Sunday Dare, Minister of Youth and Sports
  • PDP, others accuse government of politics

By OLUSESAN LAOYE

The N750 billion investment fund for Nigerian youths, which has just been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari seems to be a child conceived out of due season and birthed in controversy. The programme is being initiated when the country is in economic crisis and as preparations are already in motion by different interests for the 2023 elections.

Some have argued it is a ploy to score cheap, political points and to redeem the battered image of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Federal government, give the fact that it is only for the period of three months. However, others believe it is a genuine intention of the government to empower the youths. Those who cast aspersions at the scheme believed that it is just one of the laudable youth empowerment projects which look good on paper but will never serve for what they were meant to do.

In the last three years of the present administration of President Buhari, a lot of empowerment programmes have been rolled out especially in the last few months of the pandemic which were believed to be largess for the boys and did not reach the people. This, they say, maybe the reason Nigerians still don’t have confidence in the N750billion investment fund to support enterprise among the 68million youths in Nigeria between the ages of 18 and 35.

The scheme and the introduction of the loan was the initiative of the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mr Sunday Dare. As it was designed, the scheme would be distributed through Micro-credit banks across Nigeria and to access assess the loan youths would have to present their business ideas and plan directly. The loan it was said would not be randomly distributed but selected with only those believed to have genuine business plans as beneficiaries.

Those who scale through the selection process would approach125 Micro Finance Institutions, on the window specified for the assessments of the loan for credit facilities and the financing on parts of the youths to fund idea, innovations and to also support the enterprise. The Federal Ministry of Finance Budget and National Planning, along with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Ministry of Sports, and the MDAs would be the monitoring agencies, which would enable those selected to get the range of N250,000 to N50, million with a spread across group applications.

Other points raised about the loan are that those to get it must be Nigerians with dependable registered business, with proper means of identifications, guarantors, and without knowing anyone or be connected, before getting the loan, aimed at benefiting, 500,000 youths between 2020 and 2023. It was also stipulated that the working capital loan is set as one year and term loan set at 3 years with a single-digit interest rate of 5%.

With these outlines, the N750billion would be spread at N25billion per year for a period of three years to create common buckets for all Nigerian youths to access the loan. From the reactions of some Nigerians, the intention sounds good but the implementation of it may be the problem. They also argued that bearing the Nigerian factor, the scheme would soon be politicised and that this has been the bane of most laudable projects initiated for the good of the people.

They also argued that it would create an avenue for those in power to scramble for slots, based on political and ethnic considerations. They cited the establishments of various schemes, such as the National Directorate of employment, NDE which has now gone into the cooler, various     Agricultural programmes meant for youths for which Federal Funds were taken out without results. The latest which is now generating controversy is the 774,000 jobs under the public works programme being handled by the Federal Ministry of Labour, Employment and Productivity. Since the project came up, many Nigerians have been sceptical and apprehensive about the motive behind it and how it would be genuinely implemented without bias and favouritism.

The height of their doubts and apprehension was the political undertone and the imbroglio between the National Assembly members and the Federal government over slots. Some members in the National Assembly kicked against the 30 persons allocated per legislators, saying that their constituencies are bigger than the local governments that would take 100 persons each. One of the legislators Olumelu argued that he would not accept the 30 slots to him but the Minister of State for Labour Festus Keyamo, insisted on the distribution of 30 persons per legislators and 100 per local government would stand irrespective of the legislators’ argument and protest.

The Minister, Keyamo argued that whether the aggrieved legislators accept their slots or not, it does not matter, because the local governments in their constituencies would still benefit and that the allocation to them was a privilege and not of right. This issue between the government has now created the fear that the N750billion investment youth fund could run into the same faith, which could defeat the purpose and the intentions for which it was created to help the youths.

It would even be recalled that since February 2020, the federal government has rolled out different schemes and funds to boost both the economy and create jobs, which observers, political opponents and experts in various fields related to these schemes have expressed dismay over the implementation. They have also claimed that the impact of virtually all these projects has not in any way been felt by those who are to benefit from them.

Some of these schemes within the spate of six months from February to August 2020 include healthcare sector, research and development intervention grant to sponsor research and development for new and improve drugs, vaccine and diagnostic of infectious diseases, the 7774,000 jobs, the N50billion COVID 19 credit facilities, N220bilion micro, small and Medium Enterprises development fund for women, FG’s N2.3 trillion stimulus package and survival find for Micro Small and Medium enterprises to stay afloat in view of the economic challenges imposed by the pandemic.

Other schemes are the Central Bank’s Non-oil export stimulus facilities to diversify the revenue base of the economy and to expedite the growth of the non-oil export sector, the CBN support for local Maize farmers with N12.5 million tonnes of Maize in 18 months and the special package of credit for artisans with four pillars of Fashion, information technology, movie and music, and the N50billion household and Small businesses to over 80,000 families and households.

The arguments, therefore, were that all these were just mere creation of the government,  which have not yielded any results as there have been difficulties in accessing them by the would-be beneficiaries. Some of the people contacted  for their comments on the N75 billion investment  fund for Nigerian youths  believed that it was good if the government would be honest  and  transparent with its implementation

They commended the initiative of Mr Sunday Dare for coming out with such a programme which is the first of its kind in Nigeria and pleaded that the Minister should keep to his promise of non-partisanship in the implementation of the scheme. The youths who were delighted with the minister’s initiative commended him and President Buhari for approving the scheme. They presented a letter of appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari through the Minister of Youth and sports, Mr Sunday Dare, for the approval of the N750 billion investment fund for them.

Mr Sukubo Sara-Igbesukubo, the President of National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), who presented the letter in Abuja, thanked the president for the laudable act of establishing the Nigerian Youth Investment fund. 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. Sara-Igbesukubo said that the fund was a special window for the Nigerian youths to access financial facilities for their entrepreneurial ideas, and innovations.

He added that “the laudable milestone has shown that the present administration has the interest of Nigerian youths at heart.

“Today, the hope of millions of talented, hardworking, and creative young Nigerians is being restored.”

The Minister while receiving the letter to President Buhari from the youths said that the fund would enable the country to go beyond empowerment to investment. He said that the fund would help to boost youth investment in the country, noting that the ministry would work with Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to evolve modalities that would ensure that the fund was used for the investment it was meant for.

“The youths will be involved in the decision making as they will be in the forefront to achieve the goal of the fund,’’ he said.

Dare said that Nigerian youths did not lack ideas but have not had enough opportunities to utilize their talents. He said that “we are hoping that with the fund the youths will put every effort to get it running.”

Also in a statement issued by Barrister Ismaeel Ahmed, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Social Investment and a member of the APC National Caretaker Committee on behalf of the APC and young stakeholders of the party, Ismaeel stated that the announcement of the fund was well received by young Nigerians in delight, and in gratefulness.

“On behalf of the party and especially its young progressives, I wish to express our sincere gratitude to His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari (GCFR) for being attentive and understanding to the real concerns of young people and his magnanimity in approving this Fund without hesitation or much ado.”

But in its reaction the Peoples Democratic Party through its National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbandiyan said the investment fund is another ploy by the APC government to deceive the people, saying that the party only wanted to play politics with the lives of the youths and want to use that to cover up its failure in governance. He  argued “this ‘ is another way for those in government  to perpetrate corruption because the party lack accountability and transparency and  we are watching to see the modalities they would adopt in determining whose business plan meets  the requirements or not”

Also when contacted, former Ondo State Deputy Chairman, Engineer Johnson Alabi said though the project was good on paper, he believed that the implementation would be a big problem and his fear was that politician would hijack it and politicise the whole thing and at the end, it would be a failure. He argued “as far as I am concerned, there is no way politics is not going to come in. Once that comes in, ethnicity would step in and the intention of the scheme would be defeated.”

“Let us look at it this way if the proposals of people from a section of the country are better and can bring a prospect to the nation and they were given the loan, those from other parts whose proposals are not good and denied would cry out that they are being sidelined. At the end of the day, the whole thing would end in the quota system which would eventually ruin the good intention of the young Minister who meant well for the youth. Nigeria is a country where nothing works because of politics and ethnicity” He said.

In his reaction, the Chairman of the House Committee on Information and Youth Development in the Ondo State House of Assembly, Akogun Gbenga  Omole said that the APC has the mind of helping the youths, that was why the Minister of Sports, Sunday Dare initiated that programme and others to alleviate the suffering of the teeming youths and to create employment.

“The project is a welcome development which would create the opportunities for over 500,000 youths to access the loans for businesses, then it means that all these youths would be self-reliant and they would add values to both, the political, social and economic development of Nigeria

“With this as well more jobs would be created and if the youths are not idle, rate of crime would reduce as the youths would get away from the syndrome of wanting to get rich quickly” He further argued.