INTERVIEW: Strategic Youth Engagement Has Made Osun The Safest State In Nigeria
IT was no surprise when the Federal Government invited Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun to its flag off ceremony of the new Youth Employment and Social Support Operation (YESSO) in Abuja on Thursday. Because the scheme took its initiative from Aregbesola’s Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES) on the recommendation of the World Bank as strong solution for the growing unemployment problem, the Osun governor’s words were important. After the launch, journalists wanted to hear from the Governor how he came by the idea and how he has trudged on with it:
May we have an insight into how the OYES came into being?
I came about the idea of engaging the youth when I realised that our youths, especially the educated ones, were idle. The OYES was part of my campaign and everybody thought it was a joke. But as soon as I got my mandate, I started implementing the programme. We found out that about 20 percent of our youths were unemployed, and we realised that the conventional employment would hardly make any impact, and that the only way we could bring in a fairly large number of the unemployed youth would be to engage them in community, social and public work. We categorised them into Green Gang (for environmental beautification and greenery), Sanitation Czars (for sanitation), Public Works Brigade ( maintenance of roads, public buildings and infrastructure), Paramedics (emergency services and primary health support), Traffic Marshall (maintenance and sanity on the roads), Sheriff Corps (maintenance of communal peace and order) and Teacher Corps (volunteer teaching in public schools).
In fact, to our amazement, the first advertisement attracted 250,000 applicants and we picked 20,000 without any primordial consideration. We gave the beneficiaries discipline and leadership training. Without the orientation, most of them would not know why they should be that engaged. The programme attracted unwarranted condemnation from those who don’t even know why the society exists. When people queried why we asked graduates to be cutting vegetation, I asked what would they do?
Why does your administration considers the OYES a viable alternative to the conventional recruitment?
Look, how many offices do we have as a government to employ 20,000 people? The total number of staffers in the employment of Osun State is less than 20,000. So, where are the offices to give these youths white collar jobs. We moved on to engage them in what would benefit their communities. It was not stressful. A cadet does not have to work for more than two or three hours a day, and the don’t work throughout the work. They have time to do other things for themselves. Happily, so many of them took advantage of it to get themselves into other things. Some went into trading, some went into cooperative arrangements. Many of them are successful as we made it clear from the beginning that the scheme was not going to be a permanent engagement. If you serve for two years, we expect you, with the training you have received on leadership and training and the time you have to do things for yourself, to put your heart together and get something doing. We normally give the beneficiaries of the scheme the first option. In any employment opportunities in the state, we give them 60 percent consideration.
What happens to the cadets after their two-year engagement?
The first set exited in March this year some of whom were taken into direct employment and teaching in the public schools while some are working for themselves. Of course, there would be some who are still not engaged for whatever reasons. It’s a pity there are such people. But essentially, the scheme has helped the state to manage unemployment to a considerable level. In the publication of the National Bureau of Statistics, Osun has the least unemployment index in Nigeria, and that in poverty index, we are second to Niger State. I want to believe this is not unconnected to the OYES.
Do you see the YESSO launched in Abuja on Thursday as a right step by the Federal Government to tackle unemployment at the national level?
One is quite happy with this World Bank initiative in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Finance, but it is still scratching the surface. Given the high number of youths who are in the peak of their productivity, something more drastic must be done, and my suggestion is that the Federal Government should match each state’s efforts at youth empowerment scheme to reduce unemployment rate in Nigeria. This will help to eliminate insecurity because, to me, all the security threats are the manifestation of unemployment of the youth who could be restive and be manipulated for bad things. I am miffed, disturbed and worried by the spate and scale of insecurity in the country, and there cannot be any solution to it outside providing something for the unemployed youth. If a person has something, he/she will not have time for all sorts of vices such as kidnapping, insurgency and even robbery.
The message I want to pass here is that the Federal Government can put an end to the scourge of unemployment and the consequent insecurity by creating a programme through which each state’s efforts in youth empowerment are matched. Let there be such a programme and see its positive effects. Our OYES, despite the criticism that its beneficiaries have nothing to do other than cutting grass, has paid off in terms of eliminating insecurity and ensuring youths’ contentment. I am not saying this cannot be improved on. Better ideas can come for improvement. But I am saying that within the limit of what we have done, Nigerians must look at every opportunity to create employment for themselves. Those who want to go into farming or any cooperative bonding to pursue one trade or the other, let them go into it. We must create a conducive atmosphere for this huge army of employed youths to get engaged creatively and productively.
In our population of about 160 million, the people in the age bracket of 18 and 30, which is the most productive age of everybody, cannot be less than 80 million. If there is an opportunity for these 80 million people to earn N20,000 each a month, that would amount to N160 billion a month, and over N1.9 trillion a year. What we are wasting by not engaging these youths and providing them with productive engagements and opportunity is that. If there is an additional N1.9 trillion entering the Nigeria’s economy through opportunities for this army of unemployed youths, there would be a lot of improvements. That is my take because by merely creating opportunities for these youths, you are expanding the economy. With what are paying the youth engaged in the OYES, they can hardly engage in exotic materials. So, it cannot further inflation if inflation means money chasing scarce commodities and therefore having to pay excess for their full values.
To what extent has the OYES helped to tackle insecurity in Osun State?
Osun is the safest state in Nigeria. These are not esoteric things! When you engage the segment of the society with the highest potential for mischief, what you have done is simply eliminating threats to lives and property. If you don’t have productive areas to engage the youth, they would engage themselves in all sorts of societal menace. Insecurity is at the barest minimum in Osun State.
Is this scheme sustainable?
Don’t forget that the N200 million we are paying the 20,000 beneficiaries of OYES monthly is entering the economy of the state. goes into the economy of the state to the extent that whatever you pay them as allowance will end up in large parts of the economy because a person earning N10,000 monthly would hardly go for exotic materials. He would only use the money for basic necessities like food and clothing. So, if the economy of the state is the basis of revenue to the government, for as long as there is a government and this injection into the economy, the government would get something. The scheme is sustainable and self-supporting as long as human conscious administrators are still in the state.
The OYES is a lifeline for the youth to take care of their lives. Whatever they want to do with their lives is their choice. Of course, some of them are into farming. They are free to choose whatever they want to do with their lives. They would know that we give them a lifeline for two years within which they can make anything out of their lives. We believe that with the take-off training we have given these youth, they have no reason to fail in life if they are genuine about themselves and their aspirations. They don’t work for more than three days in a week, and for each day they work, they hardly work for three hours.
The OYES is for all in the state. We have Hausa and Ibo in it. There is no discrimination. Our own scheme is open to NCE, OND, HND and first degree holders.
For me, there can be no worse abandonment of responsibilities if the educated youth are left to roam the streets. It is quite depressing. We give the beneficiaries all necessary support and expose them to opportunities for self-improvement. A large percentage of them are happy with the scheme and there is a heightened interest in it now much more than when we started.