John Essien, a professor of international repute is a Ghanaian teaching economist at the University of Accra, Legon, Ghana. I met him sometime in April this year at a brainstorming session in Kumasi, Ghana where the causes and possible ways out of unemployment in the West African sub-region were tabled for discussion.
At the event were students, theoretical economists, young entrepreneurs, and representatives of Heads of government of member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and some leading commercial banks in Africa.
When it was his turn to speak, like a valiant soldier without a dint of fear, a realistic John Essien fired the first salvo: “Water Rodney said Europe Underdeveloped Africa, I agreed, the European Colonial Masters did a lot of damage to us before they physically left our territory, but despite having the raw materials for everything needed to make Africa compete with America and Europe t we refuse to take action. We have yet refused to take our destinies into our hands and unfortunately, the youths are not helping matters.”
Professor Essein opined: “the youths are not helping matters.” What does this erudite professor mean by “the youths are not helping matters?” Please follow me because he had an explanation to offer!
“Today, our youths have been pauperized, economically, materially and professionally by the political and economic bourgeoisies. Our economy is dying, killing our youths materially and perpetually. The glorified secondary schools that we call universities in West Africa are dishing out certificates to intellectual urchins masquerading as university graduates, strangulating the future of our youths professionally. The jobs are not there, the industries are dead, Small Scale Medium Enterprises are collapsing-mesmerising the living condition of our youths professionally and economically.
“The Banks have turned our young graduates to economic slaves, while the youths are now electioneering campaign materials in the hands of the political class. I call on the youths of West Africa to take their destinies into their hands. However, while I urge the youths to engage in a common sense revolution against the political and economic oppressors, it is important I inform them that the panacea to their greatness for now lies in ENTERPRENEURSHIP”
Buttressing his position, Essien further said: “Take for instance; three of my well-educated relations are electronic technicians here in Kumasi. They are doing it with zeal. My immediate younger brother studied Education management, today, he is richer than me. He is into website design and programming. The youths should make themselves relevant by training and re-training themselves. Government should also help the youths to grow. Non-interest loans should be made available while the commercial banks should help the younger generation grow by making single digit interest loans available to them to boost their enterprise.” he concluded.
Oh! Thrilling and emotion provoking!!! The Don got a standing ovation from everyone at the event. His affirmations brought tears to my eyes. Africa, a land blessed with honey whose people now wallow in hunger in the midst of plenty. I departed Kumasi to Accra by road and boarded a flight from Accra to Lagos, thinking and ruminating about the state of unemployment among my fellow youths in Nigeria.
On arriving in Nigeria, still at the airport, I got a call from an Aunty, Ifeoma Ogoh, a Lawyer of high ranking and standing. “Maxwell, where are you?” “I am in Lagos, just landing from an aircraft; I went to Accra to cover a conference centred on “Fighting Unemployment” in West Africa.” I replied.
“Oh! What a coincidence. I am actually calling you to attend a brainstorming session with a colleague and friend, Adekunle Osibogun, the convener of Young Progressive Nigerians Initiative (YPNI)”, she said. “Who is that? Ok let me know when you want us to meet”. I told the caller because she is a darling that I can’t reject an invitation from.
We fixed a date and we met somewhere at Ikeja two days after. We discussed issues pertaining to lack of patriotism and the alarming state of unemployment among the youths of our country. I shared my experience in Ghana with Adekunle Osibogun. He was elated and he quickly told me about the advocacies of YPNI as regards waging war against unemployment in Nigeria, especially, in Ogun State where he hails from.
“Who is funding you? Who are your god fathers? What mileage are you covering? Who are your sponsors?” I asked from my host and I got an instant response from Osibogun. “No one is sponsoring us. I shoulder 85% of our expenses. The remaining 15% comes from other members of the organization. I am a successful young legal practitioner, God has been so merciful to me and I felt I should give back to society.”
I did not buy into the response of Osibogun but I pretended as if I was okay until July this year when I attended a training session on Citizenship, Entrepreneurship and Skills Acquisition with the youths from the six local government areas in Ogun East senatorial district of Ogun State sponsored by YPNI at the Otunba Dina Stadium, Ijebu-ode.
What I saw stunned me. I was flabbergasted and amazed. I saw young men and women in their 20’s and 30’s numbering about 500 passionately listening to presentations from professionals of impeccable characters on some sacrosanct rules of engagement and modicum of operations in the business parlance.
The youths had for three months being trained on various skills such as Beauty Therapy, Events Management, Catering, Interior Decoration, Fashion Design, Hair Dressing, Shoe Making and Repair, Craft and Beads Making, Web Design and Programming, Photography e.t.c all expenses paid by Adekunle Osibogun’s led YPNI and having been certified fit in learning and in character, the organization organized a workshop for the already trained youths on customers relations, business plans and other necessary tips they may need to make them succeed as Entrepreneurs as they go into the business world.
The youths and their parents were full of prayers for Osibogun. They were happy. They danced, ate and felicitate inside the multipurpose hall at the Otunba Dina Stadium, Ijebu-Ode in the presence of Honeywell Business Tycon, Oba Otudeko, Ogun State Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, Abimbola Ashiru, representatives of the Bank of Industry, Central Bank of Nigeria and other members of YPNI who converged at the venue from different parts of the country.
Some of the graduated youths code-named “BATCH ONE ENTERPRENUERS” are today business owners. The BATCH TWO, numbering about 1,000 just completed their practical training, waiting for graduation which has been scheduled for January 24th, 2018 at the Otunba Dina Stadium, Ijebu-Ode. The first batches are principally based in Lagos, Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, Sagamu, Ago-Iwoye, Ijebu-Igbo etc.
One of the first batches youths that learned Tailoring, Ireti Osinusi, 26, who studied Biology Education at Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode told me in a chat that “I graduated four years ago, no job, all the people that could help me to get office jobs in Lagos wanted to have sexual relationship with me before they could help and I cannot do that so when I heard about the YPNI three months training programme, I engaged into it with one mind.
“When i passed out, i bought a sewing machine from my savings, i sew cloths and post them on instagram and facebook to market, within three months, i bought one more machine and I employed two stylists to join me. Today, i have four machines with three employees.” she said.
Wow! What a total turn around!!! From a victim of sexual harassment, Ireti Osunusi, through diligence and consistency, became an employer of labour. As advocated and suggested by Professor John Essien, Miss Ireti battled unemployment through entrepreneurship. The political and economic class had wanted to oppress her sexually but she didn’t bulge. Like a Mimosa, Ireti clapped that she met YPNI.
Therefore, i call on the Nigerian government to tow the pact of Adekunle Osibogun and his team in YPNI. Nigerian government budgets billions of naira to boost SMEs every year but nothing meaningful has happened. Hunger, poverty and starvation are increasing in our land on a daily basis.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics, of the about 200 million people living in Nigeria, those from age 18 to 40 make up 41.4% of the total population meaning that the future of the country lies in the hands of the youths. However, today, we have a situation where the youths are wallowing in the euphoria of unemployment and eroded values. Due to frustration, occasioned by joblessness and lack of access to qualitative education, youths are daily jettisoning the naturally embedded spirits of patriotism and progressivism for chauvinism, hooliganism and fraudulent acquisition of material wealth.
For how long shall the young men and women in Nigeria continue to live in the cocoon of economic decadence currently pervading our nation? John Essien, an Economist Don has a message for you youths reading me: Embrace Entrepreneurship Now!!! Let’s train ourselves to challenge the existing economic hegemony. The Young Progressive Nigerians Initiative (YPNI), an organization founded with the aim of encouraging and promoting a sense of patriotism and entrepreneurship among Nigerian Youths can mentor you. Dear fellow youth, please do something now!
Maxwell Adeleye is a media entrepreneur based in Lagos.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.