Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, Governor of Delta State, had identified the number of jobs created, directly and indirectly, as the major key performance indicator of any government. This is true for his state that now has six universities and many more higher institutions that churn out thousands of educated young folks annually. Okowa saw their gainful engagement as the ultimate benchmark for measuring success.
For a state that has trained over 4,200 young men and women in Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises in under four years, the 25th edition of MSMEs clinic in Asaba, Delta State capital, in November 2019, turned into a trade fair for the emerging business community to seek new markets and fresh opportunities towards expanding the frontiers of their ventures. In a carnival-like atmosphere, thousands of visitors were on hand at the Event Centre, Asaba, venue of the clinic where an array of products ranging from agricultural goods, industrial materials, manufactured goods, fish products, among many others, were available at bargain prices.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was on hand at the MSME clinic, shared Okowa’s vision, remarking that Nigeria being an economy driven largely by small businesses, can record real national growth and development only if small businesses are developed.
“If every small business in Nigeria adds just one more employee, the gap that single action will fill in our unemployment figures will be much larger than if one single conglomerate were to employ 10,000 people,” the vice president stated while commending Okowa for his administration’s commitment to growing MSMEs.
Under the auspices of the office of the chief job creation officer, Okowa’s government had evolved a new set of programmes designed to provide the younger generation with the requisite skills and tools to meet the challenges of an increasingly tough and competitive society. The initiatives are:
Youth Agricultural and Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP); and the Microcredit Scheme administered by the Delta State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency.
Under YAGEP, youths are trained and established in their choice of agricultural enterprises, including poultry, piggery, fishery and crop production. The scope of the training covers agricultural subject-matter knowledge, enterprise management, leadership and life skills, group organisation and group farming. The young men and women are taken through theoretical and practical training at accredited agricultural training centres over a given period, depending on the enterprise.
The STEP programme is designed to train and establish unemployed youths in preferred skills or trade for job and wealth creation. Beneficiaries go through a three-phase training plan comprising life skills their choice of agricultural enterprises, including poultry, piggery, fishery and crop production. The scope of the training covers agricultural subject-matter knowledge, enterprise management, leadership and life skills, group organisation and group farming. The young men and women are taken through theoretical and practical training at accredited agricultural training centres over a given period, depending on the enterprise.
The STEP programme is designed to train and establish unemployed youths in preferred skills or trade for job and wealth creation. Beneficiaries go through a three-phase training plan comprising life skills and orientation course, vocational skills training as well as business and entrepreneurship training. The available skills and trade offerings include computer hardware maintenance and repairs, catering and confectionary, electrical installation and repairs, bead making, cosmetology as well as decoration and event management. Others are hair dressing and make over, fashion designing, tailoring and tiling.
The entrepreneurship programme has seen the successful training and empowering of more than 4,200 people in Okowa’s first term as governor of Delta State.
In his address at the MSME clinic, Okowa spoke of how he saw the pervading and widespread unemployment among the youth pose grave danger to the country and inspired him to prioritise the transformation of young people into entrepreneurs and employers of labour.
“MSMEs have been globally recognised as engines of rapid economic growth, wealth creation, employment generation and social inclusion. They are also known as incubators of innovation while providing opportunities for increased participation of women in the economy,” the governor stated.
Okowa said that across the state, there were testimonies of successful small businesses and life-changing ventures by those who were trained, established and mentored under STEP and YAGEP schemes of the government as well as from its vocational training centres.
However, it is not the first time such entrepreneurship programmes were initiated. Previous administrations had evolved similar packages and after initial expenditure of huge funds, many of the participants abandoned the programme. To avoid similar pitfalls, things had to be done differently. And they were done differently.
“We were very mindful of that from the word go. We needed to come up with something entirely different,” Dr. Kingsley Emu, Chief Economic Adviser to the Governor, said. First, there is an interview and screening process which enables programme officers to rank the performance of the candidates according to various parameters. These are willingness and readiness to become self-employed. Crucially, every beneficiary of the scheme must be between the ages of 18 and 35 and have a minimum qualification of West African School Certificate.
In the case of those engaged in agro-business, “we were able to separate the provisional farmers from the political farmers. What did we do? We send inputs directly to farmlands, not in their offices, not in their homes, not in a central place. We told them ‘give us the farm address’ and then we would drop the inputs. We began to give them money for land preparation once we identified what they needed. We have rice processing mills in the three senatorial districts, also as an involvement in processing. We ensure that we equip them to be able to drive the economy. For fish farmers, fingerlings and feeds were supplied directly to them on their site.
“More importantly, we have monitoring and mentoring agents who regularly visit everyone of the participants. They find out the challenges facing the participants and we have machinery in place to quickly address the challenges. They are never left on their own,” Emu said.
Expectedly, there was a measure of skepticism when the programme was introduced. There had been similar packages in the past that started with a lot of fanfare but failed along the way. “I had entered into the programme with the intention of taking the money and running away,” Cynthia Oma Ehire, said of initial perception of the empowerment programme. “But after the orientation course, my thinking changed. After the three months training, I was given a starter pack to begin my business in decoration and events management. In the course of the training, I found out a different ball game. I established my enterprise in Sapele. The first client I had contracted me to to decorate and manage her event, but also requested that I get her a cake designer and a makeover artist which I did. After that encounter, I decided to learn how to bake cake, pastries and how to do makeover,” Ehire said.
In less than 18 months, she has trained over 12 people, has over five as employees and has bought a car from the proceeds of her business.
Ehire’s transition from a job seeker to an employer of labour is the common denominator among the over 4,200 people that have successfully set up their individual businesses. And to Mr. Charles Ehiedu Aniagwu, Delta State Commissioner for Information, their story sits perfectly with the spirit behind Okowa’s SMART Agenda.
Aniagwu explained the acronym which was unveiled at onset of Okowa’s first term stands for Strategic wealth creation and provision of jobs, Meaningful peace building platforms for political and social stability and Agricultural reforms and accelerated industrialisation. The other components are Relevant health and education policies as well as Transformed environment through urban renewal. But to him, the first component is the pillar on which every other area is anchored.
The commissioner said another batch of entrepreneurs will commence a fresh round of intensive training in December when the ongoing screening of applications is completed. “The success of the programme has made many more people to apply for the next batch. Gov. Okowa sees the huge number of people showing interest in the programme as a sign of the enormity of the challenges ahead, but is determined to ensure that every young man and woman who meets the criteria ultimately gets the opportunity to actualise his or her dream under his administration,” Aniagwu said.
BY PIUS MORDI