On September 26, you clocked five years in the saddle. What is your assessment of the journey so far?
The journey can be captured as interesting and equally challenging. From the inception, the way and manner we saw the organisation, we have every reason to bow to God in thanksgiving for how He has taken us this far. You will recall that when we came in, the Industrial Training Fund was on its knees at the brink of collapse . There was industrial disharmony, there was restiveness among the workforce , our stakeholders were not satisfied with our service offerings and so it was internal and external crises so to say. But being an insider, we hit the ground running, encapsulated a lot of policies and unveiled the vision because for me, a leader is meant to give direction. Like it is often said in common parlance, there cannot be soldiers without a commander, just like there can’t be no commander without soldiers .
But even if you have a commander, it is not sufficient to have a commander but a commander who will have the vision, the foresight to understand the destination that the people he is commanding are headed. In the same vein, you need soldiers who will allign with the vision with the roadmap the commander gives. So, it is a mutually beneficial journey so to speak, for you to arrive at a destination. And even now, because change is a constant matter, we are not satisfied yet with the position the ITF is occupying because we still believe that we have a lot to offer this nation. So, five years down the line, I will say that a journey that was seen as insurmountable and challenging has today become a milestone, a historic development in the eyes of the Nigerian people. The ITF today is a household name, it is a dependable ally of the government. It has showcased the direction for the government, the people of Nigeria and the economy.
Unemployment remains a major challenge of Nigeria’s development. What is ITF doing to cushion the shock of unemployment?
In the face of soaring unemployment and the growing number of the poor,nations all over the world have resorted to skills acquisition and they used it as a vehicle by equipping their citizenry with competitive skills for entrepreneurship and employability. The reason is simple. For over 36 intervention programmes that ITF have introduced, we have discovered that one intervention programme gives birth to both direct and indirect jobs, and placed alongside the near impossibility of acquiring or getting paid employment skills acquisition became a ready answer to the absence of the white collar jobs. The reason is simple, you provide skills to a person, he sets up on his own, he becomes an employer of labour by bringing in people whom I categorized as indirect jobs created and they add value to the economy and not only that they stand on their own. They became the great employers of the MSE sector, and so we felt that the way unemployment has risen, we need all hands on deck among agencies of government, both the public and private sectors to come together to institutionalise TIVET in our lives so that unemployment can be drastically minimized, although, it can not be totally checked, given the population boost of our country.
A couple of days ago, I was looking at the birth rate in Nigeria when we are talking of the statistics from NBS and it showed that the birth rate in Nigeria was soaring by the day and the population of Nigeria is 65 percent between the ages of 13 and 35. So these are youths and that is why the youth burge in Nigeria is quite heavy. When put to practical and proper use, these youths will be able to move out to the world to provide skills to the rest of the world and earn direct foreign investment for Nigeria. However, leaving them without skills, without hands-on matters will create a lot of vices for our country. These include restiveness to kidnapping, banditry, prostitution among others vices in the society. So there is the need to address unemployment through the acquisition of skills. Among so many others but for me the acquisition of skills takes centre stage in the issue of addressing to the bearest minimum the unfortunate saga of unemployment in our polity.
It is for this reason that the ITF sees skills acquisition as the universal currency of the 21st century and the most sustainable vehicle for jobs creation as well as poverty reduction. You can see that even in the Nigeria revolution plan of the government, that has metamorphosed into economy recovery and growth plan, that has metamorphosed into Nigeria’s economy sustainability plan, that has also metamorphosed into the survival’s fund and the guarantee uptake are stimulus that the federal government has brought in to boost the economy. Everyone one of them centred on the provision of skills and that is why ITF refocused. Even on the platform NIRP you find out that skill is the enabler, the key enabler. There are five enablers but skill is clearly stated as the enabler that even gives rise and vein to the other enablers to make sure that plans succeed. So we initiated several skills acquisition programmes and through these we were able to equip and empower hundreds of thousands of Nigerian youths in the last five years with the requisite skills for employability, entrepreneurship for sustenance.
What will you say has been the major challenge facing the ITF?
Basically , I would say at the moment, we have three major challenges. The first challenge is the fact that up till today the awareness for the importance of skills is not yet accepted by the people. That awareness has not eaten deep into the fabrics of Nigerians. When that is achieved it means ITF has done her work to a large extent and not only that there is need to evolve it into the school curriculum of Nigeria educational system right from kingdagatten.
Another challenge is lack of harmonization of skills among agencies of government as well as the private sector to come together to harmonize. Most of them work at cross purposes. We said we are working towards the same goals, but we are working across purposes. There is need to harmonize it with the view to address most of these challenges we are facing today where agency A is working at a different level and agency B too is working at different level yet, we say the direction is one. We need to come together to work to achieve the same goals.
Lastly, the third challenge is the issue of fund, finance. Technical vocational education and training is capital intensive. To build an industrial skills training centre is in billions of Naira, building and equipping it. So we may not have the money, the little that trickled into our cofers, in our own case,even the one per cent paid by the employers of labour are reinbursed almost 50 per cent of the one per cent . So what remains for the ITF for its operations as well as staff cost is quite minimal and can not meet their desires. I always have the example of Sinai in Brazil, which takes two per cent, while ITF one per cent.
Sinai does not reimburse anything. ITF reimburses 50 per cent. So that is why Sinai today has a lot of training equipment even on wheels and on the seas. In boat, you have workshops that will reach the nook and cranny where training is very difficult to access . So, finance is the key point. If all things being equal, we would like to build skills centres not in any of the six geopolitical zones but in all the 36 states of the federation. We need it if we are to escalate skills in the country. So these three I would say are the major challenges we face today, with adequate funds, we will be able to carry out our mandate successfully, get more Nigerians as this is key because the population is growing by the day and we are overwhelmed with the little resources at our disposal.
What we do with it will amount to a drop in the ocean, considering the booming population of the country. So, we need to do this, it is an emergency. We said that the Federal Government should declare a state of emergency on technical, vocational education and training if we are to address the booming population of our country.
Where do you see ITF in the next 10 years?
It is very difficult to give a pass mark to myself. But I believe that with what we have done so far, ITF is well grounded and it only needs other people to come and consolidate. ITF, I will say, has done considerable well in actualising its mandate and with what we have put in place, like the building blocks, the machineries, I believe that the ITF is poised and prepared to take the lead in matters of human capital development in Nigeria. For example it is in our plan to establish an e-learning studio and develop the capacity and operations of e-learning management system. Already we have the e-library which was commissioned last year by the minister. We have also ventured into other training areas that were hitherto neglected such as the specialized programmes in maritime, oil and gas .
We have within the workforce, staff who have been trained in oil and gas both in the welding and many others as well as the agricultural value chains. Sixty of our staff were at the Galilee International Management Institute in Israel and were trained in all aspects of the agricultural value chains from crops production to storage and even international marketing . So when we give vein to agricultural production and we are doing this because we realized that Nigeria is gradually going through a zero-oil economy and going through a zero-oil economy means that we diversify into other areas . The ITF is not sleeping or resting on its oars but is out there to provide the needed educational training to Nigerians on these value chains. So we continue to conduct skills acquisition programmes and research. You remember two years ago the ITF launched skills gap survey which she did with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the study was to identify the gap in the six priority sectors of the economy, so that Nigerians and employers of labour would be able to fill in those gaps with Nigerians.
So going forward, I would want an ITF that will stand out as truly the foremost training institution in Nigeria providing the part way and the platform to diversifying the economy, getting a sound economy is part of the reason why ITF was established. I also want to see the ITF that will lubricate the industrial hope of the country by ensuring that industries and companies operate optimally to perform the productivity test and training to advance the cause of productivity among those workforce and to see what is wrong with those companies so that they can perform optimally. In the next 10 years, I will like to see ITF answer its name as a leading and development agency that Nigerians depend upon in terms of actualising the building of our economy . I would like to see an ITF that adds values so that Nigeria will be among the top in the comity of nations. I would also like to see an ITF that competes favorably with other learning and development agencies worldwide. Furthermore, I would like to see an ITF that grows not just into a household name but every young Nigerian will see it as a pride of place to belong to in terms of actualising their jobs prospect.