Delta State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, told GODWIN IJEDIOGOR of THE GUARDIAN in Asaba that the state government is happy with the progress being recorded in youth empowerment, which has contributed in reducing youth restiveness, and hopes that peace continues to reign in Warri over the Olu of Warri stool, among other issues.
Youth empowerment and skills acquisition appears to be one of the cardinal programmes of the state government. How has that impacted on youth restiveness, especially in the riverine areas, and unemployment?
You know, across the federation, the issue of youth unemployment/under-employment is a major challenge. So, prior to 2015, when Senator Ifeanyi Okowa came into office, he had course during the electioneering campaigns to transverse the 25 local government areas of the state. In the course of that campaign tour, he saw quite well that the whole challenge, which also was fueling insecurity, was the issue of the high number of unengaged youths. And like they say, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
He was determined to take steps to reduce the idleness in the minds of these youths. So, he made it a very focal point of his administration’s Five-Point agenda, which is tagged, ‘Strategic Wealth Creation.’ That meant that you are not just going to give out free money to people, but rather see how you could tap into the potentials that innate in them for the purpose of generating wealth.
He also reasoned that giving jobs to the people does not necessarily mean opening up the state civil service and offering employment to the people, when in actual fact vacancies do not exist. To that extent, he was able to initiate policy priorities that centre on the movement of the quality of manpower towards skills acquisition in the state.
That led to the introduction of a number of programmes targeted at creating employment and generating a high level of entrepreneurs that today, many have benefited directly and many more are benefiting or have benefited remotely. Those who are benefiting remotely are trainees of those ones already trained and set up by the government.
Realising that in the last two years, so much had been achieved, and this has calmed frayed nerves, to the extent that the youth have become much more meaningfully engaged and also reciprocate in a number of supports for the government, the government thought it wise to use some other platforms, beyond the office of the job creation officer at that time. That office was also upgraded to a Bureau, back by the necessary law, so that even when Okowa leaves office, there is already a legal backing for the issue of selecting, training and empowering of these would-be entrepreneurs.
That is where we are today; it has led us to so many other areas and added value to the GDP of the state and seriously mitigated the issue of youth restiveness that even when EndSARS protest was raging across parts of the country, in Delta State, a number of our youths behaved quite well, except for some persons who came in from outside the state and took advantage of that particular protest.
So, we are happy that the administration’s job creation programmes are working and we can testify that it had curbed youth restiveness.
How is it run?
You apply after it has been advertised by the relevant agencies on the various platforms, such as the Ministry of Youth, Job Creation Bureau, Office of the Girl-child, Ministry of Women Affairs, as well as Ministry of Science and Technology.
You know that because of the high level of unemployment in the country, you would have a very large number of applicants, all of who would be invited, interviewed and the documents submitted screened to be sure that any applicant is not just shopping for starter-packs to sell. An applicant needs to showcase a very high level of flair or interest in a particular area before being selected.
But there is some element of equality and fairness in the selection process. Sometimes it could mean three persons per ward across the state to ensure that no ward is shortchanged or have more than others and ensure that every ward is carried along.
We are happy to report that great progress is being recorded.
For people who are used to free money, how have they embraced the programme?
We do a whole lot of mentoring and conduct trainings, in the course of which they are not only taught the skills in whatever field they may have chosen, but also coached about life and how to relate with people, run a business, how to write proposals, know that it is not about free money, among others.
That process is helping us a lot. Even after they have been established, there is an office for the purpose of monitoring and following up on them and making them realise what they have at hand and the need to keep them safe.
Does starter packs include monetary benefits
Yes, it does. The government also gives the beneficiaries some seed money, for example, to enable them rent shops. It also includes the tools you need to start up a business or trade. Even in the course of the training, they are also given some stipends to enable them take care of such things as feeding and transportation, so that somebody would say he or she couldn’t go for training because there was no money.
Are all these free
Yes, everything is free; 100 per cent free. It is a grant; not a loan. We train them and they help us to train other people, thereby reducing the number of unemployed in our state. So far, we are seeing the fruit of that programme.
Could that be a reason for the relative peace and security in Asaba, the state capital, for example?
This is one of the many factors responsible for the calmness and security in the capital city and across the state.
Apart from getting the youths engaged, the government has also carried and is carrying out a whole lot of developmental and capital projects, such as roads, the state secretariat, Stephen Keshi Stadium, Traditional Rulers Council building, the storm drainage project and many more.
All these combined have helped to assuage those who ordinarily would have been agitated that their areas were not being developed and thereby bringing peace and security in Asaba and indeed across the state.
How is the state government managing the brewing crisis over the Olu of Warri stool, bearing in mind the strategic position of Warri in the scheme of things in the state?
The Olu of Warri stool is one of the very revered traditional institutions in the state, so we consider the legal tussle as unfortunate. But what the state government has also done is not to be dragged into certain things that are quite cultural and about the people and their traditions.
We are hoping that they would be able to resolve the issues and come up to inform the government that they have resolved their differences and the legal tussle.
We know that they have fixed a date for the coronation of a new Olu of Warri. We hope that before then, the issues would have been resolved, as we understand that a number of persons have intervened in the matter and to get the parties involved to allow peace to reign.
But is government playing any role to reconcile the people
Government has always had roles to play in getting the people to coexist peacefully; there has been never a time that the Okowa-led government shied away from such responsibility. We even have an advisory council and other platforms for that purpose.
Even though it might look like putting the cart before the horse, but if the issues remain unresolved, how would government manage the situation? Would it be part of the coronation ceremony?
Well, it depends on how everything goes. We are praying and hopeful that the coronation would go on, because the people have already set that date aside, but we are also a law-abiding government.
We just hope that there would not be anything from the court barring the state government from proceeding along that line.
On rotation of the governorship, do you think it should be on senatorial or ethnic basis?
What we done in Delta, under the Okowa-led administration, is to put one Delta on the table and would not hesitate to ensure that everybody contributes to one Delta.
On the issue of elections, every Delta is free, legally speaking, to run/contest. To that extent, anybody who aspires to become the governor in 2023 has a responsibility to reach out to any of the senatorial districts or ethnic groups for the purpose of canvassing for votes and winning their support.
So, we are quite convinced that if the different groups are meeting, they are doing so for the purpose of advancing their own course, which is may be known to the group. But what is important is that at the end of the day, Deltans would be the ones to choose their leaders. So long as it is their democratic choice, for me, it is good and fine.
Governments at all levels are facing dwindling revenues, what is Delta doing to boost its Internally- Generated Revenue (IGR)
The challenge with IGR is that you don’t just wake up and start taxing the people who are already impoverished on account of the not too palatable policies emanating from the centre. So, the state government usually thinks of how and where to get money from internally without putting the people under undue pressure.
The revenue agency has been doing quite well and we just hope that we make more progress and have reasons to boost the revenue needed to bring about further development in the state.
Is the state government looking beyond oil?
Yes, right from Day One, government has been looking beyond oil revenues. That is why it is harping on agriculture.