Unemployment has become a major problem bedeviling the lives of Nigerian youths, causing increased militancy, violent crimes, kidnappings, restiveness, and socially delinquent behaviour. Youth unemployment is devastating to both the individual and the society as a whole both psychologically and economically.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says Nigeria’s unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in the first quarter (Q1) of 2023 and 5.3 percent in the previous quarter. In the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2020, the bureau had pegged the country’s unemployment rate at 33.3 percent.
Also, in the bureau’s report for Q2, 2020, the unemployment rate among young people (15-34 years) was 34.9%, a rise from 29.7% during the last survey.
According to the report by NBS, Nasarawa State had a poverty rate of 57.3 percent, making it the 12th state in Nigeria with the highest poverty rate. While in the North-Central region, it had the second-highest poverty rate.20 Feb 2023.
It is based on these bleak indicators that the government of Nasarawa State, under the leadership of Engineer Abdullahi A. Sule saw the need to establish the Nasarawa State Human Capital Development Agency (NSHCDA), saddled with the responsibility of accelerating growth and development in the state.
Human capital development is a measure of skill, knowledge and health accumulated throughout one’s lifetimeis and a global phenomenon which Nigeria keyed into on 14th December, 2018, by the then vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, with a vision to accelerate human capital development by year 2030.
Human capital development plays a vital role in sustaining economic growth, boosting productivity, and reducing poverty, with a focus on investing in people through healthcare, education, and labour force participation.
In Nasarawa State, the vision of the NSHCDA is to accelerate growth and development towards making the state among the ten most competitive economies in Nigeria through optimizing skills and knowledge to maximize value production.
The NSHCDA is also focusing on education, particularly enrollment, completion and quality learning; health, especially maternal mortality, nutrition, quality care and service delivery; social development for the disadvantaged; youths’ development with emphasis on skills acquisition, as well as local government and community development.
As part of its activities to provide employment for the teeming youths of the state, the NSHCDA, in collaboration with the Poise Graduate Academy and Oxfam Nigeria, organized employability and entrepreneurship training aimed at enhancing the capacity of graduates to gain employment and engage in meaningful ventures.
Since the commencement of the training which has been in batches in 2020, so far the NSHCDA has trained over 400 graduates drawn from across the 13 local government areas of the state as part of the commitment of the Engineer Sule administration to providing an enabling environment for the beneficiaries to explore their potential, and contribute meaningfully to the growth of the state.
According to the Director General of the NSHCDA, Habiba Balarabe-Suleiman, the agency has had to strategize after realizing that after the training, graduates are still unable to secure employment mostly because of the shortage of white-collar jobs.
The director general pointed out that even after the series of job fairs organized by her agency with a view to securing employment for the graduates of the training, no such jobs were forthcoming, which made it necessary for the agency to reconsider and to initiate a means of supporting the graduate with means to secure finance to start their own businesses.
Obviously, the apparent lack of jobs, made it possible for the NSHCDA to come up with the idea to further support the trainees, which ultimately gave birth to the Nasarawa State N500M Youth Revolving Funds Scheme (YRFS). This became even more necessary after careful evaluation of the trainees showed that most of them are not even interested in white-collar jobs but would rather start their own business.
The NSHCDA then conveyed their proposal for its Youth Empowerment Scheme to Bank of Industry (BOI) and subsequently, via letter dated July 21st, 2022, where Governor Sule gave the approval for the sum of N250.0 million as the state’s counterpart funding and contribution for a Matching Fund arrangement. This led to the establishment of a N500.0 million Matching and Managed Fund (the managed portion is N50.0 million) between the Nasarawa State Government and BOI.
The MoU was signed on October 27th, 2022. The counterpart contribution of N250.00m from the state government was remitted into the Bank’s CBN account on February 21st, 2023, which makes the fund active.
NSHCDA is proud to note that BOI rated the MoU proposal by the agency as one of the best in the country.
Having signed the MoU, 42 applications were received which were screened, out of which 10 were approved. The total amount of money that was approved for Batch ‘A’ was N22,000,000.00, out of which four applicants were paid the sum of N9,694,728.30 and fully disbursed.
The NSHCDA outlined a three-step screening process for applicants seeking to access the loan namely screening of proposal to check viability, screening of pitch proposal to find out ownership and originality of proposal, as well as to understand if the applicants understand the business they intend to undertake. The NSHDCA also makes loan amount recommendations, where the agency approaches BOI to see if the loan recommendation is adequate. The NSHCDA is not at all involved in the final validation and approval for the loan, which remains the sole responsibility of the BOI.
Subsequently, 47 applications were received under Batch B, which were screened, and 43 were approved and sent to BOI for onward disbursement. The total amount approved was N103, 467, 800. 00.
While another 54 applications have been received under Batch ‘C’, in summary, a total number of 89 applications were received under Batch ‘A’ and ‘B’. The total number of 53 applications were approved amounting to N125,467,800.00 and sent to BOI for onward disbursed, out of which the sum of N9,694,728.30 have so far been paid.
To be able to access the funds, NSHCDA laid out a screening and validation process, which requires that all the projects presented to the bank must be endorsed by the NSHCDA. This involves a screening process, where each business plan is examined by a panel set up by the NSHCDO. The successful participants’ business plans and information are then forwarded via letter to the BOI Nasarawa State Office for processing.
The first batch of ten (10) projects was received from the NHCDA in February 2023. Each project was screened and pre-approved by the NHCDA and then forwarded to the bank for further processing.
It was at this stage that the agency encountered unforeseen challenges, which led to a delay in the processing and disbursement of Batch A projects and necessitated two separate amendments that were made to the MoU. This also meant that no project could be disbursed until the amendments to the MoU were signed off.
The amendment to the MoU was thereafter signed on June 15th, 2023, with the first official disbursement of dull cheques held at the Government House on June 27th, 2023, before the beneficiaries were handed over to BOI.
It was also discovered that the beneficiaries found it difficult to meet some of the condition’s precedent to disbursement. Specifically, the 10% security deposit and strict legal documentation. This has caused much back-and-forth correcting documentation.
Still, it was found out one of the beneficiaries from Batch A has outstanding indebtedness to a commercial bank, with the candidate yet unable to settle his outstanding loan thus further stalling the process for this particular candidate to access the facility.
Thus, in order to avoid these hiccups, NSHCDA undertook extra training for the applicants under Batch B, especially on documentation to ensure the candidates submitted the correct documents and to avoid delays. The agency was able to process Batch B at a faster pace due to lessons learned in Batch A.
Accordingly, a meeting was held with the Deputy Governor and Focal Person during the DH’s visit to the region on August 24th, 2023, where we discussed some of these issues. Some short cuts to accelerate the pace were agreed.
Another impediment that is stalling the speedy processing and disbursement of the loan was the fact that the initial amounts marked for individuals and groups to access being one million and three million respectively was found to be grossly inadequate to enable the beneficiaries start their business.
NSHDCA saw the need therefore to restructure the funds arrangement, especially since the MoU did not cover the area of trade but for which most of the applicants are focusing to establish. To meet this evolving challenge, the Nasarawa State Government took out N50m in order to be able to accommodate trade. Not only that, NSHDCA was able to push for the ceiling for the disbursement to be increased from three million to five million naira.
It was also discovered along the line that BOI that is wholly in charge of processing and disbursing the loans, complaint that some of the certificate of registration submitted by the applicants for their intended businesses were not updated, further stalling the process for the validation and eventual disbursement.
Head of the agency, Habiba Balarabe-Suleiman, said the primary aim of the NSHDCA is to make the revolving loan scheme successful, such that those who benefited should return their loans for others to benefit. She dismissed insinuations that the Nasarawa State Government is charging interests on its funds. According to her, only the BOI is charging five percent interest.
While appealing to the applicants to remain patient as her agency works tirelessly to remove all the impediments that is delaying the disbursement of the loans, she pointed out that, so far, four applicants have received their full disbursements and another 20 from Batch B have their offer letters and are currently being processed.
Abare is the special assistant on media to the Nasarawa Governor.