This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: 'Our Efforts May Not Seem Much, but We Are Doing So Much'

interview

irector General of the National Directorate for Employment (NDE), Mr. Abubakar Muhammed, speaks with Damilola Oyedele about the agency's projects all aimed at facilitating employment for the youth. Excerpts:

What major projects have been embarked on by the NDE in recent times?

One of the major projects we have is the construction and establishment of skills acquisition centres all over the country. In the past and up till now, the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) used master craftsmen and women from the private sector to train and deliver the skills on behalf of the directorate. Over time, due to contemporary needs of quality and standard, we decided to establish our own centres where we shall be in control of the training process, the curriculum, quality and standards so that the artisans that would be produced would have higher proficiency.

We have gone a long way as we now have about 50 centres in operation now. Secondly, we have been paying attention to refocusing our programmes and skills to key into the development processes of our country. When in 2010, we got the idea that the nation would soon embrace cashless economy, we began to train graduates in enterprises that would easily key into the cashless policy of the government. We introduced schemes that would enable the graduates to operate a certain suit of services essentially cashless.

Thirdly we saw the concern of government and the entire nation over unemployment, but like all establishments, we have had to contend with budgetary constraints. In response to this, we now seek to develop schemes that are highly cost effective but would go a long way in assisting youths to get employment.

One of them is the Enterprise and Finance Counselling Clinic (EFCC); we decided to mobilise the unemployed graduate, expose them to business ideas and sources of finance and encourage them to combine both to make something for themselves. It is purely a facilitation effort. Not long after we introduced this scheme, the Federal Government came out with the You Win programme, and these young people that underwent the EFCC scheme are accessing the You Win facilities.

Again the directorate is continually thinking of new ways of doing things. Only recently, we just observed our environment, and we embarked on the training of female drivers, which is a first in the country. It is a conscious effort to train a large number of women to be commercial drivers; in the areas of safety on the roads and income generation. It is such a big hit with the ladies, particularly in Abuja.

We are about to bring out another brand new scheme for the country and as usual, it is an outcome of our observation of our environment. We realised that the most logical thing for Nigeria now is the solar energy so we came up with the Renewable Energy Training which is currently taking place. Similarly we have observed with concern the extent of failure by our children hoping to leave secondary school for tertiary institutions. Consider the failure rate of WAEC, NECO and JAMB, they are alarming. Yet there are graduates that are unemployed, so we came up with the Graduate Coaching Scheme.

Under this scheme, we would go to every senatorial zone in the country, we would open coaching centres, we would invite school leavers who failed their exams, but wish to rewrite. Then the graduates who are unemployed in the area would be engaged to coach these children, particularly those who are qualified in education. This would give the school leavers another chance while we also provide some form of employment for the graduates. It is just like the graduate attachment programme which mobilises the graduates and sends them to establishments for regular work where they would feel like any other worker. So we salvage their sense of self- worth, give them something to do and we give them the opportunity to understand the industry where they are posted. This scheme is planned to help at least 10,000 graduates get employment.

What about in- house development?

In the last four or five years we have paid a lot to attention to exposing the staff members to new ways of doing things. No less than 100 staff members have gone outside this country for study tours or courses. The hope is that when they come back, they would be changed and that is why the rate at which we churn out new schemes is satisfying. If you look at the present programmes of government under SURE-P and others, they are akin to what NDE is doing and virtually all government's efforts at job generation have very strong NDE input.

The greatest form of commendation is imitation and our programmes and schemes are being replicated not only by first ladies at all levels of government, but organisations. We may not be the richest organisation but we have shown this country that we have the 'know -how and the know-what' and that is why we are being copied and replicated.

But we would continue to evolve. Every time the management of NDE meets, the challenge I put to them is that we must put on our thinking cap, because unemployment is a dynamic phenomena and our schemes must adjust to suit the prevailing forms of unemployment. We must always note the fact that unemployment and poverty are global phenomena, especially unemployment. It has its causes both locally and internationally, we may have some control over the local factors but not over outside factors.

For the past four years, I have been harping on the adverse effects of globalisation, which in itself is not bad. Those countries on the other end are happy about it, but those countries which are at the receiving end are not happy about it. If you go around this country; both the urban and rural areas, virtually all our youths are wearing jeans, but where is jeans produced in Nigeria? Every pair of jeans you see is taking away some form of food from the mouth of our textile workers, and it has affected the industries. The forces of globalisation are not deterred by physical borders. Therefore if we are trying to rectify the situation, then we must have something that has both local and foreign content.

This foreign component can only be addressed by the United Nations Security Council. In 2009, the ILO debate which was attended by Presidents and Vice Presidents, at least I can remember President Sarkozy, then of France, President Lula, then of Brazil, then Vice-President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, all debated and concluded that to achieve global peace, there must be a new culture of economic relations. Who can be the architect of a new culture of economic relations asides the UN?

People continue to say there is so much unemployment, and our efforts may not seem much, but we are doing so much. There are some bright steps that the government is taking. We have said once power stabilises in this country and security is assured, other things would fall into place. Power has already improved greatly; we must have the grace to admit that. I have implicit confidence in President Jonathan, he promised us electoral reforms even though he was a candidate, and he appointed Attahiru Jega. That was political suicide, but he took that decision because he was serious. I know the security situation would improve also, and when it does, employment generation would be easier.

How would you respond to allegations that the beneficiaries of NDE's programmes are favoured candidates who are selected by politicians?

Let me ask this question; do the children of politicians, high chiefs and other rich people need NDE? Why would we discriminate, these people do not need us, their parents sponsor them to school overseas, they return and enter family business. They will not come and enlist for NDE skills acquisition programmes.

We advertise locally when we have a scheme and people come to enlist. A lot of times before we even advertise, people walk into NDE to ask questions and we encourage them to register themselves so that we would call them when we have programmes. For instance, during this raining season, our Rural Employment department recruited and trained 80 persons per state, because that was what our budget could take. With 80 people per state, so many others would not benefit, and they would now complain that the selection process was not transparent.

It is very typical in Nigeria, even when a person loses elections, he would say there was something wrong. These allegations no longer bother us; we are concerned about doing our best for this country. I do not believe that the distribution of our facilities and services have any discriminatory nature. We have received complaints before, and we investigated. If there is merit, we take the appropriate action. There may be errors here and there, but they are not intended or structured into the programmes.

Are the schemes tailored to fit the needs of each zone or area where they would be implemented?

We had a total of 83 skills sets all over the country, but there are variations in implementations. For instance, out board construction can only be relevant in the riverine areas. Leather works and wood works are arts that tend to be more popular in certain zones. What we want to do is to give the youths of the area skills they are interested in. Many people are trying to do the skills acquisition thing without much success, but for us, we realise that before anyone can engage in any endeavour or enterprise, he has to be personally interested in it. If a person is forced into an enterprise, no matter the profit he makes, it is tantamount to slavery. So we have techniques that are used to guide a beneficiary on selecting a trade, there are pre and post training strategies that help to strengthen the selected enterprise.

How do you measure the effectiveness of the schemes?

We have the monitoring inspectorate and the planning/research department who take care of that. All data related to participation of beneficiaries end up in these two inspectorates and they go out to monitor what the beneficiary is doing. The information/public relations department follows those beneficiaries who have exited the system and documents them. Some of them may have even left what we introduced them to but we know that we were the helpers. We have Senators, House of Representatives members and others who were beneficiaries of the NDE schemes and we are following up on them. We continue to interact with those that are still practising the skills, we take them to trade fairs; we exhibit their products and generally behave like their advert managers.

When we started the scheme on the disabled people, we started with a pilot scheme in Kaduna and Ekiti states. In Kaduna we recruited 50 physically challenged persons who were beggars on the streets. We took them to a special area and gave them training in various income generating activities, at the end of the training, we assisted them with the wherewithal to start the enterprises in form of grant. Three months later, we sent a team to go and find out what the 50 were doing. The report I got was that 47 of them were practising the trade; three had gotten married and left the state, which was remarkable.

The challenge of unemployment is so enormous that most of our time is taken up by the design and implementation of schemes. If unemployment was within tolerable limits, then we would have the luxury of the statistics, the impact analysis and others; these are necessary but the gravity of the situation demands that all hands must be on deck on the design and implementation of the schemes.

There have been calls for the merging of NDE, SMEDAN, NAPEP and other poverty alleviation or job creation...

(Cuts in) there was a committee set up by Mr. President to look into these issues and that committee has come up with a report. The President has set up a white paper committee, I do not know if it has submitted its report so it is not right for me to comment on this.

However, from the onset, there is a clear demarcation of the functions of these three agencies. A developing country must encourage small scale businesses, cottage enterprises. There is need for a special agency that will promote the acquisition and use of appropriate technology that will regulate and promote the operations of these enterprises and see to the wellbeing and development of these small and cottage enterprises; that is what SMEDAN is all about.

The NDE is charged with the responsibility of creating mass employment in response to the growing unemployment problem. We are not restricted to any sector of the economy. For the purposes of clarification, if NDE goes into agriculture, it is not claiming to go and develop agriculture which is the job of the Ministry of Agriculture, but to create jobs in the sector. NAPEP is supposed to be a coordinating agency for all the poverty alleviation agencies.

For instance, if NDE goes to Abuja and trains some people, pays the trainers and the trainees, then NAPEP comes and does the same thing and others too, do the same, there is duplication only if all the agencies train the same beneficiaries. If there is coordination, then NDE would be in Gwagwalada, NAPEP would be in Kuje and so on, there will be no duplication. The point to make here is that we cannot have too many hands in job generation as long as we can avoid duplication. So we have different and distinct functions but sometimes we appear to be repeating efforts. In a lot of ways we collaborate with each other.

Asides budgetary constraints, what other challenges does the NDE have?

Please make a strong case for us to have a befitting headquarters. Can you imagine us inviting the Ambassador of the US or Russia to this office? Can we bring the UN Representative here? No! If we have a befitting secretariat, a President of a country can visit this place because employment is that important. Here, we have a market near us, a filling station, a plaza, a cooking gas station, a church and so on.

Lastly, what do you do when you are not working?

I am with my family when I am not working. The only two things I do in Abuja are work and staying with my family; my wife and my children. When I come to work, I am exhausted by the time I go home, but my family rejuvenates me. We play, watch TV programmes, and do other things.

Abubakar Muhammed was appointed the Director-General (DG) of the National Directorate of Employment in 2007. He is the first DG of the NDE to be appointed for a second tenure.

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