Each successive government organises its own empowerment programme supposedly for youths of Imo State. The Rochas Okorocha administration in 2017 held an empowerment programme during which it gave 305 youths drawn from all the 305 wards N1million each. It equally gave 305 women drawn from the 305 electoral wards N100,000 each in yet another empowerment programme.
Okorocha said during the launch that he decided to empower the youths to succeed and begin to contribute to the progress and prosperity of the state in particular and the nation at large.
He also launched the Youths Must Work programme which attracted about 10,000 unemployed graduates to Heroes’ Square, Owerri, venue of the launch.
This was after suspending indefinitely the 10,000 Job Scheme initiated by his predecessor, Chief Ikedi Ohakim.
Ohakim had employed 10,000 young graduates in the state’s civil service. They had worked for over one year before the coming of the Okorocha administration.
Okorocha killed the scheme same way he killed his own Youths Must Work programme. Okorocha reneged in funding the Youths Must Work programme as young graduate teachers deployed to schools were no longer remunerated.
It is remarkable to note that Okorocha during the launch of Youths Must Work programme noted that corruption and primitive accumulation of wealth by political leaders had been the major cause of unemployment in the country.
According to him, government had mapped out interest-free loan of N5billion for thrift arrangement which would aid the youths to set up integrated farming in their communities. He further disclosed that government would sponsor 100 youths to South Africa to train as pilots and 500 of them to Singapore for entrepreneurial training.
Till date, it is hard to find a single Imo youth who was trained as a pilot in South Africa at the expense of the state government headed by Okorocha. He only gave N2million to the 2018 winner of Big Brother Naija, Miracle Ikechukwu Igbokwe and announced a donation of land for Miracle to build his dream aviation school in the state. Miracle’s dream aviation school remains a dream till date and there is also no single farm in the state that sprung up as a result of Okorocha’s N5billion thrift arrangement to aid youths in integrated farming.
On Saturday, June 26, this year, Governor Hope Uzodimma’s government flagged off its own empowerment scheme with pomp and panoply at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri.
Gov. Uzodimma earmarked to dole out N4billion to 15,000 youths which translates to N250,000 each. The government says the benefitting youths had been trained in vocations of their choice such as fashion designing, barbing, hairdressing, telephone handset and electrical repairs. The governor had shortly after the EndSARS protest released M2billion for the training of the youths.
Obviously, it is a laudable initiative to empower the youths, but when past empowerment programmes failed to deliver the goods, is it still necessary to toe same path? Can a government do same thing over and over again and expect a different result? Where are the ones supposedly empowered by Okorocha? Have they been able to enhance their own lives to talk of giving a meaning to the lives of others?
Imo State is adjudged by the National Bureau of Statistics as the unemployment capital of the country. This is so in spite of past empowerment programmes not only by government but also by political figures. We therefore ask; Is political empowerment programmes what the state actually needs to improve her lot?
Instead of doling out handouts periodically to supporters and hangers-on who see such handouts as their own share of the national (state?) cake, would it not be ideal government thinks outside the box on how to enhance the well-being of the people? Since nobody gets a better result deploying same old method that flopped disastrously, what new approaches could be adopted in improving the standard of living of the people? Should government not concentrate in creating a conducive business climate for private sector-driven economy to thrive?
The Vice President, Owerri Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (OCCIMA), Rotarian Everest Ezihe is among those who believe that the empowerment programmes could deliver the goods if properly retooled.
Ezihe counseled the state government to adopt the youth empowerment model of Obong Godswill Akpabio when he served as governor of Akwa Ibom State. Speaking during a phone-in current affairs programme aired on Saturday, July 3 on Zanders 105.7FM, Owerri, Ezihe explained that the Akpabio model entailed sending youths abroad for serious training in different vocations and providing them with the state-of-the-art equipment to start up their businesses.
Ezihe said the Akpabio model is responsible for the surfeit of quality artisans such as plumbers, tilers, electricians, barbers, mechanics, hair-dressers and underwater welders which Akwa Ibom State boosts of today.
In his own contribution, Salvator Amadi, publisher of National Newsblast Newspaper submitted that past empowerment programmes of the Imo State government flopped because the beneficiaries saw it as their own share of the national cake.
Again, Ezihe picked holes with the training which the beneficiaries received prior to the empowerment. For Okorocha’s empowerment programmes, Ezihe disclosed that none of them received any form of training. He stated that they were also not mentored or supervised after the largesse was doled out to them.
He said; “There was no follow-up, no mentorship of the 305 youths given N1million each. They didn’t go through any form of training. Again, they were supporters of the government.
“This is why the programme did not deliver the goods. The youths saw the money as their share of the public funds which politicians have been feeding from.”
Both Collins and Nnamdi who also participated in the radio programme submitted that the N250,000 which Gov. Uzodimma would disburse to each of the 15,000 beneficiaries of his own empowerment programme would not help them much to start up businesses more so at this period when inflation is on the rise.
According to them, the money is not enough to rent a shop not to talk of stocking it with goods. Nnamdi further alleged that the money might not get to the beneficiaries intact as some presidents-general and traditional rulers might want to slice off their share from it.
Ezihe, who is the President-General of Umueze Abazu Ogwa Community in Mbaitoli LGA of the state refuted Nnamdi’s allegation, saying no president-general or traditional ruler has an eye on the empowerment fund.
But a councillor in Orsu LGA of the state, Esther Ngozi Anabaranze-Okpara opened another vista to the Uzodimma empowerment programme. According to her, grassroots administrators are at present sitting on a keg of gun powder that might explode any moment from now.
She alleged that the committee in charge of compiling the list of beneficiaries padded the list with non-indigenes of the state. She stated that the lists compiled by the administrators at the community level were thrown away.
Anabaranze-Okpara said they are daily bombarded with telephone calls by constituents who were supposed to benefit from the programme but had their names excluded on the list.
She therefore pleaded with Gov. Uzodimma to put a hold to the disbursement of the fund until this anomaly was rectified. Obviously, those whose names had been published have been waiting with bated breath for bank credit alert. They may have to wait a little longer.
Already, no beneficiary has confirmed receiving any bank credit alert. Perhaps, it is this anomaly pointed out by Anabaranze-Okpara that is delaying the bank credit alerts from hitting the phones of the beneficiaries.
Again, some have complained that some of the proposed beneficiaries do not have any need for the empowerment fund as some of the people on the list are said to be well-to-do and have meaningful sources of livelihood. In fact, one of such people called into a radio programme last week to advise the committee to yank off his name from the list, saying he could comfortably take care of himself.
James Onuke, a journalist based in Owerri counselled that instead of organizing empowerment programmes that fail to deliver the goods, government could harvest data on existing Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) in the state and support them. The support could come, according to him, in the area of tax holidays and interest-free loans or outright boosting of their capital without expectation of refund.
Government, he said, could also support the SMEs by providing equipment which these SMEs could pay back over many years.
Onuke insisted that providing an enabling environment for businesses to operate is also key to improving the fortunes of the state. He expressed indignation that at this time, many of the roads in the capital city are still in dilapidated and deplorable conditions. Though electricity is on the exclusive list, he charged the state government to see to it that there is stable electricity supply in the state.
According to Onuke, “Running a business on diesel or petrol increases overhead costs and reduces profit because once prices rise, certain buyers/consumers will not be able to afford the goods, leading to low sales.
An economist, Chukwu Okorie advised against government establishing cottage industries as canvassed by some people and employing youths in the industries.
According to Okorie, almost all public-owned industries in the state have since closed shop.
He listed Imo Modern Poultry, Avutu; Standard Shoe Factory Owerri, Resin Paint, Mbaise and Nsu Tiles as examples of moribund industries owned by government.
The present empowerment programme of government is likely to fail to deliver the goods because it is patterned after the same old unfruitful programmes.