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The Task Before N-Power Entrepreneurs

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Of all the chal- lenges of unem￾ployment in Ni￾geria, none has been as prob￾lematic as en￾suring that the
youth are productively engaged.

Apart from saving the youth from
crime and anti-social behaviour,
youth unemployment has been a
major source of despair for parents
and to some extent, a potent disin￾centive to education.

With about 4.5 million youths
entering the job market annual￾ly in Nigeria, albeit a growth rate
that is barely able to retain existing
manpower, the unemployment situ￾ation attained the level of a nation- al emergency a long time ago. Yet,
it is not for lack of trying. The Na￾tional Directorate of Employment
(NDE) programme and National
Poverty Eradication Programme
(NAPEP), among others, were es￾tablished to address the problem of
unemployment in a functional and
practical manner. To a large extent,
these programmes did make some
appreciable impact; particularly the
NDE which, to all intents and pur￾poses, remains a veritable platform
for youth empowerment and pover￾ty reduction.

Yet problems remain. The huge
variance between the number of
graduates churned out by Nigeria’s
institutions of higher learning and the
absorptive capacity of the economy
remains a major source of concern.
As many will agree, the situation is
made more intractable by the gap be￾tween knowledge acquired and the
practical demands of the job market.
Many employers of labour complain
that Nigeria’s educational curricula
are not designed to equip products
of higher institutions for the work￾place. Consequently, most products
of higher institutions are forced to
queue up, in the ever lengthening la￾bour market, most times without any
hope of ever being hired.

It is against this background that
the Muhammadu Buhari Adminis￾tration’s N-Power programme has come to acquire great currency, both
for its potentials and the controversy
that has trailed the programme.

Hap￾pily, there is good news; courtesy of
the painstaking re-engineering effort
of the Ministry of Humanitarian Af￾fairs, Disaster Management and So￾cial Development, with Hadiya Sadya Farouq as the Minister.

The recent report by Halima Oyelade, Special Assistant to the Minister on Strategic Com￾munications, to the effect that about 22 percent of the 500,
000 member-strong benefi￾ciaries of the Federal Govern￾ments N-Power programme, have now established their
own businesses, is both reas￾suring and significant. A bit of a background: It will be re￾called that the N-Power

programme is one of the planks of the Federal Government’s Social Investment Programme, the main aim of which is to lift 100 million Nigerians out of
poverty, within 10 years. Un￾der the N-Power programme, graduates and non-graduateswho meet the enrolment cri- teria are attached or seconded
to various partners and stake￾holder groups in both the pri- vate and public sectors of the society. This achieves the twin objective of bridging the man￾power gap while equipping the
participants with life skills that could trigger entrepreneurial exploits by them.

Paradoxically, as good as the programme is, though the 200,000-strong Batch A par￾ticipants started in 2016 for
a two-year programme, theyhave only just transited into other areas of activity after all of four years. The delay and
attendant problems became a
source of national embarrass￾ment as mischief makers and political jobbers, rather thansuggest practical ways of han￾dling the impasse, desperately
sought to make political capi￾tal out of a national problem.

It is in the context of the abili￾ty of the Muhammadu Buhari
Administration to actualise
the vision of the N-Power pro- gramme that this transitioning
into entrepreneurial activity, should be seen as a landmark boost to the national economy through people empowerment.
For one, the jinx has been broken. Those lingering doubts over the efficacy of the pro- gramme have now been deci￾sively dispelled. That 109, 823 participants have established their own businesses means
that, going by the dependency
quotient of about 1:10 in Nige￾ria,

approximately one million
persons would have been taken
out of poverty. It is also partic- ularly instructive that most of these beneficiaries sited their businesses in their communi￾ties. This, perhaps, is the single most significant boost to rural
youth empowerment in Nigeria, in recent years. Obviously, 109, 823 local businesses will trigger unprecedented multipli- er effects in these communities.

The other implication is that the
pernicious rural-urban migration
will be reduced by a minimum
of the same number of persons.

Herein lies the overall salutary
impact of the programme.
There is the temptation to ar￾gue that the lifting out of pov￾erty of 109, 823 persons out of the target population of 100 mil￾lion people, as a tiny speck in
a vast canvass of unemployed youth.

That will be wrong. The N-Power programme is only one, among many on-go￾ing programmes that are pro- viding various opportunities to millions of people, for self￾actualisation, entrepreneur￾ship and gainful employment.

Yet, even if these other oppor￾tunities did not exist, nothing would be taken away from themilestone recorded by the tran￾sitioning to entrepreneurship of
the 109, 823 N-Power benefi￾ciaries. We should never under￾rate the importance of humble  beginnings. Was it not the Chi￾nese who said that the journey of
a thousand miles begins with a
single step? See where they are
today! Could this be for Nigeria,
in the words of US astronaut Neil
Armstrong (following the Apollo
Moon Landing of 20 July 1969),
that one small step that will trans￾late to a giant leap for Nigerians?

Perhaps yes. Therefore, Minister
of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster
Management and Social Devel￾opment was spot on when, in ref￾erence to the transiting N-Power beneficiaries, she said: “Statistics like this gives me joy and once again, I want to say congratula￾tions; I look forward to hearing amazing testimonies and meeting beneficiaries of this programme
who will be doing great things in
the future”.

Sadiya Farouq, this unassum￾ing jinx breaker of a minister, has every reason to be happy. In the first place, the testimonies are already pouring in. Let us take just the testimony of one of the
beneficiaries, Angela Mojisola
Nabu: “I am a graduate of Lad￾oke Akintola University where I
studied Agriculture. I wanted to
go into Fish farming but was not
sure how to go about it. When
I learnt of the N-Power I decid- ed to apply and was enrolled into
the programme without knowing
anyone or being connected to
anyone. The selection was clear
and free. I gained practical ex￾perience working with the Ogun State Agricultural Development Programme Ilaro Zone (OGA￾DEP). I was able to save some
money from the stipends to startmy own Fish farm. Today I have 12 ponds, I have people working for me and I have trained one IT student and I am willing to train more.’’

For another, with the first two batches out of the way, the Min- ister’s utmost desire to enrol 500, 000 participants under Batch C of the programme can now pro￾ceed without hindrance. It is in￾structive that within 72 hours of
the opening of the enrolment por￾tal, over three million applicants had been received. While that is indicative of the level of unem￾ployment in the system, it also shows that many Nigerians rec￾ognize the programme is a life￾line that cannot be ignored.

It is reassuring that the Feder￾al Government does not intend
to orphan the beneficiaries once
they exit. No. Instead, deliberate
effort should be made to moni￾tor the progress of the business￾es, helping through mentorship, peer review facilitation and tar￾geted retreats that enrich their business acumen and commu￾nity orientation. Who knows:
these beneficiaries could become
the renaissance catalysts for civ￾ic orientation, nationalism and
communal development?

Again, the minister could not have put it
more succinctly during a digital
meeting with some of the benefi￾ciaries. Her words: “You are our model N-Power beneficiaries.

Please avail yourselves of all op￾portunities provided by govern￾ment like interest-free loans and
leverage on these opportunities
while using N-Power as a step￾ping stone”.

It could not have been more aptly put.
As the saying goes, to whom much is given, much is expect￾ed. Our privileged (yes, that is what they are!) group of bur￾geoning entrepreneurs should see themselves as both paceset- ters and role models. This posi￾tion confers on them the status of N-Power Ambassadors. In
some sense, the status also de￾mands reciprocal relationship from the Ministry; a constant  reminder that, short of micro￾managing the beneficiaries, the
system should show more than
passing interest in how they are
faring. It needs not be overem- phasized that, even as “children of the government”, they will still contend with the same is- sues that plague Nigerian entre￾preneurs: erratic power supply,
multiple taxation, bad roads and
sundry problems that constitute
the bane of entrepreneurial ac￾tivity in Nigeria. How much support that comes the way ofthis group of entrepreneurs will ultimately determine the abili￾ty of the programme to spear￾head the novel entrepreneurial renaissance envisioned by itspromoters.

Going by the passion, sa￾gacity, presence of mind and commitment of Minister Sadi￾ya Farouq, qualities that ex￾plain the turn around of the programme, Nigerians can re￾main optimistic that, with the support of the National Assem￾bly and other stakeholders, N￾Power will ultimately emerge
as the arrowhead of employ￾ment generation and entrepre￾neurial ferment now and in the years ahead.

  • Abdulrahman Yakubu wrote
    from Kaduna.
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