The potential of the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises as a driver of Nigeria’s socio-economic growth has received another big boost, courtesy of the Etisalat Community Skills Set Programme. Peter Uzoho writes

The high rate of rural-urban migration is one of the worrisome demography issues in Nigeria in particular among the youth segment of the population. Almost every young person desires to live in the city centres especially on the premise of searching for jobs that are increasingly becoming more difficult to find. But, back home in the rural communities are huge untapped self employment opportunities that can stimulate wealth creation and poverty alleviation.

The development of Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises has been identified as one of the critical platforms through which countries including Nigeria can achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN- SDGs) on economic empowerment. This argument is more compelling given the status of Nigeria as a fledging economy with youth unemployment being a serious issue of concern.

According to a recent World Bank statistics, Nigeria’s youth unemployment rate is around 38 per cent. However, there are arguments that the figure realistically is close to 80 per cent with secondary leavers mostly found among unemployed rural population accounting for about half of this figure while university and polytechnic graduates make up the population.

Given the scenario, it is stating the obvious that the prospect of achieving the SDGs on economic empowerment for the productive stratum of the population would be a tall order – despite its attainability – if proactive steps are not taken to address the challenge. In light of this reality, government at all levels certainly require the full support of all stakeholders including private sector players to turn things around.

Aligned to its commitment to creating innovative solutions that help society solve everyday problems, Etisalat Nigeria in partnership with O.A. Bella Resources, recently empowered a total of 100 Nigerians with basic life skills and start-up equipment that could make them self dependent. The beneficiaries were selected from six communities across four states in the South-east and South-south regions of the country. They included Oromeruezimgbu, Rumuokuta and Awalama communities in Rivers State; Yenizuegene community in Bayelsa State; Usogun community in Auchi, Edo State and Uburu community in Ebonyi State.

The initiative which came on the platform of the company’s CSR-backed Community Support Programme, saw the beneficiaries undergo comprehensive training in such cottage business enterprises as soap and floor cleaner production, laundry and dry cleaning, hair dressing and air freshener and disinfectant production, and was aimed at helping the beneficiaries maximise their potentials through the establishment of start up businesses. On a broader scale, it was also aimed at contributing to the development of the economy through growing the SME sub-sector.

The Etisalat Community Skills Set Programme is a critical intervention that has further raised awareness of the need to harness the huge benefits in the cottage industry and the entrepreneurship of Nigerians for maximum socio-economic impact.

Speaking during the presentation of certificates and start-up kits to beneficiaries, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Education, Prof. John U. Ekeh, commended the initiative as timely. “This initiative by Etisalat to create employment through skill acquisition in the rural communities is quite commendable. They have shown that this is the need of the community. They have reduced unemployment for us.

The state government recently rolled out some empowerment programmes, but Etisalat is navigating the waters ahead,” he said.
Also speaking also in the same light, Vice President, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, Etisalat Nigeria, Ibrahim Dikko, said the company’s goal is to create entrepreneurs and set up community-based enterprises in the beneficiary states. This, he believes, would guarantee sustainability of the impacts in the long run.

“Etisalat believes in building sustainable societies and giving back to our host communities which is what we are doing with the CSSP. We are complementing the vision of the respective states to empower the youths to become self-reliant and socially responsible indigenes through creating entrepreneurs and setting up community-based enterprises,” he said.

Dikko added that the skill acquisition programme is proving to be a melting pot for dreams, aspirations, ambitions and opportunities and more importantly a developing gateway for a fully blossomed entrepreneurial spirit of the various classes of beneficiaries among whom are students, school leavers, applicants and housewives with a promise of amplified effects on the communities.

One of the beneficiaries from Rumuokuta community in Rivers State, Mrs. Amaka Amadi, commended the programme as a well-researched medication for the economic ills befalling the nation especially rural unemployment. Her words, “I believe in doing something with my hands and not carrying my certificates about looking for whom to employ me. Of course, you can see where we are; there is no job anywhere, but I tell you, if you are skilful, you will make a difference. The training is an eye-opener. I don’t know how other people see opportunity, but if you give me one, I see it in different forms. The training is making me to think wide and I am contemplating going into research on soap and cream making. The tips from the training have been helpful.”

Another beneficiary, Oyakpa Jacob Azu, a 400-Level student of History and Diplomacy, Niger Delta University expressed joy that the empowerment programme would make them become economically independent of government and employers of labour. He said, “It was indeed a great experience because as a person, you don’t depend on government alone; you need also to be self-dependent to some extent. We are in a very difficult situation now in the nation, and as such being dependent on yourself will help a long way, and for a start, I think Etisalat has impacted in me to the extent that I can be a boss on my own; I can be an employer of labour, I can be an entrepreneur that can help humanity.”

The direct impact circle of the Community Support Programme may have been 100, but its spiralling effects promise a boost in the economic fortunes of the beneficiary communities.

The paramount ruler of Enugwu Autonomous Community in Uburu, Ebonyi State, HRH Eze Godwin Akpando Okoro, Omeze 11, was unequivocal on how his community plans to maximise and sustain the gains of the programme. “I will supervise them to ensure the knowledge acquired is not being kept in the cooler, but being put into use on daily basis so that as the days go by, they will start to train others who will in turn train other people. We are going to sustain it by constant encouragement in whatever way we can,” he assured.

Head of Government and Community Relations, Etisalat Nigeria, Mohammed Suley-Yusuf, affirmed the telco’s continued support for SMEs and community development in Nigeria, line with its vision of being a network that enables people and institutions. His words,”Let them take this as an opportunity to grow, to build businesses, enterprise, to innovate and see how they can create employment for others. We don’t want to create employment for 25, 30, or 100 people. We want to create employment for 100 people that will also create for 2000 more. We want to sow the seed that will germinate and create more employment in the society.”

The Community Support Programme is one of the various CSR-platforms employed by Etisalat to cater to the needs of its host communities, especially in the three cardinal areas of health, education and environment. It also supports governments in their efforts to improve the living standard of citizens.