By Festus Ahon
The administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, from the day it came on stream, has shown its commitment to the well-being of the people, particularly the unemployed youths and women who are willing to engage in one vocation or the other.
The journey to economic empowerment and self-reliance for the youths began on August 26, 2015 when Okowa inaugurated the Job and Wealth Creation Scheme, code named ‘OkowaPlus’, designed to assist youths to acquire skills, tackle unemployment and raise entrepreneurs under the headship of Prof Eric Eboh who was appointed the Chief Job Creation Officer of the state in June after the ad-hoc steering committee had concluded its assignment.
The job creation programme includes Youth Agricultural Progremme, YAGEP, Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme, STEP, Production and Processing Support Programme, PPSP, and the micro credit administered by the State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency.
Songhai-Amukpe was filled to capacity, on Thursday, as people travelled from across Delta to witness the passing out of the first batch of 773 persons trained under STEP and YAGEP. The training lasted six months.
Speaking during the ceremony, the governor, expressed the commitment of the state government to the programme. According to him, when the programme commenced, there were skeptics who thought it was one of government empowerment programmes that would be scuttled by political intrigues, godfatherism, corruption and bureaucratic red tape.
“Even some of the participants here were not left out in this widespread cynicism; their initial interest was to see how they could, as was the norm in the past, get their share of the ‘national cake’ before the programme is abandoned”, Okowa said.
While noting that the passing out ceremony was proof that critics were wrong, he said: “After three months of life skills training, vocational instruction/internship, and business management, the first set of the first batch of trainees under the Skills Training and Entrepreneurship Programme (STEP) and Youth Agricultural Entrepreneurs Programme (YAGEP) are passing out to commence their journeys in the world of business.
“I congratulate all of you that are passing out today. You made it! In fact, I am informed that only five persons did not complete the course. Out of the five, one got a paid employment while another person unfortunately passed on. So, technically only three persons dropped out from a set of 776 trainees. That translates to 99.2% performance, an unprecedented record with schemes like this.”
According to the governor, the high retention rate was as a result of the rigorous screening and selection process, which helped to identify and weed out the unserious, pretenders and opportunists. He added that the concept, design, structure and organisation of the Job and Wealth Creation Scheme was aimed at avoiding the pitfalls of similar programmes in the past, and ensuring that they get maximum benefits from the huge Government investment.
Commending the handlers of the programmes, including the resource persons, for their zeal, dedication, invaluable contributions and for joining hands with his administration to deliver on its promise of prosperity for all Deltans, Okowa urged the beneficiaries to brace up for life in the world of business. Okowa told the graduands to put into practice the principles they learnt from their training, saying: “To succeed in business requires focus, diligence, careful planning, excellent service, and prudent management of resources. Talking about prudence, always keep a close watch on your overheads and spending habits. The quickest way to go out of business is to spend more than you earn.
“You must also develop the quality of resilience. In business, you will experience good times and bad times. But as it has been said, tough times never last, tough people do. Winners don’t quit; quitters don’t win. Now to the second reason why today’s passing-out ceremony is significant. The success story of our Job and Wealth Creation Scheme signposts an innovation in fostering Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs) for all-inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. This is the strategic thrust of our Job and Wealth Creation Scheme”.
Okowa, who spoke further, said Micro, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises are engines of cost-effective employment generation, social inclusion, equitable development and self-reliant industrialization using local raw materials and also enhance value chain development while facilitating growth of non-oil exports.
He insisted that the era of giving out hand-outs in the name of youth or women empowerment was over, holding that they have to empower their people with the soft skills knowledge, mind-set change, personal development and business/leadership skills that are crucial for their success in life.
Disclosing that they have placed advertisements for the commencement of the 2016 cycle of YAGEP and STEP trainees, he said the government needed strong partnerships from global development organs, financial institutions, corporate organisations and donor agencies to enable it expand the scope and coverage of the Scheme.
The governor explained: “The potentials are limitless. With the right kind of investment, we can conveniently create direct employment for 60,000 persons over the next four years. That will go a long way in curbing youth restiveness and eradicating poverty. As a Government, we shall strive to develop strategic partnerships with as many of these organisations that are open to such collaboration for the benefit of our people”.
The Chief Job Creation Officer, Eboh, in his remarks, said the “passing-out training is the third leg of the training plan. He added: “The training course is focused on imparting critical business management and entrepreneurship skills to enable trainees start and run their enterprises”. With the passing out of the 773 persons, the number of Deltans in the labour market has reduced. Meanwhile, if the state government remains faithful to this laudable programme, a large number of persons will be off the streets in another four years. This gesture of the Okowa government has a multiplier effect on the peace and security of Delta as youths who engaged in one form of crime or the other would have been meaningfully engaged working for themselves and also employing others.