Maiduguri — At present, over 2,000 youths are busy producing interlocking tiles and red bricks, which would be used for mass housing programme for the less privileged as well as urban renewal in Borno State. It is one of the government's weapons against insecurity.
The project is the initiative of Governor Kashim Shettima and is aimed at addressing poverty, deprivation and unemployment, the underlying factors many pundits believe are the driving force that fuel insecurity, occasioned by insurgency in the once famous 'Home of Peace'.
In the past three years, most of the reports coming from Borno State are not rosy because they revolve around wanton killings and destructions.
However, observers believe that the trouble cannot be isolated from social exclusivity occasioned by flagrant abuse of power by those in position of authority, a development which gave rise to disaffection among the youth, who felt isolated without any positive prospect for the future.
In 2011, the National Population Commission (NPC) made a startling revelation that over 70 per cent of school age children in Borno State are out of schools. This was shortly before the governorship elections. And soon after he was declared winner, Shettima said "my dream for the North is for us to coalesce into a single force and ensure that the problems bedevilling us are addressed.
"These include illiteracy and endemic poverty. A Borno man and by extension, a northerner has no business being poor, because God has endowed us with enormous resources to the extent that other parts of the country should not see us as parasites. If we can truly harness our agricultural potentials, believe me, we would not be poor. The Sahara desert is encroaching at the rate of 0.6 per cent per annum but we as northerners are practically doing nothing.
"Our leaders are bereft of ideas on how to confront this menace that will make our land worthless in a couple of years. So, there is the need for us to get up and face the challenges..." the governor said.
Weekly Trust findings reveal that engagement of the 2,000 youths is part of state government's Integrated Farming and Vocational Jobs Scheme (IFVJS).
The participants are drawn from different parts of the state and that wisdom is basically to create immediate vocational jobs and provide skills that will make the trainees become self-employed in the long term.
Isa Umar Gusau, Special Adviser on Communications to Governor Shettima told Weekly Trust that "for long, the Governor was looking for manual equipment for making giant sized interlock bricks that can be fixed on roads such that they can resist pressure from vehicles moving on them and he finally sighted an industry in Kano during a visit four months ago.
"He immediately stopped his convoy, went to the owner of the industry who happens to be a woman and instantly invited her to Maiduguri. He also bought some of the iron made, handheld equipment and left with them and at the same time requested mass supply from the woman and in addition, appointed her right there as a consultant to the Borno Government on interlocks bricks making," Gusau said.
The governor, Isa said, bought the woman to Maiduguri, "the move was successful. The woman trained some technical officials in the state government and was paid for her services. She left after supplying hundreds of the giant-sized inter lock making pans," he added.
It was gathered that the governor directed the state Commissioner for Works to open a site at the Ramat Square and engaged hundreds of youths as trainees in the simple production technique.
A pay-as-you-learn-and-work was introduced in managing the site whereby each youth is paid N700 daily after work at the site, which translates to N21,000 per month.
Engineers at the site said the target is to produce millions of bricks before they will be used in January, 2013 for road works.
Gusau said the Governor plans to inter lock major roads like what obtains in Victoria Island in Lagos State.
He said even during the laying of the bricks, the youths will remain employed and after the project, they will be organized through co-operatives and given tools to start their businesses as inter lock producers and sellers.
Mohammed Modu, one of the engineers supervising the youths, said about 15,000 interlocks are produced everyday by the youths.
"It is actually very expensive, because it doesn't really cost the state cheaper to engage the youths but the idea is to get them off the streets," he said.
Red Bricks for mass housing scheme
Another initiative by the Shettima administration is the red bricks industry.
It was gathered that about 60 machines have been imported by the state government while hundreds of youths were engaged and being trained on bricks making that will be used in building houses and classrooms in schools. The youths are also paid daily.
Isa said they are taught how to make the bricks and roofing tiles, how to assemble the bricks to make houses and class rooms and how to assemble roofing tiles on the buildings.
So far, the trained youths have built 30 class rooms - 20 at Government College, Maiduguri and 10 at Yerwa Girls College, Maiduguri.
"These are prototypes. The training centres are at GidanMadara, Govt college, Yerwa college, the proposed Borno State University site at Damaturu-Kano road and at Pompamari," Engineer Kaka Baba, another state official said.
He said based on the directive by the governor, the bricks will be used for the construction of 2,500 two-bedroom housing units for low-income earners.
Speaking on the housing project, Isa said "the governor insisted on two bedrooms so that the houses will not attract rich people and those in authority such that no matter what, low-income earners will be the beneficiaries and even if rich people obtain allocations wrongly, they can't use them, they have to give them to those that actually need them," he said.
It was gathered that no brick would be imported from outside Maiduguri for the housing project, because the governor has insisted that the youths would produce all the bricks and roofing tiles for all the houses.
The project is expected to create employment for at least 25,000 youths beside the multiplier effect of creating source of livelihood for carpenters, electricians, bricklayers, plumbers and food vendors.
To ensure proper coordination of all training activities, the governor appointed a special adviser on labour and vocational jobs creation who coordinates all the training activities and ensures payments to the youths.
In addition, the Governor specifically tasked a senior special assistant (SSA) who gives him daily report by SMS on the number of interlocks, bricks and roofing tiles produced each day and updates of total figures for each category. This makes the governor to have updates of production. The SSA also takes pictures of the tiles and bricks and sends them via e-mail to the governor every week so as to corroborate his daily production reports.
The Governor has also made it a habit to undertake unexpected visits to the sites so as to keep everybody on his toes.
During each visit, he interacts with the trainees and their supervisors to ensure everything goes smoothly and that trainees get paid promptly.
Some of the youths interviewed said the empowerment scheme is a new lease of life for them.
Governor Shettima said the housing projects will be replicated in all the 27 local government areas of the state so as to give befitting shelter to the indigents.
During his recent visit to flooded areas along the shores of the Lake Chad, Shettima laid foundation for the construction of 750 housing units in Damasak for 4, 000 displaced residents and communities in the Kumadugu-Yobe River Basin of Borno state.
Damasak is a border town with Niger Republic; and 187 kilometers north of Maiduguri, the state capital.
He said besides constructing the houses for the displaced residents, dykes and levees will be constructed in the areas to prevent floods from destroying more lives and property.
"Frankly speaking, I had lost hope about five month ago because the troubles in Maiduguri forced me out of the town but people kept on looking at me with contempt when I relocated to Zaria...they were not comfortable with him. AlhamduLillah, I am now back home and fully employed," he said.
TankoJime, 22, said he became jobless following the ban on commercial motorcycle operation. "I have bounced back now," he said.
Observers believe that political leaders in the north must be ready to fight the monster of youth unemployment. "You can never subdue an angry youth with military might. No amount of force will make restive youth to surrender...you must have a marshal plan that will give them sense of belonging," Barrister Ali Aliyu, a legal practitioner in Maiduguri said.