LAST week, during a virtual meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the Federal Government approved the establishment of a N75bn Nigerian Youth Investment Fund (NYIF). Speaking on the initiative, the Minister of Youths and Sports, Sunday Dare, disclosed that the “youth bank” was meant to support enterprise among the country’s youths between ages 18 and 35. The minister said: “This fund is meant to create a special window for accessing credit facilities and financing on the part of our youths that will help to fund their ideas, innovations and also support their enterprise.” In a subsequent statement issued by his media office, Dare said the scheme would target 500,000 youths annually, adding that a minimum of N25 billion would be disbursed yearly, and for the next three years. For the remaining part of 2020, the minister indicated that an initial sum of N12.5 billion would be needed to commence the NYIF.
He enthused: “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 youths out of poverty and birth a whole generation of entrepreneurs. Each fund approval will range from N250,000 to N50,000,000, with a spread across group applications, individual applications, working capital loans set at one year and term loans set at three years, with single-digit interest rate of 5 per cent. NYIF joins the slew of youth-focused programmes already put in place by the Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government as part of a National Plan to combat youth unemployment and drive innovation, fuel entrepreneurship, and support youth SMEs.” The minister further indicated that disbursement of funds would be through various channels, including micro-credit organizations under the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), supported by the Bank of Industry, Fintech organisations and venture capital organisations registered with the CBN. According to him, the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the CBN would provide the initial financing, while youths seeking to benefit from the fund must have genuine business ideas and registered business entities, be citizens of Nigeria, and be able to provide recognised means of identification and guarantors.
To be sure, the unemployment situation in the country, already dire even before the Covid-19 pandemic, has assumed an epidemic dimension in recent times. Against this backdrop, we have, time and again, called on governments across the country to roll out innovative ideas to tame the scourge. In this regard, the latest announcement by the Federal Government is welcome. Now, more than ever, the government needs to encourage start-ups and bolster the ability of the country’s youths to create jobs and wealth, and contribute more meaningfully to its GDP. Happily, lessons abound for the government in the private sector, where a number of individuals have been transforming lives through investment schemes whereby the intending beneficiaries submit proposals. These private schemes are merit-based, and those whose ideas are adjudged not good enough have the opportunity to go back to the drawing board.
The linkage between entrepreneurship and wealth creation is well established, and there is no doubt that many of the country’s youths have great entrepreneurial ideas but are hampered by funds, especially against the backdrop of the fact that borrowing from the money lending banks can often prove suicidal. In this connection, it is quite salutary that the Federal Government has come up with a funding scheme with a single digit interest rate of five per cent, and apparently without built-in conditions that might cause distress. Certainly, organising empowerment programmes is good and commendable, but there must be coherence in government programmes. Sadly, however, the lessons of history, taken together with the ongoing developments in the polity, inspire no optimism. If anything, the revelations of monumental sleaze in the ongoing public hearings on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the disheartening stories of brazen looting in the recently established North East Development Commission demonstrate the fact that the monitoring of public funds has been extremely weak under the Buhari administration. Indeed, going by the Auditor-General’s report, the operations of ministries, departments and agencies, including even the anti-graft agencies, have been shrouded in secrecy, and without the slightest respect for the rules of financial disclosure.
In the last five years, public officials have played ping pong with public funds, and it is against this backdrop that there has been no excitement among the Nigerian populace following the Federal Government’s latest announcement. Even the yet to be implemented 774,000 jobs scheme has been dogged by controversy. Thus, while commending the Buhari administration for rolling out the initiative, the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), for instance, tasked it to guard the scheme against diversion. President of NYCN, Solomon Adodo, said: “Care must be taken to ensure that funds made available for this project are not diverted by selfish elements who are bent on robbing Nigerian youths of their birthright and politicising every initiative for personal enrichment.”
Truth be told, Nigerians expect whatever the government is doing to have real impact in their lives. Often, these programmes that the government rolls out with much fanfare eventually have little or no impact in people’s lives. The NYIF has to be a different kettle of fish.
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