On a Path that Creates Solutions…

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Abimbola Idowu

BOOK REVIEW

Never an accident — when does that statement become a credo of personal achievements, cresting in public service glory? You may well find the ultra-rich answers in Afolabi Sokpehi Imoukhuede’s new book, “Not An Afterthought: Private Sector Pragmatism to Government Idealism & the N-Power Success Story.”

As President Muhammadu Buhari’s senior special assistant (SSA) on job creation, Afolabi Imoukhuede (AI) drove the conceptualisation and implementation of N-Power, the job-creation segment of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP), a key economic and developmental programme of the Buhari Presidency. That was in its earliest days, from 2015 to 2019.

The author ran the IT-driven N-Power. That IT-leverage, according to him, providing ample proof in this very rich book, made it well and truly equal-opportunity: for none of its more than 500, 000 beneficiaries, under four years, needed to know anybody, or carry any political card, to be admitted into the volunteer scheme. Just note: 500, 000 is five times the size of the federal bureaucracy!

Perhaps, this Babatunde Fashola quote, on the author, will shed light on where AI was coming from; and his passion to impose his tight private-sector ideas on an often flabby public sector ethos – made possible, of course, by the right temper of his immediate political bosses: Vice President Osinbajo and Mrs. Uwais.

“His passion,” Fashola gushed in a commendation speech, at AI’s SkillUp Academy graduation, on 12 October 2015, “clearly underlines the path he has chosen – a path that creates solutions to our problems, rather than being one of the many voices of lamentation who offer no solutions. Afolabi,” he continued, “and many like him, who have chosen to act rather than agonise, represent the Nigerian spirit that I have known and I have urged.”
Fashola’s “solution versus lamentation” remark is generally true of vocal Nigerians, who take solace in lamentation and little else. But it is even truer of the media, which has a constitutional responsibility to call the government to account, but many times take that as licence to wail and throw tantrums without responsibility.

But for this book’s claim – with ample proof – that N-Power created more than 500, 000 jobs in less than four years, there is no corresponding media scrutiny: beyond shallow reports and casual dismissal without rigorous interrogation.This book would be proof, when this generation is gone, that the press of this era could have done a far better job, of their constitutional responsibilities.

But the N-Power story, as reported in this book, is as much its “miraculous” results as its strict, rigorous and open entry processes, all IT-driven. To many, “equal opportunity” appears yet another cliche, difficult to realise – in any case, not in Nigeria where politics and other primordial biases appear to be everything. N-Power seems proudly different.
From the beneficiaries’ testimonies, quoted at length in the book, the initial feeling was doubt – another government programme, promising everything, delivering nothing. Yet, the bulk of the volunteers, who “knew nobody”, were surprised to make the cut; and benefit from its entrepreneurial training.

As that initial doubt gave way to pleasant shock, what followed was an irrepressible neophyte zest, that brooked no obstacle, among the energized volunteers. Kabir Ishola Balogun, a 2009 microbiology graduate of the University of Ilorin, is a shining example.
By January 2018, Balogun had registered, with the CAC, the Progressive N-Power Business Ventures Farm (PNBV), also known as Kwara N-Power Farm — a cooperative diversified farm, of crop farming, poultry and animal husbandry, owned by ex-N-Power volunteers, leasing 40 hectares of land for 10 years, at the University of Ilorin Teaching and Research Farm Avenue. PNBV is also conceived for interested undergraduates to till and earn some cash.

The extensive stories of this new N-Power tribe, of pan-Nigerian youths, are richly told in the book’s Chapter 12 — “Heroes (and Sheroes) of N-Power”, over 36 golden pages (pp. 217-253). Indeed, N-Power: knowledge is power!
But these tales are no happenstance. They probably wouldn’t have happened, in the way they did, if AI had not taken a personal decision to train as Human Capital Strategist (HCS), after earning a degree in Accounting from Rutgers University, USA.
Meanwhile his late father, the late Joseph E. Imoukhuede, famed top civil servant of the old Western Region, later of Midwest Region (later Midwestern State), wanted his last-born to study Medicine, and grab an MBBS. The story of how the young AI abandoned his medical studies at the University of Lagos to train as certified accountant and HCS in America is told in the book.

Afolabi Imoukhuede, MBBS, would have been treating individual patients. But Afolabi Imoukhuede, MCS, is busy “treating” thousand of Nigerian youths to “SkillUp”; and better positively dominate their socio-economic environment. With the N-Power 500, 000, Nigeria has been richer for it.

As AI counselled in the book’s “Final Thoughts”, N-Power, as other legs of the NSIP, should become a “conveyor belt”, which Nigeria’s three-tiers should deepen to create opportunities and deliver value. From the poverty alleviation programmes (PAP) of the Obasanjo era (which proved no more than structured poverty), N-Power offers a credible prototype for sustained growth, to permanently lift millions out of poverty.

This book is a trasure trove, in political and economic history, the Imoukhuede family legacy, linkages and business networking, local and international, and a lot more.
Yet its invaluable treasure, is its demonstrable tactics and strategies, to convert Nigeria’s huge youth population (now, a drag), into a humongous human capital (a future propeller), for sustainable development and mass prosperity.