Rebecca Ejifoma writes on the winning strategy of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, which is geared towards driving job and wealth creation component of his vision of prosperity for all Delta indigenes
Nothing captures the story of growing prosperity in Nigeria’s Delta State better than the endorsement by the World Bank of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s job and wealth creation scheme. At the maiden Products Exhibition and Business Fair for beneficiaries of the scheme in December 2017, the Senior Specialist in Education for the World Bank, Dr Tunde Adekola affirmed that “Delta State is the only state that has demonstrated its commitment to skills development in practical terms.”
Speaking further, Adekola declared that “the World Bank will continue to support the Delta State government in the areas of skills and technical development, and will work with the job creation office to strengthen the labour market observatory system in order to make Governor Okowa’s dream of re-creating the middle class a reality.”
This glowing endorsement gives both essence and credence to recent statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). This year, the NBS released two major statistics, first on Poverty-Population ratio among states in Nigeria, and second on unemployment rate in the country. Both statistics took cognisance of both the national average and prevailing averages across the 36 states.
On both instances, Delta State recorded appreciable improvement and growth both in terms of number of people rescued from poverty and those saved from the unemployment market. Delta did not only surpass and better the national average on both indices of development, it climbed up the rung in the rank of states especially in the poverty to population ratio.
The latest NBS report released in May this year showed Lagos leading the chart (4.5 per cent) of prosperous states on poverty-to-population ratio. This means that only 4.5 per cent of Lagos population survive on the breadline of less than $1 per day. Conversely, a good 95.5 per cent of Lagosians live above $1 per day. Lagos is closely followed by Delta (6.0 per cent), Osun (8.5 per cent), Ogun (9.3 per cent) and Oyo (9.8 per cent). Delta fared far better than other oil-rich states of Bayelsa (22.6 per cent), Rivers (23.9 per cent) and Akwa Ibom (26.8 per cent).
But it was not always so. The NBS statistics for 2015 on the same poverty-population index was not-too-impressive for Delta. That year, the states with best poverty-to-headcount ratio were, surprisingly, Niger State followed by Osun, Ondo, Bayelsa and Lagos in that order. The worst states were Sokoto (sitting at the bottom), Katsina, Adamawa, Gombe, Jigawa, Plateau, Ebonyi (the only South- east state in the bottom bracket). Delta Statewas hovering between 6th and 10th position, which many considered unbefitting of its profile as an oil-producing state.
The legendary illustrious spirit of an average Deltan to dare and to excel were also considered as factors that ought to have made the state fare better on the national poverty-population index.
A study of the charts between 2015 and 2020 showed that Delta achieved the fastest transformation of dragging more of its residents out of poverty. The national poverty to population average for 2020 is 40 percent of 200 million Nigerians which translates to more than 82 million Nigerians presumably living on less than $1 per day, according to the NBS.
By 2019, Nigeria was ranked the poverty capital of the world, a position hitherto held by India. It means that between 2015 and 2020, more Nigerians had slipped into the extreme poverty club.
It’s something to be ashamed of, says Mr. Fred Muoka, a Lagos-based development economist. According to him, Nigeria with all her potential in human and natural resources ought to be among the top 20 economies of the world with very good income per capita.
He attributes the nation’s economic and overall development woes to poverty of leadership. “Over the years, Nigeria has not had leaders with grand vision and political will to execute the vision. All we have had were leaders who come to the stage unprepared for the job of leadership or in some cases ill-prepared. This gave room to several knee-jerk approaches to governance.
“When you look at Nigeria’s contemporaries in Asia namely Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea (some of these countries were below Nigeria in per capital income and other indices of development in the 1960s), but today they are competing with the Americas and Europe in technology, trade and industry. The difference is that these Asian nations had the benefit of good leadership which Nigeria never had,” he said.
In Nigeria, the high poverty index is a function of bad governance both at the centre and at the various strata of government, be it state and local governments. Perhaps, President Muhammadu Buhari had long realised the overriding need to lift the economy. Perhaps, too, the president has also realised that having huge deposits of crude oil is not a guarantee for prosperity especially if the crude oil deposits are not well-managed by those entrusted with the mandate to do so.
Hence, the president has rolled out an ambitious agricultural programme with emphasis on grains cultivation and production. The result of this new push in agriculture through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers programme is the quantum leap in local rice production.
This is the sense in which the case of the job and wealth creation scheme in Delta State deserves a closer study. It’s an advanced version of the federal government’s initiative in that it focusses on a wider berth in the agriculture value chain. Beyond agriculture, the youth empowerment initiatives of Governor Okowa include a new wave of skills acquisition, training in entrepreneurship and ICT empowerment. This might well explain why Delta raced up the ladder in the national poverty-population chart.
Analysts ascribed the leap from poverty to prosperity in Delta to the deliberate youth empowerment and engagement policy of the Okowa administration. Governor Okowa reeled out several initiatives to actualise his ‘Prosperity for all Deltans’ mantra which has over the years assumed a momentum far beyond mere sloganeering.
To achieve this, Governor Okowa created the Office of the Chief Job Creation Officer (the first of its kind in the State) as a Special Purpose Vehicle to drive the job and wealth creation component of his vision of prosperity for all Deltans. The office initiated three main programmes namely: Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP); Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP); and Production and Processing Support Programme (PPSP), all aimed at diversifying the economy of the state and empowering the beneficiaries to become makers of the cake rather than sharers of same. The programme has become a huge success to the acclamation of Deltans.
The barometer for measuring the success of the programme is in the NBS 2020 statistics on poverty-population among the 36 states plus the Federal Capital Territory, FCT. The verdict: More Deltanshave jumped out of the bracket in Okowa’s barely five years as governor. The average annual growth rate in Delta State from 2013-2015 was 8.9 per cent but growth accelerated at annual average of 13.2 per cent from 2015-2017.
One remarkable social impact of the job creation programme is the mind-set shift, among youths, from government (salaried) employment to entrepreneurship and self-employment. Through the training and reorientation modules of STEP and YAGEP, the youths are imbibing the principles of skills acquisition and entrepreneurship as a viable employment option.
They are now looking beyond and outside their academic certificates for employment and livelihoods, as owners and managers of skills-based enterprises.
Loveth Enyenakpor was jobless for nine years after graduation from the university. As one of the 2016/2017 Cycle beneficiaries trained and established in fish production, she has grown into a reputable farmer with specialty in catfish and fish feed production.
According to her, “when I graduated from the University 10 years ago, I never knew I would become an entrepreneur. I had wanted to work either in the State or Federal Civil Service, but it did not work out till I got enrolled with the State Government’s Youth Agriculture Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP). I did not know anything about managing a business. All I know and have are because of the training I received. This has had positive impact on my family as my kids attend one of the best schools in Abraka.”
Mrs Enyenakpor added another feather to her cap as she was enlisted into the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation. “It is good news to be part of the Tony Elumeu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme,” she enthused. “Out of over 216,000 applicants from African countries, I was among the 3,050 selected. No doubt, my training under the Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) gave me an edge. I am grateful and I believe this is the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey.”
The job creation programme is also impacting positively on the growth and development of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs) sector in the state. By providing services as training centres, facilitators and mentors to the programme trainees, hundreds of small and medium enterprises have been stimulated and supported to upgrade their technical, entrepreneurial and managerial capacities, increase visibility/patronage and improve the quality of their services and achieve enterprise development.
Mrs Alaegbu Franca has been a facilitator for the job and wealth creation scheme for over four years. She is full of praise for the programme because “it is a particularly good concept for government to help youths acquire vocational and entrepreneurship training for self-employment. I am proud of majority of my previous trainees. They are making a living out of the skill they gained.”
According to MukoluEmmanuel, Head of Training and Educational Services, Schoolville Training Centre, Asaba, “the partnership has been good and there is always room for improvement,” adding that “tackling youth unemployment through skills training for job and wealth creation is what everyone is clamouring for. When they graduate from the programme and are established, they are bound to employ themselves if even they do not employ others.”