OPINION: THE NIGERIAN YOUTH INVESTMENT FUND

President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the establishment of a N75 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF) for three years following a memo presented by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development. In a statement released by the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Sunday Dare, he said, “The NYIF is to serve as a sort of Youth Bank that will fund and support the innovative ideas, skills, talents and enterprise of the Nigerian Youth. “A loan and credit pathway dedicated to assessing credit and soft loans. This is the very first of its kind by any Nigerian government.” Mr Dare said by approving the establishment of the NYIF, President Buhari has demonstrated his unflinching support for the Nigerian youth and his implicit confidence in their innovative talents, potentials, industry. NYIF will accelerate Nigeria’s investment in the ideas of her youth, he said. The minister said President Muhammadu Buhari has fulfilled his assertion that “… it is our collective responsibility to ensure that we provide adequate resources to meet the basic needs of our teeming youth.” “Nigerian youth thank Mr. President”, he added.

It is expedient to vividly point out that the essence and purpose of the fund is to amongst other things achieve the following and much more

  • It is an initiative of the Federal Government meant to improve the youths. It is meant to improve the skills, talent and enterprises of youths.
  • It is meant to cater for the investment needs of those 18-35.
  • The Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning (MFBNP) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) will provide the financing to kick-start the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF).
  • Youths seeking to benefit from the N-YIF must have a means of identification, a registered business and guarantors.
  • The fund aims to meet 500, 000 youths from 2020-2023. Each fund approval will range from N250, 000 to N50m with a spread across group applications, individual applications, working capital loan set as one year and term loan set at three years with single digit interest rate of 5%.Disbursement will be through various channels, including Micro Credit Organisations across the country under the Central Bank of Nigeria supported by BOI, Fintech Organisations and Venture Capital Organisations registered with the CBN.
  • NYIF joins the slew of youth focused programs already in place by the Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government as part of a National Plan to combat youth unemployment and drive innovation, fuel entrepreneurship as well as support youth SMEs.
  • NYIF provides a single window of Investment Fund for the youth thereby creating a common bucket for all Nigerian youth to access Government support. Providing a less cumbersome access to credit and finance for the average Nigerian youth with an approved work plan or business idea will help lift thousands of the youth out of poverty and birth a whole generation of entrepreneurs.
  • A minimum of N25 billion each year in the next 3 years, totaling N75 billion will be required to ring fence the NYIF. For the remaining parts of 2020, N12.5 billion will be needed to kick start the NYIF. It is expected that successive governments will keep the fund alive.
  • The Ministry of Youth and Sports Development handles the processes for setting up the fund by inaugurating a Board of Trustees Committee under the leadership of the Minister for Youth and Sports Development and possibly work on legislation of the Nigeria Youth Investment Fund (NYIF).

The 2009 National Youth Policy recognizes 5 priority areas that need to be addressed to enhance youth lives. These include the impact of globalization, access and use of communication technology, the impact of STDs and HIV/AIDS, intergenerational issues in an aging society, and youth perpetrators and victims of armed conflict. The 2009 National Youth Policy is guided by several national and international policy initiatives, including National Policies for education, gender, health, population for sustainable development, and the National Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS). The Millennium Development Goals, the African Youth Charter, and other international agreements further guide the policy goals found in the document.

National Youth Policy prioritizes the difficulties women have faced throughout history. Some women experience less occupational opportunity, physical violence and abuse, and labor exploitation. They suffer negative consequences from teenage marriages and pregnancies. The policy seeks to protect their rights and promote female youths’ interests and goals. By empowering females, restoring their dignity, establishing programs to end gender-based discrimination and promoting the rights, Nigerian youth policy places emphasis on the needs of young women.

The National Youth Policy has adopted a program for youth that are disabled. The Federal Republic of Nigeria believes that persons with disabilities have rights that should be protected by the government. The program promotes awareness of struggles that the disabled face, removing negative attitudes, while empowering the young men and women with disabilities.

Also, the National Youth Council of (NYCN) was founded in 1964 to be the voice and the umbrella organization for youth organizations in the country. The Youth Council is non‐governmental, non‐partisan, and not‐for‐profit organization. The council comprises the National Executive Committee (NEC) of 23‐ members. The NEC members are democratically elected from their respective state chapters and its affiliated voluntary youth organizations. The National Youth Council of Nigeria is a major stakeholder in the implementation of the National Youth Policy, As an umbrella organization for youth NGOs, and youth organizations across the country the NYCN pursues democratic norms at all times, embrace the principles of accountability and transparency in all its conduct, and initiate and execute activities that are in consonance with the goals of the National Youth Policy. It is charged with the responsibility of policy formulation and implementation on issues bordering Nigerian Youth.

The youths are often called the potential leaders of the nation hence their role in building a sustainable economic development is essential by integrating them into the national policies and decision making. The youth needs an active involvement in participating with the current political and economic leaders to foster inter-generational dialogue hereby enhancing adequate transitional shift. Youth should be actively involved in the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agenda as reflected by their participation and articulation of ideas at various international fora including the World Youth Summits. For instance, in 2005 a group of international youth leaders representing a range of non-governmental organizations, including representatives from Africa, prepared a report, “Youth and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): Challenges and Opportunities for Implementation”. This report outlines how young people can be included and empowered as part of strategies for achieving the MDGs. Active participation of the youth will enable the government in better reaching her goals.

Nigeria has a youthful population of close to 70 to 80 million, about 55 to 60 percent of her population. Of this youthful population, more than 80 per cent are unemployed while about 10 per cent are under-employed. The estimated 10 per cent in employment are burdened and depressed with near total dependence on relatives and family members. Given the right combination of motivation, ideas and opportunities, youth are more than able to establish productive and creative businesses. Engaging in entrepreneurship lifts young people from being “job seekers” to “job creators,” and also from social dependence to self-sufficiency. Many self-employed youth also contribute to the upkeep of their family. Entrepreneurship in Nigeria is a major avenue to increasing the rate of economic growth, create job opportunities, reduce import of manufactured goods and decrease the trade deficits that result from such imports. The influx and encouragement of youth into ventures will definitely help salvage our wasting economy.

When agriculture as our mainstay, we built cocoa house, television stations came before a country like Portugal had theirs, Liberty stadium, even my University with all her magnificent structures were built, it was a great economic boom for us, our graduates were gainfully employed but with crude oil production averaging around 2.2 million barrels per day, the oil boom led Nigeria to neglect its strong agricultural and light manufacturing bases in favor of an unhealthy dependence on crude oil. In 2000 oil and gas exports accounted for more than 98% of export earnings and about 83% of federal government revenue. New oil wealth, the concurrent decline of other economic sectors, and a lurch toward a statist economic model fueled massive migration to the cities and led to increasingly widespread poverty, especially in rural areas.

“Agriculture has suffered from years of mismanagement, inconsistent and poorly conceived government policies, and the lack of basic infrastructure. Still, the sector accounts for over 26.8% of GDP and two-thirds of employment. Nigeria is no longer a major exporter of cocoa, groundnuts (peanuts), rubber, and palm oil. Cocoa production, mostly from obsolete varieties and overage trees, is stagnant at around 180,000 tons annually; 25 years ago it was 300,000 tons. An even more dramatic decline in groundnut and palm oil production also has taken place. Once the biggest poultry producer in Africa, corporate poultry output has been slashed from 40 million birds annually to about 18 million. Import constraints limit the availability of many agricultural and food processing inputs for poultry and other sectors. Fisheries are poorly managed. Most critical for the country’s future, Nigeria’s land tenure system does not encourage long-term investment in technology or modern production methods and does not inspire the availability of rural credit.” It is just reasonable that our youths be called to order and start re applying themselves to agriculture which is still an untapped goldmine.

It is for this reason that President Buhari said I am very pleased that young Nigerians are taking agriculture seriously. Through it we have the potential to feed our entire population, as well as to create jobs and prosperity for large numbers of Nigerians. I commend all the young entrepreneurs who are heeding the call. Some States, like Kebbi, Ogun, Lagos, Jigawa, Ebonyi and Kano are also leading the way in taking advantage of the Federal Government’s policies on agriculture, and are already seeing results. I urge other States to emulate them, and plug into the ongoing revolution to feed Nigeria.

We are taking our focus on agriculture to the next level. In our first term, we partnered with Morocco to revive abandoned fertilizer blending plants across the country, and also introduced the Anchor Borrowers’ Program to provide cheap credit to small scale farmers. We also developed the food security program that provided capital to large scale food processors to enable them to off-take the grains produced by smallholder farmers. All of these, and more, aimed at addressing the value-chain issues confronting Agriculture in Nigeria.

Over the next four years we will continue to introduce and implement policies that will support cultivation and consumption of locally produced food items. Nigeria stands to benefit a lot, in terms of jobs, expansion of our rural economy, savings in our foreign reserves, and so on.

It would be recalled that, President Muhammadu Buhari has reiterated his call on youths in Nigeria to seize opportunities in agriculture, a sector of the economy he said is already proving to be the bedrock of the nation’s new economy. Speaking at Blair House, Washington DC after his White House engagements with President Donald Trump, the President, at a meeting the Chief Executive Officers of six American agricultural companies and their Nigerian counterparts including Aliko Dangote and John Coumantaros, again lamented the challenges of the country’s youth bulge, with “sixty per cent of the population below 30 years.” He said the country must help the young people to plan their future and urged them to explore opportunities easily accessible in agriculture because, as he said, “agriculture is the future.”

While stressing that planning in Nigeria must take into consideration the factors of climate and a bulging youth population, President Buhari also promised the support of his administration in the promotion of skill development, innovation and entrepreneurship among the young population.

*** Written by Jide Ayobolu.