Bauchi — They live approximately 100 kilometres apart, but Ishaq Mohammed and Happiness Zakka share many things in common--they are both graduates of National Certificate in Education (NCE). They both applied severally to get employed under the state's Ministry of Education for teaching jobs, but they were not lucky to be employed by the state government, and finally, they resorted to agriculture to make ends meet.
Ishaq Mohammed, a resident of Birshin Fulani, a suburb of Bauchi metropolis, is into both dry and wet season farming and sometimes rears animals whose dung he uses as manure for his crops. For him, waiting endlessly in search of white collar jobs in a country he described as 'frustrating in all fronts' isn't the best idea for any school leaver.
He said agriculture is the easiest way to start for any graduate who does not have enough capital... "Because with as little as N10,000, one can start a small farming business and with patience and perseverance, you can grow it and make it big."
Speaking with LEADERSHIP at his farm, Ishaq said; "Although we have no support from the government, we effortlessly started this farm and gradually, we are making progress because we plant different kinds of crops, mostly perishable crops during the rainy season."
He said within three months, the investment would start yielding something and you can use it to reinvest in the farm by growing other varieties of crops that would later earn you money.
For Ishaq, he is not only a lone farmer, but also described himself as an employer of labour, adding, "As you can see with your eyes, sometimes I hire men to help me till the soil in order to plant the crops and water them using water pump machines and I use the proceeds from the farm to settle them.
"Sometimes I enter agreements with them to make a commitment to pay them after harvest, and you will see me paying them close to N200, 000 after harvest. With that, I think I'm invariably an employer of labour", he said.
Ishaq who said though the government had not done enough to support youths in agriculture, he noted that lack of support was not enough reason for unemployed youths to venture into criminal activities.
"I keep telling my friends that despite the inability of our governments at all levels to invest through support and other incentives, it is not a reason for someone to destroy his life by resorting to crime.
"If you are not lazy, there are many menial jobs you can venture into that will fetch you money which you can reinvest to support your life and help people around you. When you do that, it earns you more respect, such that you don't have to wait for government endlessly in a desperate search for juicy jobs that are available only for the connected ones," he said.
"I studied Bio-Chemistry and my passion was to be a school teacher, but I had to jettison the idea and resort to farming since the government was not ready to employ me," he added.
He said he refused to be employed in a private school because of what he termed 'exploitative tendencies', "Where you work round the clock 24/7 and be paid N7,000 at the end of the month.
"I rejected the offer and started farming with just N50,000 and now I can tell you that I have up to N200,000 invested in this farm and I did not obtain loan from anyone."
When LEADERSHIP visited him at his farm, it was observed that Ishaq had already cultivated two hectares of land where he planted onions, tomatoes, pepper and garden eggs.
When asked whether he had access to the smallholders' farmers' loan being granted by the CBN, Ishaq said, "The initiatives are mostly too bureaucratic, we have written series of proposals and submitted to the CBN, but I have not heard anything from them again, and of the few of us that were called for interviews, none was granted any support."
He expressed hope that the state governor, Bala Mohammed, would support his likes to improve their yields.
"I learnt that the state government had sent some youths to Nasarawa State where they were taught modern agriculture, but I don't know anyone in our area who benefitted from the training.
"I hope and pray that he will remember us and also pick from among us since we are already into farming with all passion and energy," he said.
For Happiness Zakka, another NCE holder, her major frustration with farming is lack of fertilizer, saying the government had not done enough to support them.
"I resorted to farming since I could not get a job, and the government promised to support us with fertilizer, but here we are, we could not see anything.
"In the past, the government used to support us with fertilizer, but till now, we could not get that anticipated support from the government," she said.
Happiness told LEADERSHIP that although their major mainstay in Bogoro for generations had been agriculture, she linked the lack of fertilizer to Hon. Musa Wakili Nakwada, the Bauchi State Assembly member representing Bogoro Constituency and Ilya Habila, the local government chairman.
She said they had not done enough to present their needs to the state government.
"They have not done much to help us in that aspect, because they have what it takes to fight for us. This is the worst farming season I have experienced for years now, I learnt that our lawmaker distributed fertilizer on loan, but it was only given to a few of his political allies," she said.
Zakka said before the outbreak of the coronavirus, female farmers usually formed cooperatives groups "where we converged in large numbers to support one another on the farms, last year, we could not do that because of the need for social distancing," she said.
She said although she resorted to farming in order to keep herself afloat and support her husband and her four children, the pandemic had really affected them as a household.
"We suffered two things last year- the coronavirus pandemic and lack of support such as fertilizer and improved seeds--the impact of which is very visible in our farmlands," she added.
Zakka said during the 2019 farming season, she was able to harvest about 20 bags of rice, which was not the case last year.
"I may not even get up to seven bags of rice this year", she lamented.
According to her, though the cry of unemployment among youths in Nigeria is loud and clear where thousands of graduates continue to roam the streets in search jobs, agriculture according to her is the quickest solution.
"Despite lack of support, I still find comfort in agriculture since one can confidently grow crops that would feed the household for complete 12 months.
"You can even sell part of the crops to do other things, doing so is more rewarding than waiting for government jobs", she added.
Happiness Zakka added that it was high time for Nigerian graduates to venture into agriculture as solution to the number of unemployed graduates.
"If you look at things critically, you would realise that there is a correlation between an increase in the crime rate and lack of jobs among youths in the country.
"So, if the government can do enough investment in the areas of agricultural practices, the sector can absorb most of the graduates, and by implication, we will reduce the pressure exerted on government jobs that are increasingly shrinking," she posited.
If her words are anything to go by, the idea will help reduce the unemployment rate in Nigeria which according to experts could spell doom for the country if unchecked.
LEADERSHIP recalls that a study by the National Bureau of Statistics at second quarter 2020 posited that the country's unemployment rate had grown to 27.1% up from 23.1% in the third quarter of 2018.
Kamal Idriss, an economic expert in Bauchi, said when the likes of Ishaq and Happiness are not incentivized by the government, the unemployment figure in Nigeria would continue to get worse in 2021 which would adversely affect the country's social fabrics.