Jeremiah Afolabi Imoukhuede, the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Job Creation and Youth Employment, Office of the Vice President, in this interview with select journalists spoke of the N- power projects and other national issues.
In the face of growing unemployment, what have you been doing in the last four years, as presidential aide on job creation?
It is always a privilege to speak about the work that we do to invest in our people especially under the Social Investment Programme. As we journeyed, I think it is always good to remind ourselves and remind Nigerians all of the time about the passion of President Muhammadu Buhari and his vice, Yemi Osinbajo about Nigerians, especially the youth.
One of the key challenges we have with our youth is the issue of jobs. Anytime we meet in any youth fora it’s always about jobs. The good thing is that it is not only peculiar to Nigeria, incidentally in any and every global conversation right now, it is also about jobs. I remember the last election in America, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, it was about whose plans will produce more jobs. So, it is a global problem that we all face and it’s more global because of the advent of technology and impact of technology even on us as humans.
What we did in the last four years was having realized we have had a bit of shaky foundation in education producing our graduates, and even our post secondary school graduates not necessarily our tertiary graduates. We asked what can we then do because even if we reform education as we have began to do, they can’t go back to school to start all over. They have finished and need to get into the labour market, we need to attuned them to the challenges of the labour market. So we have to constantly engage with different sectors in the labour market, one word always stands out, employability. People are not ready for the jobs that are available.
That was why we then decided at the time under the National Social Investment Programme, which you will recall is the most ambitious programme any administration has ever set out to do in really taking care of the vulnerable, the poor and the youths in this country. And so under the social investigation programme, it was important we have one component that would speak to job creation and ensure that it is focused towards the youths, and that is the N-Power. We then decided that we will use N-Power to address Nigeria’s employability challenges. Our focus therefore is that you must be within the bracket of at least secondary school, post secondary school and above, because those are the ones going to to labour market or are already in the labour market.
From the inception of the programme, how much has been invested?
It is every simple in talking about amount that has been invested. I am saying that in Batch 1, they started earning from December 2016, so roughly we invest N72 billion annually just for Batch 1 alone. That is aside from the gadgets that they get and aside from from all the sponsored trainings that they get. For instance, all the trainings on agric for N-Agro, training for health for those who are in health, we sponsor all of that through the federal agencies, ministry of agriculture and ministry of health. So direct in our people is N30,000 x 200,000 = N6 billion every month for the first batch which started in 2016. So they have been there for over two years, that is N72 billion multiply by two years or thereabout. But since August last year, the wage bill moved from N6 billion to N15 billion because it’s now 500,000 of them that earn N30,000 monthly. We have been on N15 billion for almost one year because by end of July it will be one year that we have been making that investment every month. So if you put it together that just tells you how much investment we have made and like I have said, we don’t owe anyone because the money is paid directly to them not through a proxy.
The Batch 2 we are just finalizing with the Bank of Industry to procure their gadgets and get it out to them.
Recently, the Chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, announced a proposal to recruit N-Power beneficiaries for community policing. Are you involved in this? Was this your idea?
Yes, always remember that our promise to the youths… I like to define N-Power as standing on three tripods – Learn, so it is continuous learning hence they even learn through the gadgets that we have given them. Work, like I said they all work in PPA and entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship means at some point you must exit the programme. This is one programme where we celebrate resignations, like Daniel from Taraba who got a job in CBN or Mohammed, an IDP from Borno, who used N-Power to settle himself and today he works with NTA in Yola. So when they resign like that we celebrate because you must exit at some point. This is a lifeline that Mr. President has given you to impact your life.
Are the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) among your beneficiaries if yes, how many are they?
Yes. I just told you about Mohammed who lived in Bama local government. His story is such that he went to work and by the time he got back his house was raze down. According to his story, he rode to Maiduguri with his bicycle and his rosary and of course his family had dispersed. He didn’t know who survived and who didn’t until months later. His certificates had gotten burnt and he became a resident in the IDP camp. Some of them heard of N-Power in the camp, applied and they got selected without knowing anybody. From the savings from their stipend, five months later he had moved out of the camp and rented a place in Maiduguri. In May 2018 when the Vice President went to launch the innovation hub in Yola, he was the one that walked up to us and reminded us that he was the Bama story we met in Maiduguri. He said he was hired by NTA and he is now the correspondent of NTA in Yola at that event.
So such is the story of N-Power, whether it is IDPs or whatever. With our conditional cash transfer, we are focused on IDPs, all IDPs are part of those enumerated for the cash transfers and even the school feeding programme.
Many have said your job creation is youth centered, what happens to those who have lost their jobs, retired and need this access to continue to survive?
We have only spoken about social investment programme, even though I have said we have not excluded anybody from the little child to the elderly. But anybody in that category can be beneficiaries of the GEEP loan, trader money, market money or any of those opportunities. It could be the farmers producing the food for the school feeding. Let’s understand that the economic programme is wider than the social investment but it was important we take care of these people who before now have been excluded in any of our national planning. But beyond that, the ERGP already addresses the multi-sectors and you and I know that Mr. Vice President champions the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) clinics it doesn’t have cross country or age limits. We are bringing in the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency ( SMEDAN), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), to see how we can help the small businesses. He also championed the ease of doing business because a lot of these people who are not youths, would have gone into small business, export, farming etc. So all of these policies address them one way or the other.
For those exiting the programme, how do they have access to startup funds?
That is one of the broad areas we are looking at as exit options. We have brought our GEEP counterpart to the table, who are already designing what could be the startup capital for each N-Power programme. The beauty of N-Power beneficiaries is that no matter what segment they were in, they learnt the business of cooperatives very well, understanding that my own N10,000 savings cannot do much but if 10 of us come together that is N200,000. So what we are looking at is with the startup kits we are looking to give them, cluster them as well so they can set up a garri processing cottage industry for instance. So if our startup is at N90,000, they already have what it takes to start up the cottage industry and own it.
We also have NESA which is ready to work with us in the 15 economic agric value chains that we have and we have spoken to CBN which is ready de-risk because they know they have market for the produce. We are also speaking to state governors to give land through anchor-borrowers programme to these youths in agriculture. We are also working with BOI to give small loans.
So we are also looking at taking up opportunities like community policing, of any copy wants to hire a number of people, we link them through job matching.
That is why each time Mr. President engages that he tells them, nobody is going to throw you back to the streets. The assurance to N-Power volunteers is that nobody is throwing any of them back to the streets because throwing them back to the streets negates the purpose of why we started it. So we ensure that you exit into something, it may not be Hilton comfort but some kind of comfort that enables us to bring in more people and recycle them as well and give them opportunity life line.
Let us remember that as we expand the economy with all these programmes, we continue to create more opportunities for our young people and our not so young people as well.