YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT PROGRAMME: The Buba Marwa structure other states should emulate


Along the Ogba-Agege route in Lagos mainland is a familiar parade of mature youths clad in black and white uniforms. One may conclude that they could be students of a learning institute of some sorts and let it go at that, but they are not.

A recent bus ride with one of the students, Tolulope one bright Monday morning, provided our correspondent the ample opportunity to look closer at this group of people and, behold, Tolupe turned out to be a university graduate of five long years!
What could she still be doing clad in a school uniform five years after graduation? From there the story began to unfold.

This is no ordinary school, it was a vocational school instituted by the Lagos state government for women development but has since been restructured as a strategic institute for battling youth unemployment.
Unable to secure a job after graduation, Tolu had tried to run a little shop but proceeds from her sales quickly diminished. Left with no job and no capital for business, she ended up seeking for vocational skill acquisition and today, she is training to become a certified hairdresser which she believes would guarantee a steady source of income for her.

Her thinking is, “my skills will always be a part of me, unlike my capital which got exhausted, my training will be my new capital and it will always be intact.” Stakeholders have also agreed that vocational skills acquisition is the future and way out for the massive population of unemployed youths in the country.

A unique kind of school
Daily Times investigation discovered that the ‘school’ – Women Development Centre – was established as an agency under the Lagos State Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.
The centre is one of 17 in number and can be found in Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu, Surulere, Egbeda, Mushin Igando, Ojo etc; in fact they are spread across almost all the Local government areas of the state.
Each centre is unique in its own way and offers specific programmes. At the Agege centre, which is actually the pilot centre, eight courses are on offer and they include catering and hotel management, Sewing and Fashion design, textile design, Art, Bead and Soap making. Others include hairdressing, photography, adult literacy, barbing and computer training.
Our correspondents discovered that the training durations also vary and this affects the intake period. For programmes that run for one year, admission is usually in January while the six months programmes receive students in July and the nine months programme begins in September.
Computer training, photography, barbing and textile fall under six months while the other ones are 12 months or 9 months respectively. Sewing and fashion is 12 months inclusive of a 3-month industrial attachment.
Instructors keep regular tabs on students during industrial attachments, while the students themselves fill out a log book on their activities.
The progenitors
The initiative was set up in 1998 by the then military Governor, Col Buba Marwa for fees of N5,000 – N10,000 respectively. However during the second term of former governor of Lagos State, Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu, the programme was declared free including forms.
To stop people from collecting more forms than they needed, a token fee of N250 for obtaining the form was however reintroduced by Mrs. Victoria Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the then commissioner for women affairs and later deputy governor under the regime of former governor Babatunde Fashola.
Apart from the form fee, admitted students are also expected to buy their own materials for practicals, and this has proven to be an area of challenge for most students who basically have no one to cater for them.

Good Samaritans
Daily Times gathered that some Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) do come around the centres in search of indigent students who cannot afford such materials; they not only help such students acquire these materials, but go as far as buying them sewing machines, hair dryers or whatever machines required to ply their respective trades upon graduation and pay for shops to start them off as each has need.
It is heartwarming that we can still find such people good hearts in our great country.

Funding for graduates
Besides the good work of these NGOs, graduates that have issues of raising funds are recommended by the centre to the Lagos state Micro Finance institutes who are structured to empower this category of persons.
The prerequisite is that they organise themselves into cooperatives – a group of five to ten, so they establish their businesses from the loan. Through these interventions, some of them are now salon and fashion house owners.

The students
Kayode chose to study catering because he enjoys cooking and wanted to commercialise his passion. Though already a good cook, he confessed that his training at the centre made him realise that he didn’t know much. “I’ve been here for about a month and I have come to realise that there are lots of things I didn’t know; really, everybody is a learner.
“I have also learnt different methods of doing some other things I knew, so I have to just compile everything together. I have a wonderful instructor Mrs. Olaoluwa, she is patient to listen to our questions and teaches us to gain understanding.”
Before coming to the centre, Kayode had gone elsewhere to acquire professional catering knowledge, but unfortunately he couldn’t afford to pay the over N100,000 required by the private catering institute. He was lucky however to have been directed to the WDC by someone whose friend had graduated from the centre’s hairdressing department.
“I was told when the form would be out so I waited until then and eventually I got the form, after the interview, some of us were selected, some others were disqualified, so here am I getting quality knowledge free of charge,” he beamed.
The young man confided in Daily Times that from early childhood he has had to struggle by himself to make ends meet, “I am the one sponsoring myself from childhood, so for me, this is a very great opportunity. Anytime I think of it, it just leaves me speechless; I really thank the Lagos state government for this initiative.”
Today he says he has turned into a kind of advocate on the streets counselling unemployed boys to come and acquire a vocational skill that would help them make a living and give their lives a sense of purpose.
Daily Times also spoke to students in the fashion department who disclosed that they are trained in the making of both male and female dresses.
Unlike what obtains in most fashion houses where young girls go for apprenticeship and are subjected to humiliating treatments by their mentors, a student at the centre disclosed that, learning is conducive because they are regarded as mature people and are treated with dignity.
A Business Studies HND holder from Lagos state polytechnic and an indigene of Ogun state, Kehinde said the learning is quite intense covering all aspects of fashion designing and sewing.
“After I graduated, I knew exactly what I needed was to acquire a vocational skill that would help me set up my own business and that is why I am here today. We have masters and even PhD holders here and they are still learning.”
Another HND in computer science graduate Bimbo, found herself in the fashion department because of her love for colour combination and interestingly she revealed that the centre was far more advanced than the standard out there.
“Before I came here, I used to be amazed at how wonderful my tailors made my clothes, but coming here, I began to spot errors in most of those clothes; before now, I really couldn’t spot them,” she said.
According to her, the learning is so impactful that even before one graduates it is possible to have carved a niche out there with just the little practical knowledge being acquired.
Augustine, an indigene of Lagos State is also currently enrolled for training at the Centre in the Computer Science department, said he learnt about the school from a friend. “I found that the fee and everything here is free and to the glory of God, I am now a student of the school,” he smiled.
He has NECO and NCE certificates, and has been in the school for a period of six months, according to him, “I have acquired so much knowledge and I can be boastful that I passed through this school. From now if I have the opportunity of managing my own computer centre, I think I would perform excellently.”
These are just a few testimonies of the impact the initiative is having in the lives of youths and the multiplier effects are also there to be counted.

Sourcing trainers
Some of the trainers are sourced from the ministry of education and are civil servants; however, other instructors like the hairdressers for example are established professionals who are contracted to train students at the centre for agreed contract terms.

Daily Times gathered that between 800 and 1000 graduates are rolled out from the school every year ready to start earning incomes on their own.
Speaking on the importance of the initiative, a ministry official who does not want his name in print noted that “Unemployment is a big challenge in this country; youth unemployment is on the high side and that is the problem we are facing in this country. Also you can see that we are having a big problem of youth restiveness in the country and if all the states can start doing what we are doing in Lagos state, this problem would be solved.”
Speaking further our source said, “Unfortunately our country is a country where we believe so much in certificates but people are now seeing that the only way we can stop youth unemployment is by vocational skills acquisition and gradually we are getting there.”
Daily Times learnt that Lagos state accounts for about 50 per cent of students and states of origin and nationalities cuts across Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom , Anambra, Delta, Edo, Imo, Cross River, Kano, Lagos, Ogun, Kadunna Enugu as well as Kwara state, besides foreigners from The Gambia and Guinea.
The biggest winners are the individuals who recognise the golden opportunity free vocational training represents. The second winner is the state government which is trying to build a secure and empowered society and thirdly the society that would benefit from the professional services of the graduates as opposed to quacks who parade themselves as technicians and skilled artisans.
According to a state official, the centre at Isheri trains refrigerator technicians, electricians, furniture makers, shoe makers and leather workers while in Badagry they have mat weaving, farming etc
“In addition to some of the courses we do there, Most of these traffic lights you see everywhere were done by the Isheri students and Lagos state government buys from them.”
It is common to hear idle people complain year in and year out that their problem is not having the money to pay someone to teach them a trade, whereas, here is a place where vocational skills are taught free of charge.
“A second category of losers are those who, without trying, conclude that you must know someone up there or at least be an indigene to access opportunity.
Unfortunately for them, foreigners who have shown more courage have been admitted and trained at the centre and are now doing well for themselves.
The third category of losers are states and local governments that are yet to fashion out ingenious initiatives to empower their youthful population and are consequently losing the fight against rising crime waves and insecurity in their localities.

For those still scheming and waiting for employment in the state ministries and local government councils, here is a good advice: it is better to get a vocational skill now. It is no longer news that governments now go a borrowing cap in hand to pay salaries.
Indeed, while you pass these mature youths wearing black and white uniforms and wonder why such grown-ups should still be wearing uniforms, what you don’t understand is that they are strutting their way out of poverty, unemployment and disillusionment in a very dignified manner for all to see.

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