It is indeed a great pleasure to return to this great institution, an intellectual haven that molded me in the very best traditions of research, leadership, administration, the arts, understanding of the values of life and the centrality of human progress as the measure of labour.
I would like to thank the National President of our Alumni Association, Dr. Kemi Emina for the invitation to deliver this lecture today. I acknowledge the outstanding leadership that our Alumni Association has provided to Nigeria and the contributions that it continues to make to the growth and development of the University of Ibadan – Nigeria’s premier university.
Before I make my comments on the importance of technical and vocational education, please permit me to make some preliminary comments:
Firstly, the notion of youth empowerment implies a deliberate commitment of government to involve the youth in the socio-economic and political development of the Nation. Unfortunately, despite the continuous “youth agenda” propaganda, not much has been achieved since independence even under civilian rule.
Most of the hundreds of skills acquisition programmes in the country are disconnected from the evolution of the labour market demand as well as the societal evolution of the country. Few states have realized this and are taking steps to develop robust technical and vocational programs.
The fundamental reasons for this rather low level of youth involvement include policy inconsistency and the lack of a disciplined planning process. Today, we have an army of unemployed, underemployed and unemployable youths that threaten both national stability and security. We are now faced with the reality of what to do with them and for them.
Secondly, a response to the youth challenge requires credible leadership. Leadership must, through policy, programmes and politics, critically insert itself into the realities of our young people with an understanding of their needs, peculiarities, expectations and aspirations.
Such leadership, in collaboration with the private sector should be tasked with the development and implementation of a sustainable roadmap which transcends personalities and regimes. This establishes a firm basis for sustainability, innovation, mass participation, and development of relevant programs.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we have neglected technical and vocational education for far too long. The discrimination that polytechnic graduates still suffer after graduation is a clear illustration of this situation. Many technical schools have been converted to regular schools to produce all sorts of “certificates”. Others are simply glorified institutions with nothing technical about them; certainly not in the curriculum, not in technology nor in the faculties, facility and general infrastructure. In this way, we have gradually lost the vision and mission of producing a cadre of skilled young Nigerians to perform technical responsibilities in government, industry and general services.
It is no wonder therefore, that many foreign investors bring their own staff using legal and underhand tactics to comply with or evade the quota system for expatriate labour. In other cases, Nigeria-based businesses are forced to spend huge sums of money recruiting and re-training graduates.
We may all be familiar with the fact that if you require the services of good tailors today you go the Republic of Benin or Ghana. When you want to build a gazebo in your compound, roof a house or lay tiles, the recommendations we receive are for skilled artisans from neighbouring countries.
In similar vein, many of us have patronized hotels, restaurants, shops, carpenters, welders, and mechanics in contemporary Nigeria. In many cases, the service you receive must have brought you close to tears and at great cost. This is because, many of these artisans received peripheral apprenticeship with a so-called master and “graduate” with no proper certifications or experience. This is a further illustration of the predicament we have found ourselves in Nigeria today.
The manifestation of the institutional failure to provide jobs for our teeming youths has become a critical push factor in the current phenomenon of human trafficking and irregular migration.
As you might be aware, Edo State was almost becoming synonymous with human trafficking. Today, the story is different. We have admitted that it is our challenge. From our investigations we now have a better understanding of the root causes, the push and pull factors, etcetera. Our analysis and research from the data that we have gathered have assisted us tremendously in understanding the size, scope, demographics, travel routes and the communities most prone to trafficking. In other words, we now have a better understanding of how complex the problem is.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, amongst other findings, it became obvious that the absence of a robust, well-modeled and adequately monitored technical and vocational system to offer opportunities for youths to get decent work and jobs is a key factor responsible for the massive movement of young people abroad in search of greener pastures.
In recent times, over 50,000 young men and women have left Edo State for Europe making the perilous journey through war-torn Libya, the Mediterranean Sea and on to Europe. We estimate that over 15% of them may have died in the course of the journey. Of the over 3,500 that have returned so far, many remain traumatized with tales of woe and frustration.
While it is true that there are other pressure points that tend to push our young people to other lands, the fact remains that as a nation, we have failed to provide hope for a better future for our young people who constitute the majority of our population.
Edo State: Technical and Vocational Education as Priority
Around the world, countries have been able to enjoy comparative advantage in productivity and economic growth as a result of the strength of their Education systems.
The Nigeria solution to technical and vocational education has been articulated in various documents such as the National Policy on Education, the National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) and Vision 20:2020.
The strategy expands the role of education as an investment tool for economic, social and political development to include education as:
1) An aggregate tool of empowerment of the poor, and the socially marginalized groups;
2) An effective means of developing the full capacities and potential of human resource, and
3) The development of a competent work force through the acquisition of practical life skills relevant to the world of work as a veritable means of developing sound intelligent learning societies, fit and relevant to the 21st century.
To achieve this, the transformative nature of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) became apparent. Consequently, the mission and vision of TVET was defined to cover:
i. Technical Colleges
ii. Vocational Enterprise Institutions (VEIS)
iii. National Vocational Qualification Framework (NVQF)
If properly implemented, TVET was expected to offer compatibility between labor demand and labor supply because Technical Education that emphasizes acquisition of skills as well as vocational knowledge would offer our youths empowerment for self-reliance, self-determination, economic and financial independence and economic development of the society.
Unfortunately the aspiration of TVET has been thwarted over the years by:
· Lack of funding
· Poor basic education
· Lack of facilities/instructional materials equipment, tools for teaching
· Nonchalant attitude
· Vandalism of equipment, tools by both the beneficiaries and community inhabitants.
Edo State Strategy:
The State Government has designed a development strategy based on widespread consultation with stakeholders. The 6 thematic pillars in that strategy are
· Institutional Reform – emphasizing transparency, accountability and building human capacity, systems and processes
· Economic Revolution- utilizing our rich endowments and comparative advantages to drive economic growth in areas like agriculture, services and manufacturing
· Infrastructure Development – to enhance mobility of goods and people and improve economic and social efficiencies
· Socio-welfare Enhancement – to make quantum leaps in education, health and other services to ensure inclusive growth and support the weak.
· Environmental Sustainability – to protect our environment particularly our forest endowment
· Culture and Tourism – use our rich culture and history to Place Edo as Nigeria’s foremost tourism destination
To fulfill these pillars, we have, as a government, undertaken several ground-breaking action and initiatives over the last 20 months since I took over the governance of Edo State. Amongst the multitude of actions, policies and programs, those that have multiplier effects in stimulating the economy and attracting private investments include, the design and the development of a 996 hectares Industrial Park and development of the Benin River port. We have also successfully launched a new industrial program including revision of incentives to investors, introduced technology in revenue collection, established a Public Private Partnership “PPP” office and an Edo Investment Promotion Bureau, initiating an Ease of Doing Business campaign.
During my electioneering campaign, I promised the people of Edo State that I would invest heavily in Education and to create a minimum of 200,000 jobs by 2020.
In order to fulfil my election campaign, we need to reverse the trend of unemployment of our youths and must equip them with skills to fulfill investors’ demand. Our plan is to utilize the potential of TVET for youth empowerment, therefore the Edo State government has ensured that we accord high priority to technical education in our reform agenda. This was expressed clearly to stakeholders when in my first day in office as the Governor of Edo State, I paid a visit to the Government Science and Technical College in Benin City.
To overcome the challenges with TVET I have highlighted above, we have undertaken a well-articulated approach to the challenge.
In February 2017, we held a major workshop with stakeholders from within and beyond the state. We discussed the critical issues on how to reposition technical and vocational education in the state.
Next, we conducted a state-wide assessment of vocational schools. We found out that many of such centers claiming to be offering catering, hairdressing and related courses were just camps for human trafficking. We are closing down such institutions and have already begun repurposing them (converting their programs using self-sustaining models in partnership with the private sector).
Critically, we have proceeded to close and redesign the Government Science and Technical College in Benin, and we are currently rebuilding it to reflect contemporary requirements for a full-fledged technical college. The World Bank being impressed by these strides has contributed 1.2 Million Dollars (400 Million Naira) to this project and is set to invest an additional 2.7 Million Dollars (1 Billion Naira) in the coming year.
We are also carrying out surgical restructurings of the tertiary institutions that provide such educational opportunities. We shut down the state-owned College of Agriculture, Iguoriakhi, paid-off the staff and sent the students on Internships with large corporations such as Presco, Okomu, and Leventis. The Government pays them N20,000 monthly while on the Internship. In the meantime, we are restructuring the curriculum, rebuilding the institution and upgrading the facilities, and will be recruiting truly qualified faculty for the new three campuses of the College of Agriculture in Iguoriakhi (Edo South), Uromi (Edo Central) and Agenebode (Edo North). Incidentally, we are involving the private sector in the design and management of the programmes of the Colleges.
Similarly, the Edo State Polytechnic in Usen (formerly Institute of Management and Technology) is being repositioned to teach relevant courses that will enhance the employability status of each graduate. We have put in place a new management and we are in the process of redesigning the entire institution to serve the needs of the state and the private sector. These are just some of the steps that we have adopted to privilege technical and vocational education training in Edo State.
We realize that if the foundation on which the educational system is weak, we cannot produce students who are technically strong. Therefore we are transforming Basic education in Edo State through EDO – BEST (Edo Basic Education Sector Transformation). In Edo BEST we are overhauling our entire basic education by retraining our teachers, improving the governance of our schools and utilizing technology to improve both pedagogy and learning.
In order to further create stronger linkages between industry and job seekers. One of the first initiatives of my government was to create “EdoJobs”, an initiative that has now evolved into a Skills Development Centre. The objective was first, to obtain data on the numbers, qualifications, location, and interests of Edo youths. Second, was to provide training and employability support, and the third was to match the trained youths with private sector employers through the new synergy we have established. So far, over 45,000 jobs have been created through self-employment or placements with the private sector.
We are also liaising with the private sector in Edo to build a direct linkage between the schools and their skills requirement. We are inviting the private sector to be part of the development of a new program for instruction and training; support technological innovation; and create opportunities for internship and eventually recruitment.
Edo State is emphasizing practical, skills-based certifications. We are not only going to ensure that the schools have accreditation, but we are also planning to ensure that the students write the international examinations to acquire global certifications. This way, those that wish to travel abroad can do so legally and be sure that they can find gainful employment abroad. In this way, we check human trafficking and irregular migration.
These are just some of the steps that we have adopted to privilege technical and vocational education training in Edo State. I have said it severally that if I have N100 to spend on Education, I will allocate N40 to technical and vocational education, N20 to basic education, and N40 to tertiary education. The point is not that we do not appreciate the importance of other levels, rather, it is to underscore the critical position of TVET to my government. Over the years, TVET simply slipped off the education map and coupled with poor public perception in the country, it became neglected. In Edo State, we are changing the narrative and in couple of years, the results will become obvious.
Edo State has signed an MOU with the Nigerian Institute of Welding to support our technical colleges and help re-train most of the artisans with no certifications. This will be extended to other sectors where we plan to provide opportunity for skills update for artisans and give them the needed certifications to enhance their businesses.
For us in Edo State, we are determined to bridge the skills-gap in our market. We recognize that to solve the unemployment challenge, we need to encourage people to look more at technical and vocational training to empower themselves. We also recognize that we need to do a lot of work to change public perception about TVET. One way of doing this is to give it full public support, redesign the institutions and programs and put them under qualified management. In addition, we have deliberately set out to work in partnership with the private sector so that our demand-driven strategy will promote higher options of employment for our products. Through our economic programs, we hope to expand our economic activities to also absorb those that opt for self-employment. We are working to ensure that such graduates are provided with starter-packs and soft loans to enable them to establish their businesses.
Lean resources cannot be the excuse for not prioritizing and investing in technical and vocational education training. Leaders must take it upon themselves to change the wrong public perception. There are no more government jobs available to absorb the thousands of graduations that our higher institutions produce every year. If we truly want to work for peace, stability, growth and development in the interest of our people and nation, this is the time to wake up and reposition TVET in Nigeria. For us in Edo State, we have recognized the challenges and we are confronting them frontally. If we succeed in Edo State, it may inspire similar transformations elsewhere. We are open to new ideas and I urge you all to think of innovative ways to assist us to meet our goals to serve our country.
I thank you for listening.
Being a Lecture delivered by Edo State Governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, at the 2018 National Alumni Lecture of the University of Ibadan Alumni Association, in Trenchard Hall, Ibadan, on Friday, August 3, 2018.