By Ekemezie Becky
Across developing countries, including Nigeria, it has been empirically established that certain economic sectors and activities hold the greatest potentials for job and wealth creation. These include agriculture, agribusiness, agro-based industries, agricultural value chain services, vocational skills-based microenterprises, cottage enterprises, small and medium enterprises as well as public works such as environmental sanitation, housing and road construction. Other equally important areas are social and community services such as education and health services. This approach has been very effective in tackling unemployment and poverty in countries of South East Asia and Latin America.
It was in the light of the foregoing that the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa made job creation and enterprise development the focal point of his now famous S.M.A.R.T agenda. Once in office, one of his first actions was the establishment of the Office of the Job Creation Officer, which would perhaps be more appropriately termed Enterprise Development Office. The strategy was of the job and wealth creation scheme is to put resources (skills, tools and complementary services) in the hands of unemployed youths/graduates and thereby empower them to become employed, earn incomes and create jobs and wealth.
After three years of running the scheme, the strategy seems to have worked out perfectly. At least 3,071 previously unemployed youths have been trained and established in their choice enterprises. Emmanuel Onochie, an indigene of Umuagwu quarters in Asaba was full of praise for the programme after his initial hesitation and scepticism. After being trained and empowered with a Starter Pack by the Delta State Government, Mr Onochie now runs his own business at No. 2 Agu Street, Asaba.
“After four years of graduation,” he recalled, “I had lost hope of staying in Asaba, and was already preparing to leave for Lagos in search of greener pastures. My friend, Ojiogo informed me of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP). I was sceptical at first because I have applied for similar programmes in the past, but was not successful.
“I had made up my mind to relocate to Lagos so I did not apply for the first batch. As I was still in Asaba waiting for the Inneh Festival, one evening I watched on television as the first batch was being empowered. I decided to apply for welding and fabrication training and before I knew what was happening I received an SMS to come for my registration.”
That was how The story of Onochie, who got married last December, is the outcome of Governor Okowa’s vision of a new Delta, encapsulated in his enterprise development programme otherwise known as Job Creation Scheme.
Terry Ogolor, another beneficiary, told a similar story of zero to hero, grass to grace. “I am a graduate of Biology/Chemistry from Collage of Education Agbor,” he narrated. “Since I graduated in 2009 I had not been gainfully employed.” Mr Ogolor was at the verge of venturing into a life of crime when help came in the form of Okowa’s Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs programme (YAGEP). After initial hesitation, he applied and to his surprise and without any godfather he was enrolled into the programme.
“Today, I am a happy and proud fish farm owner at YAGEP Fish Farm Cluster, Ugbokodo Okpe,” he beamed with joy. “I can fend for myself, family and friends because of what Sen. Dr Ifeanyi Okowa did for me. I am a consultant by experience. I help those with challenges in their fish farms and the pay is encouraging. I have grown my fish from 2,000 to over 4,000. The sky is my limit.”
Life of disability no doubt entails a lot of pain and suffering. It is a life that pulls the brake on a bubbling existence and reduces the energetic performer to a vegetable. While this is the general lot of the disabled, there are five young sisters in Ibusa whose fortunes have changed for the best. The Okolie sisters – Chinedu, Amana, Franca, Rita, and Linda – are physically challenged. With Okowa’s STEP, they have moved from a state of hopelessness to one of joy and fulfilment. They are now entrepreneurs in fashion design and tailoring, Hairdressing and Makeover.
There is also Cynthia Oma Ehire, a STEPreneur, and the Chief Executive Officer of Oma Events and Oma makeover, in Sapele. Cynthia Oma stands out among her equals. Her ability to diversify into other affiliated enterprises other than decoration and event management in less than one year of establishment makes her a worthy brand ambassador of the Okowa’s job creation programmes. Indeed, the job and wealth creation scheme of the Delta State Government has turned around the fortunes of many young Deltans and birthing a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Launching the programme in August 2015, the Governor said: “The youth training and development is all encompassing and enduring in nature. It incorporates life skills training, mind-set change, leadership and business management skill necessary for our participants to become successful entrepreneurs … government is investing hugely in this programme and you will be doing yourself, your family and your community great disservice if you squander this opportunity.”
Professor Eric Eboh, the State’s Chief Job Creation officer, explained that “STEP is designed to train and establish unemployed youths in preferred skills or trades for the purposes of job and wealth creation.” According to him, “under STEP, unemployed youths undergo a three-phase training plan comprising life skills and orientation course, vocational skills training and business and entrepreneurship training.
“Currently, the skills or trades offered include computer hardware maintenance and repairs; catering and confectionary; electrical installation and repairs; barbing; bead-making; cosmetology, decoration and event management; hair-dressing and makeover; fashion design & tailoring; tiling; block molding; Plaster of Paris (POP) and interlocking.”
Under YAGEP, Prof Eboh said “unemployed youths are trained and established in their choice agricultural enterprises, for example, poultry, piggery, fishery and crop production, adding that “the scope of training covers agricultural ‘subject-matter’ knowledge, enterprise management, leadership and life skills, group organization and group farming.
“Both theoretical and practical agricultural training take place at accredited agricultural training centres over a given period, depending on the enterprise. Participants are supported to establish and run their own enterprises through the provision of starter packs which in the case of livestock enterprises include livestock houses, operating facilities, amenities and inputs. In addition, participants receive buffer stipends during the enterprise gestation period and some working capital to purchase inputs and/or working materials.”
Following the resounding success of the scheme, many states of the Federation are now adopting the Delta State template for youth training and entrepreneurship development. More significantly, the World Bank and European Union –Assisted programme, SEEFOR project is providing funding support because “Delta State is the only State that has demonstrated its commitment to skills development in practical terms.”
Speaking at the Products Exhibition and Business Fair organised for beneficiaries of the scheme, Dr Tunde Adekola, a Senior Education Specialist in the bank, observes that “the World Bank will continue to support the Delta State Government in the areas of skills and technical development and will work with the Job Creation Office of the State Government to strengthen the labour market observatory system in order to make Governor Okowa’s dream of re-creating the middle class a reality.”
Governor Okowa ascribed the success of the scheme to “rigorous planning, discipline, focus, painstaking selection process, stringent guidelines, prudent management and commitment to set goals.” According to him, “we had to brave the odds and refused to accept the notion that the average youth in Delta was not ready to jettison the rent-seeking mentality and the prevalent culture of entitlement.”