Peterson: Why We Must Focus on Youth Empowerment

Donald Peterson

The founder of D. Peterson Foundation, Dr. Donald Peterson, in this interview speaks about the various interventions by his foundation. Sunday Okobi and Ugo Aliogo bring the excerpts:

What are the recent empowerment projects you have initiated?
We are not empowering the youths, rather what we are doing is investing in them. So what we are doing is known as youth investment programme, and not youth empowerment. We are creating lifeline for our youths. For me, youth empowerment is not an end to end initiative. For instance, when you get a young graduate who has no job after three years of graduation, and give him a motorcycle, is that empowerment? Have you really checked what he will do with that motorcycle? So what we do is beyond empowerment, so we call our programme ‘youth investment or creating lifeline for our youths’. How we have gone about that is that, first we look at the trend of things in the world. The world is going ICT. You have heard of 5G and everybody is heralding it. China, and South Africa have launched 5G, Europe and America are launching 5G. 5G is actually the lifeline that will run artificial intelligence. So how then can we help our youths to acquire the right set of skills that will make them fit into the scheme of things as it were today? For instance, today, banking transactions are done on the phone and online. So you can actually tell where the world is going? It is actually technology driven. So we realised that our youths are technology savvy and they sometimes use computers to do things that are not completely right or probably wrong. So we thought why don’t we channel that energy into something more productive. We looked around and realised that the nearest place you can learn software development is in Benin. We checked with the NIIT and we discovered that the resource people they have on ground can only teach Java. Software development has gone beyond Java; we are in python stage. Python is the deepest and neatest programming language available today. So what we did was to call our youths and met with them, enlightened them on the importance of software development. We have kicked off the registration and it started about three weeks ago, and I am delighted to tell you that we have registered 257 candidates already. What we are trying to do is to put the centre at the College of Education, (COE) Agbor. The programme is open to Ika indigenes. Why the COE was chosen was because it is central, accessible and it also gives some credibility to the thing we are doing in the sense that if the diploma is awarded by the college, it gives some form of credibility to it.

The college gives the programme acceptability in the sense that the programme is done in the college. It also gives the students the understanding that they are in a school setting to learn not just putting them in an office that is why we chose COE. I am happy to announce that the Government of Delta State, through the office of the Secretary to the State Governor, (SSG) and the office of the Commission for Higher Education; are in love with the programme because it has to do with investing in the youths. Soon, we will be having the approval for the learning to be domiciled in the college. It is free to all youths of Ika nation. I will like to state here that to learn Java, it is N350, 000 per student. Python is deeper and neater, so you should be looking at N350, 000 or N400.000. We are not just stopping at teaching our students; we also want them to take advantage of the Cife programme from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The CBN announced sometime in July that they have mandated banks to give soft loans to software developers at about nine percent per annum. One of the requirements is that you need to have your business proposals to present to the bank. So we are not just stopping at teaching, we are also creating cabal (groups) with a project assigned to these groups. That project will ultimately become their business case which they will submit to the bank. So you give them an app that relates to businesses as it were in Nigeria for them to develop. When they test it and develop it, based on that we can now present the proposal to the bank for them to access the loan with which they can start a business so that defines the issue of the life line we are talking about. We are not just stopping at that because that is the first phase of the initiative. We are teaching between 60-100 students per time. So if the first 100 students graduate they have two to three months to settle down and go into the second phase. The second phase is graphics technology. If you look at Nollywood, as at 2015, the CBN reported that Nollywood was worth $695 million. Now as at December, 2018, CNN reported that Nollywood was valued at $2billion. What this means is the financial worth has quadrupled.

Now what do you think that Nollywood will be in 2023, my guess is as good as yours, in the realms of $7-10 billion. That means we are producing more movies, there is more money to be made and there is also need to improve on the quality of our movies. In improving on the quality of your movies apart from equipment and others, you also need technology to help your movie. If you remember the movie titanic, when the ship titanic sank, a lot of persons who watched the movie cried, because it was so real, but it was shot in a studio. That was actually graphic technology and we want to prepare our youths for that before they get to that. So, what we are trying to do is to teach Ika youths all these. So what we are driving at is preparing our youths for the opportunity of the future.

After that second phase which is graphic technology which is going to take about six to eight months to learn, don’t forget that in their first phase they have already received a loan from federal government and they are either employed or employer of labour while they are still learning the graphics technology. After learning the graphics technology, they will be ready to cash on the opportunities that Nollywood will throw at them.

The last phase is known as augmented reality. In the future, say 10 to 15years, you don’t need to go travel to have an interview or do teleconferencing. What is needed to be done is to beam the presence of the individual you want to interview or have the conversation with, all you need to do is to beam a hologram; it will look so real that you think the person is here. We will also teach them that.

From your own standpoint, what’s the level of readiness of the Ika youths for this social investment programme?
This whole thing didn’t start today, but two years; then they were not ready. Two years ago, when we told them about this, they told us to give them laptops and money, then provide lunch for them to come and learn. That was two years ago. But the story has changed now, they are the ones disturbing us. They are now ready. I am very happy that the government of the day is fighting internet fraud because we don’t want our youths to grow up becoming fraudsters. We want them taken off that dangerous path. Now, our youths are seeing that there is no future in that and crime does not pay. Now they are looking inward on how to develop themselves and here is the programme which says with it, you can eke out a living for yourself and live well.

What sustainability measures have you put in place to drive this initiative?
First, I want to thank the government of Delta State for graciously approving that we use the COE because the venue is free. Secondly, the resource persons are the software engineers and developers in my software company. They will be deployed here. Thirdly, that is the trend of things now; everything is about technology, so I don’t see why this programme will not succeed. Fourthly, the federal government through the CBN has woken up to say they are helping software developers through the introduction of the CIFI programme. The programme allows software developers to actually have access to loans at a lower interest rate. I see the programme being secured from end to end. The state government has done their path by giving us a location that is free. We have the resources, we don’t need to go and source, we already have it in-house.

What are other community development initiatives you have put in place?

When we came in, we realise that Agbor-Obi was faced with a lot of issues because it was in the height of the rainy season then. So what we did was to help clean up the drains, from a junction known as Ebuenor junction to the palace junction because the drains were totally blocked. You could see that we had a lot of sand and we packed it up and got people to assist. The Local Government Council Chairman and his team provided logistics to help pack the sand. The Agbor local vigilante also helped to sensitise the people. When people saw the sincerity of the exercise, they joined to clean their drains.

Apart from cleaning the drains, they were areas, where erosion had damaged the road such as Edike street junction where a young man died two years ago, because the road was already turning to one lane. The young man was trying to avoid the pothole, and there was an oncoming vehicle which knocked him down and he died. So we had to patch that place and made it two lanes and introduced speed bumps because a lot of people had died.

Recently, before the market in Agbor-Obi, two young boys, died during a head on collision on motorbike; so we have introduced two speed bumps to reduce speeds. On Orikeze Avenue, two years ago, someone was kidnapped under the cover of darkness, and the person has not been found till today. So what did was to introduce street lights on Orikeze Avenue. In doing that, we noticed that the street was not very clean, so we thought to ourselves there are a lot of women who are idle, so we had to get them engaged actively instead of giving them money. So in making them productive, we put them under a lady supervisor.