By ANIEBO NWAMU
Since my fixation in recent years has been on development, particularly job-creation strategies, I wish to affirm that, at last, the federal government is toeing the line we’ve canvassed for years. We’ve knocked the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) and its forerunners Sure-P, PAP and Better Life for emphasizing handouts rather than life skills. Palliatives like school feeding and cash transfer to the poor have their uses, but tech skills supersede them all.
I restate: poverty and unemployment can’t be reduced drastically by mere handouts. In holding this view, I’ve relied on the wisdom of the ancients as expressed in this proverb, “Don’t give me fish; teach me how to fish.” When you give a man fish you feed him for just one day; when you teach him how to fish you feed him for a lifetime. For knowledge is power! And empowerment of the youth is what the NSIP has been putting into practice through its most vibrant component N-Power. Now, the programme is coming even closer to the idea we’ve expressed through its new baby of promise that took off on November 3: N-Knowledge.
According to the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, who announced the commencement of the N-Knowledge programme in the six geopolitical zones including the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, it is focused on equipping young Nigerians with relevant skills and certification to become competent workers, innovators and entrepreneurs prepared for both the domestic and global digital job market. Participants will receive training in software development, hardware maintenance and training, and animation and scripting. Those are the technological skills meant to enable them to develop the skills and capacities along the skillset in the value chain of mobile apps and website development and to start the talent development effort for the growth of the IT industry in the country.
Many young Nigerians I know have been seeking to acquire those tech skills through private efforts. We’re glad the government is now helping many more to achieve their dreams. Every policy or programme aimed at entrepreneurship or job creation in Nigeria is welcome. A book that took me more than five years to write, which was published last year, was inspired by this obsession. And the responses I’ve received from those who have read Jobseeker to Entrepreneur have simply been overwhelming. That’s why I’ve requested the authorities to make it available to our teeming jobseekers.
The pioneer beneficiaries of N-knowledge (20,000 in total) are those who registered for N-Power under the non-graduate component when the portals were opened last year. At the end of the programme, the ministry explained, qualified trainees would be awarded certificates and attestations. They would be introduced to life skills and attitude re-orientation, work ethics and rules of engagement.
It’s ironic that what should have been the major objective all along is coming latest. And it’s even more ironic that N-Knowledge has been reserved for non-graduates. Don’t graduates need skillsets more urgently than diploma holders or high school leavers? We all know what the Nigerian universities have become: some lecturers don’t even enter classes to teach but set exam questions promptly; few students leave university with a skill of any description. Exam malpractice over the years is now bearing fruit: quacks are found in almost every profession now. And so ill-trained doctors are killing patients. Buildings are collapsing. Graduates without morals are engaging in crimes such as 419, drug peddling, armed robbery and ritual killing.
Most of the one million-plus young people who have benefitted from N-Power so far have been more interested in their N30,000-per-month stipends than in skills. That’s a wrong mindset. The beneficiaries of N-Knowledge should pay less attention to the remunerations they will enjoy within the one-year period. They will be provided with fishing nets; let them catch fish with the nets rather than wait to be given fish to eat.
The ministry says it has 24 training venues cutting across the six geopolitical zones. The beneficiaries will live in camps for the first three months and serve an apprenticeship for six months. Each trainee is entitled to N300 per meal or N900 per day (N27,000 for a month of 30 days). Then, there is transport allowance: trainees are entitled to N30,000 to and from the camp. This is not paid at once. A half is paid when they’re reporting to camp and the balance is paid when training is concluded.
The above benefits (N42,000 for a start) do not include starter packs and learning materials. Trainees in hardware maintenance are entitled to training tools specifically packaged for hardware maintenance. Those in software development and N-Creative (animation and scripting) are entitled to a laptop specifically for this purpose. Each training tool is marked and encrypted to a trainee who would use it only for practicals and returned to the consultants; but when they complete their trainings and are ready for passing out, they will be handed over to them as their own starter packs.
A problem has already arisen in the course of disbursement of the funds. “We observed that out of 20,000 trainees earmarked for this programme, about 7,401 trainees that are supposed to be in the different training camps did not update their banking information. This presented a huge challenge in paying their allowances directly to their accounts as usual,” one of the minister’s aides, Ms Halima Oyelade, stated. “Consequently, in an attempt to assist the trainees in getting their feeding and transport allowances urgently, a table payment at the different training camps was the easiest and surest way to get out of this challenge.”
Both the beneficiaries and the government should make N-Knowledge a huge success. No amount invested in the programme will be too much. Entrepreneurship development is the only way we can begin to solve the poverty and unemployment problems that have now invited new dangers to the country.
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