Tasir Olawale Raji

As part of his campaign promises to Epe Federal Constituency, a member of the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. Tasir Olawale Raji told Funmi Ogundare how he has been impacting the lives of youths in Epe through his Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) to make them financially independent, useful to themselves and the society

The youths are believed to be the cornerstone and vehicle of societal growth, but the challenges facing Nigerian unemployed youths today are enormous, and has widened the gap between the ‘haves and have not’.

As a result the youths have to struggle and pay to get virtually everything, little wonder they are used as political thugs or get involved in other vices.

Thus, as part of his campaign promises to Epe Federal Constituency, a member of the Federal House of Representatives, Hon. TasirOlawaleRaji decided to embark on the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) to bring the youths out of the doldrums and equip them with skills to set up their own businesses.

To actualise this, he explained that he entered into partnership with the Lagos State Technical and Vocational Education Board (LASTVEB), and with the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), a total of 15 vocations were identified: tiling, block making, barbing, hair dressing and cosmetology, shoemaking, bead making soap making, domestic electrical wiring and installation, photography and video recording, to empower the youths of Epe.
He said the project is expected to be in phases, adding that since it commenced three months ago, about 130 participants currently being trained have shown enthusiasm towards it.

“We had a total of 135 youths that started with us; our initial target was 100, but with the enthusiasm shown by the participants. But as at today being the third month, the figure is 130 because they maintained 90 per cent attendance since we started. I have been encouraged by their feedback and the enthusiasm that they have exhibited was beyond my expectation.”

On the viability of the scheme to the participants considering the current state of the economy, Raji said: “We took into consideration our environment before selecting the skills. You will agree with me that tiling, block moulding and brick-laying are under the construction industry and are in demand. With baking and pastry, caterers are engaged in parties, despite the economic hardship. Every weekend, Nigerians have not stopped holding parties because there is demand for event decorators.

“Hair dressing and cosmetology is something the ladies can’t afford to miss, as they have to visit the salon once or twice in a week. With barbing, the men must also take care of themselves; photography and video recording also go with social engagements in the country. In the course of their training, the participants have had to shoot an important documentary. These are vocations that are in demand.”

Raji expressed concern over the invasion of Lagos State by expatriates, who are artisans from neighbouring countries, especially in the construction industry. “When people are looking for tilers, they prefer to hire Togolese, Beninoire and Ghanaians. I don’t think this is good enough for us, when we have our children roaming the streets. All these vocations are in local demand.”

Asked how the project is being monitored, he said the training partner, LASTVEB, and his representatives have been on ground to monitor and give reports on their activities on a daily basis.

“For instance, the lectures and practicals they had today were all sent to me through emails and WhatsApp. Since they started I have been there and the executive secretary of LASTVEB has been there twice with the commissioner for wealth creation. The participants are being monitored and I get feedback from time to time.”

To sustain the project, Raji said the YES initiative would be different from those that were done in the past, which had witnessed participants disposing or selling off their equipment, adding that they would be brought together under a cooperative group and further empowered.

“We have seen people do youth empowerment programmes in the past, but it has been discovered that many of such programmes, within three to six months, they are back to square one. But this time to prevent that from happening, we intend to form them into cooperative groups. For instance, the barbers among them, instead of giving individual participants clippers, we set them up to acquire a salon which will be owned and run by their cooperative society, which will also serve as training organisation for would-be apprentices among them.”

He said the duration of the programme would be between three to six months, adding that after graduation and their empowerment, which would involve assisting them to establish their micro businesses, there would be a business support officer that would monitor their progress and assist them along the line until they can stand on their own.
“We will not leave them alone, but in my constituency office, I am going to have an officer who will monitor their progress. So we will continue to give them a continuous education to up their skills from time to time and monitor their performance. It is a continuous training,” Raji said.

Asked how he has been funding the project in the last three months, he said, “we have funded it so far through our private resources and we continue to do that until we get them settled to start their businesses. It is not as if we have a lot of money to do it, but I believe and I see my election into the House of Representative as an opportunity to make an impact on my environment. It is a legacy and we intend to make permanent impact on their lives such that whatever it will cost is a sacrifice.

“I prefer to invest in them and make them financially independent rather than spending money to rig election, engaging or exploiting their vulnerability by using them as thugs during elections. I will rather invest in making them financially independent so as to be useful to themselves and the society.”

Raji, who affirmed that the future of the country lies in technical and vocational education, stressed the need to give the youths the necessary skills and impart knowledge in them.

“That is because the micro, small and medium scale businesses are the largest employer of labour in any economy and they constitute the backbone of any economy worldwide. Nigeria is no exception. We believe that if we must address the problem of youth unemployment in this country, our focus should be shifted to vocational and technical education training for our youths so that they can be self-employed and reliant.

“We all see that the salary employment is no longer available anywhere. Government employment used to be the most reliable but today even if there is security, irregularity in the payment of salaries even at the federal level, workers do not receive their salary on time until the following month and we know some states that workers are being owed for months.”