How we’re tackling graduate unemployment in Nigeria

From Adanna Nnamani, Abuja

Abubakar Nuhu Fikpo, the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), is in the hot seat.

The Taraba-born statistician was appointed Director-General in December 2020 in an acting capacity. He was later confirmed as the substantive DG in May 2021, when the unemployment rate was sky high due to the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, he has been rowing in rough waters to deliver the mandates of the agency, which is primarily to promote job creation, stimulate entrepreneurship and improve the skills of representatives of various industries.

Fikpo began his career in the NDE at the Adamawa State office of the agency in 1994. He rose to head the Adamawa State office as State Coordinator. He was promoted to director and served as the pioneer director of procurement. He equally served as Director of Finance and Accounts and Director North West zonal office of NDE from where he was elevated to the position of Director-General.

In this interview, he speaks about the agency’s strategic efforts in addressing unemployment in the country, even as he revealed that the NDE has gone beyond skill acquisition training to providing transient jobs for Nigerian graduates, where they can gain hands-on experience and ultimately bridge the gap between theory and practice.

He speaks more about the NDE, its programs, challenges and more.

Capacity and effectiveness of NDE’s skill acquisition facilities

We are deliberately conscious of upgrading existing skill acquisition centers for effective utilization in view of winning the war against unemployment. In fact, we are hoping that our budgetary allocation will be made sufficient to enable us to do the much we are expected to do.

As part of our efforts; we are in talks with the Embassy of Belarus, and we were proposing visiting the Warri Model Skill Center for them to also support us by upgrading some of the facilities we have. So, that discussion is still in progress. So, we have that in mind.

Job creation programs for graduates

Currently, we have two strategic and effective job creation skills that have to do with graduates. The first one is called the Graduate Attachment Programme. In this programme, we recruit graduates with diplomas and above and we post them to different government-owned and private sector businesses in the areas that are relevant to their field of study. The reasons why we do this is; one, for them to acquire the basic and necessary experience that employers require.
Number two, we aim to expose them to work environments. So that by the time we are handing off, they have acquired enough experience to work anywhere. This also helps to enrich their curriculum vitae. So, we provide a transient and not a permanent job and the intent is basically to expose them to a working environment that we are sure will help them acquire the needed experience.

Thirdly, our reason for doing this is; if they make themselves relevant by being efficient and effective, that organization will not let them go. And for your information at the moment, we are writing and commending organizations who have retained graduates like that. There are many organizations that have retained many of them, surprisingly.

We send the graduates for the duration of three months, sometimes for six months. By the time the period lapses, many of the organizations do not want to let them go. They absorb many of them.
The second strategic job creation that has to do with graduates is called the Graduate Coaching Scheme. In this one, we are using a stone to kill two birds. One, we are engaging the graduates, two we are targeting school leavers who are deficient in their O levels and cannot gain admission into any tertiary institution. What we do is; we get these graduates together and ask them to coach these people so that they can make up for their deficiencies and then gain admission and move forward. So, these are some of the things we have that have to do with graduates and graduates alone.

Lifting millions of unemployed Nigerians and households from poverty

The negative effect of unemployment touches virtually every household in our country. Every household feels the impact of employment in this country. And we believe that with the support we have been receiving from the government to impact the lives of unemployed Nigerians as well as those living in serious poverty, we are really making a difference.

Our target is, if these unemployed Nigerians can’t come to us, we should be able to go to them. We should be able to educate them at their doorsteps about the opportunities that are available.

We believe they can take advantage of our skills acquisition programs to either be self-employed and even provide jobs for others. Although we have structures in all states of the federation, we try to reach out by establishing our presence in all the local government areas. Thus, we believe that the media is one effective partner we can collaborate with in order to enlighten the people out there, in order to educate and spread the activities the NDE have been doing.

As of today, we are implementing what we have been planning. We have spoken about our job creation programs and the people who have actually acquired skills and those that are actually undergoing training, are really doing it and they are committed to doing it, and that is what we have been trying to showcase.

Our aim is to ensure that by the time they graduate, people should have confidence in them. The government cannot do it all for them. The government provides the necessary requisite opportunities by making training facilities available to them. And to some extent, the government too provides you know, capital for them supports them with capital to establish their businesses.

But the truth is the government cannot do it all. So many Nigerians are actually learning, some of them have already learned, and some of them have graduated. In fact, people, families and relations, friends and organizations are already having confidence in graduates of the NDE training programs. So, we join Nigerians to invest in them by supporting them with loans, by supporting them with grants, and by supporting them with the needed capital for their business take-off or business expansion. This is the essence of why we are working with the media in order to achieve these results.

Providing funding for beneficiaries of NDE skills trained graduates

On funding for them to either start or expand their businesses, the effects of the economic meltdown still live with us in Nigeria and globally. But that does not stop us from planning and proposing. We have been planning, we have been proposing, we have been sourcing, we have been linking participants to financial establishments, to financial organizations, for them to be able to access funding.
We do not believe that we can provide them with all the necessary capital, which is why we provide a linkage for them. We link them up with CBN, we link them up with other organizations so that they can access funding. Now, apart from that, we have just had our collaboration with the World Bank. We call that project YESSO. Through the project after training, the World Bank supported the beneficiaries each with a maximum of N250,000.

So, we have our window of collaboration. Aside from the fact that the NDE also provides little funding, we have a window of collaboration with other government agencies, private institutions, or even philanthropists; good Nigerians who are willing to support the people around them.
We have the proposal to ask the government to please raise or review NDE budgetary provisions for us to be able to accommodate, train and empower more unemployed Nigerians. But don’t forget, one of the things the NDE believes in is not really to give these people the finances. No. We want to change the mentality of unemployed Nigerians. Yes, it is not to get the certificates, but it’s also good to have skills.

So, we want the attitude of Nigerians, the attitude of unemployed Nigerians to change because we kept saying that certificates will not pay your bills.

You are required to pay little bills and your certificate cannot do that, but your hands are ready-made tools, ready-made tools for you. The moment you acquire skills, you can go fend for yourself, you can have something to do. So, the spirit is for people to believe that the ready-made job, the white-collar job is no more. The days of ready-made white collar jobs are no more. And whether we like it or not, the government is the only major employer of labour. And we know that the finances of the government cannot cater for all and don’t forget that unemployment thing cuts across all categories of classes; people who are graduates, people who are not graduates, people who are school leavers, school dropouts, those within the vulnerable group.

So, the truth is, the government can’t cater for all but it does what it can with the resources available, and then paves the way for others to also imitate and lend their support. The private sector, the philanthropists and committed patriotic Nigerians who are willing to support unemployed Nigerians.

We have others who have approached us because of the passion they have for lifting people who are living in abject poverty. These patriotic Nigerians are willing to provide employment to unemployed Nigerians.

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