Empowering Barracks’ Youths

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Chiemelie Ezeobi writes on the effort by the Nigerian Air Force to engage its youths in the barracks through empowerment in agricultural entrepreneurship 
 
For years, the seeming perception of barracks’ youths has always been one riddled with negativity. This has often been attributed to idleness and unemployment of the youths living in either military or paramilitary barracks.
However, to change that narrative, especially for the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) bases, the Youth Empowerment Scheme was born, which later gave rise to the Barrack Youths Empowerment Through Agriculture (BYETA), an initiative of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, whose key drivers have always been hinged on welfare of personnel and capacity building.
Under this scheme, the youths living in NAF bases nationwide are to be engaged in agricultural empowerment in the sense that they are trained on food and livestock farming, and loans are made accessible to them through a cooperative, so that they can be useful to themselves and the society at large. With this, it is intended that they stop being job seekers and translate to job creators and providers. 
At the inauguration of the scheme, which took place at NAF Logistics Command Headquarters, Ikeja, Lagos, the Air Officer Commanding, Logistics Command, Air Vice Marshal Sani Ahmed said, “You may recall that early this year, a set of youths from this command successfully completed the first batch of the CAS Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) that was aimed at improving the lives of our youths in the barracks. Today marks yet another milestone in the lives of our youths through the CAS directives which transformed into a cooperative society. 
“The main objective is to promote socio-economic development of members through modern and globally acceptable training in poultry, fish farming, food and cash crops farming and livestock farming such as piggery, animal fattening etc. The cooperative would also maintain centrally owned machinery and tools for processing of farm products. Furthermore, it would facilitate the supply of farm equipment, seeds fertiliser etc and technical know-how for members of the cooperative society. These are just a few of the numerous benefits of this initiative that we launched. 
“To our dear youths, please take this golden opportunity that the CAS is offering you to improve your livelihood as you are all aware of the current economic recession our dear country is passing through. It is my prayer that as a result of today’s exercise, your lives will never remain the same again. I congratulate each one of you on this historic moment. 
“I also thank CAS, who is the driving force behind this programme. I believe under his tenure, the NAF and indeed its personnel and their families have recorded tremendous progress in all facets of endeavours. It is my fervent prayer that God Almighty rewards him.”  
The Barracks Youth Initiative
While inaugurating the scheme, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar, who was represented by the Chief of Administration, Air Vice Marshal Ajibola Jekennu, said the 104 youths who are beneficiaries of this scheme will not be left unguided but would rather be supervised by the Commander, 435 Base Services Group (BSG), Air Commodore Paul Masiyer.
He said, “The youths are the most active elements that stimulate rapid economic growth and technological development of any nation. According to the National Bureau of Statistics in its 2012 national youth survey report, ‘youths of working age, in the bracket of 15 to 35 years area nearly 70 million persons in a population of 166 million Nigerians; out of this number, 54 per cent are unemployed’.
“At present, Nigeria is ranked amongst the poorest nations with serious economic challenges partly due to the global economic recession compounded by declining oil revenue, insecurity, inadequate infrastructure and youth employment. As part of concerted efforts to revamp the economy, the Federal Government embarked on economic diversification of different sectors especially in the areas of solid minerals development, tourism and agriculture. 
“In pursuance of the economic diversification policy, the Federal Government recently launched the agricultural sector roadmap known as ‘The Green Alternative’. The programme to be run from 2016 to 2020, aims to boost food production nationwide and create job opportunities. In order to key into this laudable programme of President Muhammadu Buhari, the NAF decided to introduce the BYETA.”
According to the road map of the CAS, the BYETA is intended to provide employment through agriculture for the teeming youths across all the NAF bases nationwide. 
Air Marshal Abubakar said, “This strategic initiative is in consolidation of the Youth Empowerment Programme we started earlier this year in which a total of 86 persons trained in various fields graduated from our Lagos and Kaduna skills acquisition centres. These noble efforts aimed at assisting the children of our personnel to become independent is in conformity with a key driver of my vision for NAF, which is ‘human capacity development through robust and result-oriented training for enhanced professional performance’.
“Different types of cooperatives exist with the motive of helping individuals to get financial support to obtain their basic needs of life. Study has confirmed that most developed nations have continued to engage the agricultural cooperatives to boost economies of their countries and the well-being of their citizens. 
“In this country, the Federal Government through the Central Bank of Nigeria provides funds for enhancing local food production and guaranteeing food security. Every year, through the Bank of Agriculture and some other commercial banks, the CBN releases about N200 billion in agricultural loans to help solve the problem of capital in farming business. The grants are supposed to cover many aspects of agriculture such as fishing, farming, snail, cotton, cassava and rice farming.
“These funds are accessible to large scale mechanised farmers. However, the funds could also be easily accessed by small scale farmers through agricultural cooperative societies. It is therefore highly necessary for interested youths to come together to form cooperatives. Let me add that the association formed by the youths of the NAF in Lagos area titled ‘Headquarters Logistics Command Ikeja Cooperative Agricultural Multipurpose Society Limited’ is a step in the right direction.
“The cooperative, being a special form of business ownership, enjoys certain advantages which are not available to other organisations. The benefits of a cooperative include saving production costs of essential commodities, provision of employment opportunities, availability of loan facilities for the purchase of equipment and construction of needed infrastructure. This, the environment created by cooperatives are very helpful for the special and economic progress of the country particularly in raising the standard of living of its citizens. 
“I therefore urge every unemployed youth living on the base to join the headquarters Logistics Command in order to benefit from the programme. The NAF would assist you in accessing loans from the federal and state governments and guide you in the implementation of your choice of agricultural project. In the near future, it is expected that the beneficiaries of this youth empowerment programme would become chief executive officers of factories, companies and job providers rather than job seekers.
“I encourage you to develop positive mindset in agriculture and take good advantage of the scheme designed to mould you into successful entrepreneurs. We extend our profound gratitude to President Muhammadu Buhari for his visionary leadership and immense support for the NAF. On a final note, I urge the various youth organisations in the base to continue to guide the youths to ensure the programme is a success.”
The Cooperative Scheme
Under this scheme, the beneficiaries will under the cooperative, access soft loans from the federal and state governments to enable them fund their agricultural business enterprises. 
While addressing the beneficiaries, Mrs. Bola Olaniyon of the Lagos State Ministry of Trade and Cooperatives, said the scheme was a step in the right direction. She said, “There is a lot of diversity from oil and people are heading towards agriculture. If you choose agriculture, you have chosen equality.
“Cooperatives provide socio-economic development of ourselves because we can’t totally depend on government and banks. In cooperatives, we put our resources together to move forward. There are also so many benefits attached as you can take loans to finance your business activities. Agric cooperatives have opportunities to get grants from World Bank, as well as the federal and state government. “
The Chief Registrar of the Lagos State Cooperatives, Mr. Dibi Bakare, said, “This is one of the cardinal agenda of the Federal Government. Even though we are not under the Ministry of Finance, we can help recipients to access whatever they want from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. This means that we are going to use the cooperative to help you access agricultural grants.”
While commending the CAS for considering them worthy of the scheme, the president of the youth group said, “We appreciate the Airforce because it is not easy to help people. With this, now we can help our families in the future.”