You must first create opportunities that will serve as an alternative for them to go into before sending them away from the streets.

Stopping them from street trading is not the best. When they don’t embrace such options like vocational training centres then you can go after them. Government can open up vocational trainings in fashion designing, hairdressing and make-up where they will be trained free of charge. When you are sending them away from what they are doing during the day you are driving them into the night as armed robbers, prostitution, into child kidnapping and other anti-social behaviours that have social implications and to the economic development of the country in general. It is not right for government to do that; they should look for a way to take care of these people before driving them away from where they are making little money.

 How has your organisation affected the lives of street urchins that abound where your NGO is located?

Future Hope UK has been operating and making great impact in the United Kingdom but it is still fresh in Nigeria. We will address this because we have programmes for education, health, and recently the president of the organisation sponsored the surgery of a patient by paying N146 million from the purse of the organisation. Right now we are facing agricultural issues and how to promote agribusiness in the country.

We want to draw as many people as possible back to the lands. We are interested in meeting the needs of people who are directly involved in agriculture so that they can farm with ease and produce food for feeding and exportation.

We are meeting with the All Farmers Association, Osun State Chapter purposely to interface with them on possible areas of assistance. We are also concerned about new entrants who have shown passion for the sector and mentor them. We want to train people in areas of their interests like aquaculture, fisheries, crop, and preservation among others. Also, we will also look into the areas of storage facility that has become a great challenge to farmers in Nigeria for farm produce in order to reduce wastage.

 What is your position on the controversy surrounding grazing reserves for cattle rearing and how will this affect allocation of arable land at the expense of food production?

It is a fantastic idea to reserve land for animal grazing. I don’t see why people are not in favour of the idea. Cattles moving all over the country is a threat to food production because they destroy farmlands. Somebody who has planted and invested on a farm will only wake up the following day to find a farmland that has suddenly gone bare and eaten up by cattle. Loses caused by cattle eating up farmland has a lot of negative effects on the country and individual farmers. Keeping the animals in an enclave is the best idea.

The land or ranch is a small area for the animals to eat whatever they needed. With the idea farmers can plant and go to sleep without keeping vigil day and night over their farmland?

There have been lots of discussions on diversification into agriculture and very few people are working the talks?

That has been the pattern of administration in Nigeria. Once they come up with a project they just mention it and at the end of the day the outcome is best imagined. Remember the 10% cassava inclusion in bread production that turned out to be a colossal loss to investors and a disaster for many. Government should support NGOs by giving land, incentives while they do the talk.

NGOs are integral part of governance. We are running a summit on agriculture where they can come and interface with experts on how we can grow the food for the nation. We will continue to engage the government to make success of agriculture in Nigeria.

What is your take on the FG’s school feeding programme?

The programme is not a way of promoting anything positive. It does make any difference to me. What will make a difference is providing opportunities for their parents to fully utilise their time in the area of sustainable farming and raise money to feed their children well. If government gives food today are they going to give food to Nigerian children for life? What happens on weekends; is it the government that will feed the children? To me it is a hopeless programme. Government should look at what they can do with money. It is also another avenue to embezzle money. Government should put the huge sums of money into agriculture.