Hon. Bimbo Daramola, who represented Ekiti North Federal Constituency 1 in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015, in this interview with Anayo Okolie talks about the Nigerian Students and Youth Corp Discount Card also known as the Naija Green Card, among others
What is Naija Green Card idea all about?
The Nigerian Students and Youth Corp Discount Card also known as the Naija Green Card being the affectionate street lingo for ease of recall and recognition is a social safety net and if you like a social protection plan as could so be described in the fitting matrix of palliatives scheme for the citizenry as being undertaken by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. This initiative is a response to the graphic situation of the plight of the young population as represented in part by identifiable and verifiable category in this broad youth demography.
When I was in the House of Representatives, I devoted a lot of attention to issues that bother on the young people who qualify as the successor generation. I strongly inclined to the fact that anybody that is from age 45 is like a dry fish that cannot be bent so chances are that age 45 and above may not be able to do much in terms of paradigm shift of a new Nigeria. Consequently, I believe attention should be given to these young Nigerians within the impressionable ages, and so if we must berth a new Nigeria conscious investment must be made into the process of grooming the emerging successor generation.
I believe every young Nigerians must be given a fighting chance to become whoever they want to be, but the reality today is that there is no systemic structure tailor fit to enable these young Nigerians to aim for the best. The odds seem stacked against them. God forbid Nigeria breeding a successor generation that is laden with hate, delusional and disillusioned, we will all bear the consequences which definitely will not be palatable. It is in this nation about three decades ago when education is greatly subsidised, where students are two or at the most four in a room compared to 16 in a room today, back in time the students used to get served good food in good measures, laundry done for them, scholarships, grants, sponsorships and all forms of support structures in favour of the then young Nigerians.
Today’s picture is the opposite of the above. Now the picture is that 27 state governments cannot pay salaries, unemployment, spiraling inflation, shrinking value of the Naira, dwindling income stream, parents and guardians now keep their jobs when they have taken pay cuts or negotiated wages. This is the gory picture today. Unfortunately, this is not the fault of the incumbent administration, but that does not obliterate the fact that this is the sight to behold and what estimated millions of young Nigerians are exposed to. The undeniable fact is that these young Nigerians are the ones who are at the receiving end, the worst hit.
Whatever shrinks or dwindles or takes away the income stream of their parents or guardians eventually trickles down to them, that is why school drop-out rate is on the rise, these young Nigerians are devising street ingenuity to survive on campuses, for example now we hear different combinations such as 001 meaning no breakfast, no lunch and only dinner, or 010 meaning no breakfast, only lunch and no dinner or 100 i.e breakfast, no lunch and no dinner, and in some cases 000 which is no breakfast, no lunch , no dinner, so how do we raise competitive children from a baking room that has this picture? Do we expect that parents and guardians who have not been paid for seven months will be able to give enough to the kids on campus to feed, buy books and clothing? That is the picture today.
So, we have the option to rise up to this challenge in a manner that recognises this challenges but proffer ways to meet them half way and show that we really do care, if we play the ostrich we will be caught in the web of the consequences of this unfortunate scenario. So I chose to do something to bring succour. To do nothing will be inexcusable, for instance is it conscionable to have those who have modest income stream pay the same amount for a product or service and a student or youth corps member pays the same amount for that service even when we realise that those who even have some form of income stream barely could keep their heads above water. So, these are the questions and the realities.
What do you hope to achieve with this initiative?
I started the initiative after my exit from the parliament, the scaring number of the unemployed motivated me to try to do my little bit by ensuring that these vulnerable people have options, opportunities and alternatives and leave them to make their critical decisions and they can bear the consequences of their choices, it will not be that nothing was done holistically. That is the picture that led to The Nigerian Students and Youth Corp Discount Card.
In specific terms I and my team in distilling the above generic essence wants to achieve three things: Make life more meaningful and qualitative to these young Nigerians by ensuring that for the first time ever we have an integrated and systemic discount culture in Nigeria that is driven by welfarist instincts. Today, individual businesses have different categories of discounts and loyalty packages for specific products and services, but from now we will have this integrated, systemic platform that will warehouse thousands of such disparate entities either already offering or we get them to offer the vulnerable demography starting out with the students and the youth corps members. In the face of the steady impact, we have been approached to undertake federal civil servants discount platform and military discount platform. We are delighted that the Nigerian Students and Youth Corp Discount Card in only six months has proved to be a succour that led the other two entities to approach us to undertake a similar platform. But we will need to consult our huge partner’s base before we take these other two on.
Secondly, this Naija Green Card platform is not to promote consumerism alone rather it has the inherent opportunities of helping the young students and youth corps members to acquire skills and entrepreneurial training thereby also earn income to supplement their income from parents and guardians. Lastly, it is also to promote education and knowledge through the Academic Village Portal, which is like lecturers beyond borders. On this platform students particularly can connect with lecturers outside of their direct institutions and share in their knowledge.
What are the major challenges you are facing currently?
The major challenges of this initiative are: First, the logistics of getting partners across the length and breadth of this country in order for the platform to serve everybody equally. It is not intended to be an Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt or major city project. We are committed to have partners in every town and village so that all students and corps members can have maximum value for their cards; the cost of deploying personnel to all the states in Nigeria is humongous. Second, the process of enrolment must be thorough to ensure that the direct beneficiaries are the ones we enroll. So to get these done, we have had to commit huge resources to fix logistic demands of multi state activation. Lastly, not really a challenge is the inclination of Nigerians to want to copy; particularly, when they are motivated by pecuniary considerations. But we are convinced that those who are mimicking this initiative without clear understanding will have our brand to match.
Is there anything you think the government can do to support this initiative?
Yes, there are a lot that government can do to encourage our initiative particularly with the concern of the Federal government to introduce initiatives to cushion bare knuckles effects of the socio-economic realities the citizenry is facing. For instance when this initiative was launched in Malaysia, it was launched by the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, that underscores the importance of this initiative as a strong social safety net. Similarly in some states in India, it is a must have for students. We are in touch with the Special Adviser to the Vice President on the possibilities of deepening the impact and widening the frontiers of the social protection plan.
The Nigerian Students and Youth Corp Discount Card was launched on the March 21, 2016 in Abuja by the Speaker House of Representatives Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, with Vice Chancellors in attendance, Committee of Vice Chancellors represented, Minister of Education was represented, Honourable Members, endorsed by Senator Binta Marsi Garba, Senate Committee Chairperson on Education who told us that her daughter uses a card like this in the United Kingdom, further endorsements from National Youth Service Corps Chairman House Committee on Education, Comrade Aminu Suleiman, National Association of Nigerian Students etc. We are meeting the Vice President soon with a view to further align this initiative with the realities of the place of this initiative in the social protection plan of the Federal Government as it obtains in other climes.
What are the Benefits of the Naija Green Card?
The benefits of the Naija Green Card as mentioned earlier is to make life easier on all Nigerian Students and Youth Corp Members by opening unto them the opportunities to get maximum value for the little or limited resources available to them from their parents and guardians who are faced with the consequences of harsh socio economic realities which has made them to grapple with inability to afford the basic things that they need to cope on campus or as they go through service year. As we speak we have moved from 1815 corporate partners across a broad spectrum of sectors rendering needed service or providing products or training or the academic village platform, all put together will make like a lot less stifling for these young Nigerians who are writhing in pains from the challenges I mentioned earlier. We are obligated to make life less asphyxiating for them lest we breed a generation of those who hate the system under which they are raised.
Why focusing on students and youth corps members?
We have decided to focus on students and youth corps members because they are the most vulnerable and they feel the challenges the most. Secondly, they represent the identifiable and verifiable part of the broad youth demography. We believe that the future of Nigeria will be thrusted into the hands of these people and we feel we need to put this system in place to save them from allures of deviant options that they are daily faced with. We have relationship managers who are activating partners all over the country, as the awareness grows more partners from motoring , transportation, food and eatery, electronic, book store, banks for student support, insurance, hospital and medicare, entrepreneurial training, hospitality, skill training and acquisition etc offering from 5-50 percent on products and services.