The Abia Youth on my T.A.'s Mind…Eddie Onuzuruike

The Abia youth Empowerment Summit slated for Wednesday 24th, April 2013, came with a bang. It unfolded as structured and every item on the programme hit the ground running. As expected and witnessed, the buildup on the print and electronic media was spectacular. Broadcasting Corporation of Abia had it on radio and TV every five minutes. The FRCN got more than their fair share and newspapers were awash, heralding the date of the event and the awesome profile and capacity of the guest speaker.

For so many it was a promise kept as the Michael Okpara Auditorium was festive and festooned with ribbons of national hue. In short, the venue was dressed like a bride for a prince and there was an intercourse of ideas. Abians imbibed to the brim.

Chief T.A. Orji, long aware of the precarious and vulnerable position of the youths has done so much to address their imbalance. It may not need any stressing that the youth are in larger numbers in all activities. They are energetic though inexperienced, experimental to the extent that any action is better than no action. The odious in society recruit hands from the youth, even the church need the youth more than politicians in the largest numbers to chant and cheer.

 Some negative politicians dispatch youths to hoot their opponents to submission, others do not feel guilty handing them cudgels, knives at times, guns to work as body guards, foot soldiers and plain thugs. Those who plan to rig elections, especially in thumb printing woo the youths. The able Governor of Abia, having been an active youth, passing through schools and serving the nation in the NYSC in Sokoto State, can double as a consultant on youth affairs as he has constantly observed youths in all stages of their lives, commenting, condemning or correcting as the case demanded.

          Accordingly, he has not relented since in office from his days as Chief of Staff when he was honoured and adopted a patron saint of the youths.

In many of his encounters with the teeming youths, he has always promised and worked hard to meet them at their point of needs. Little wonder youth empowerment has dominated his family outreach. The free education from primary to secondary level and the free transport from home to school and back in Umuahia and Aba cities were cheery news when it was enacted in 2007. The monthly payment to some carefully selected youths from all the electoral wards in Abia was unheard of and put genuine smiles on many faces.

Creation of employment opportunities has been a continuous exercise in many sectors notably, the rejigging of Abia Rubber Company in Abam involving collaboration with an international firm, the resuscitation of all Oil Palm Estates in Abia starting with Ohambele and Mbawsi Oil mills are all targeted at accommodating the youth who form the largest employable block in Abia.

The life improving Ochendo Liberation Farms in all the L.G.As is an orchestrated scheme aimed at bequeathing survival skills, allowing the youth a chance to moderate their destiny and becoming producers rather than consumers. It would be recalled that the Amnesty programme extended by the federal Government to the militants in Niger Delta areas eluded Abia at the initial time, but Chief T.A. Orji skillfully negotiated Abia militants to benefit for which a camp was established in Abia South and today, those who willingly embraced the amnesty are reformed and reintegrated into society.

Investors have been encouraged and given incentives to invest as to employ our teeming youths. Last week, Wednesday April 17th, the ground breaking ceremony marking the take off of Shoprite,   a South African Superstore chain is a grand design to increase the employment window for youths in Abia. The Abia Government allocated a vast land in Uwalaka Road, combining the Old Garki and Asubeb land space to accommodate the behemoth stores. There are others too numerous to mention.

According to an Igbo proverb, ‘the small goat watches the mother’s mouth as it chews the curd.’ It is on record that immediately after the elections Engr. Chinedu Orji popularly called Ikuku inaugurated the Ochendo youth foundation. It is timely as he propped up the youth and involved them into so many activities. Henceforth youths gathered in Osisioma, Ohafia and were bequeathed with life-serving tools and gadgets like tricycles, barbing and hair salon equipments ranging from clippers, dryers, generating sets, computers all in the North and South senatorial zones.

Her Excellency, Lady Mercy Orji has not been left out. Her pet project Hannah May has particularly borne the cross for the female youth. Skill acquisition tools like sewing machines, hairdressing dryers, manicure and pedicure kits have been given out. Prostheses, for amputee youths, wheel chairs and crutches have been handed to the needy. Right now the skill acquisition centre opposite the Nnamdi Azikiwe Secretariat in Umuahia is busy training youthful females in varying skills, Viz computer appreciation, fashion designing, interior decoration and other skills. This is concurrently going on in other centres in Aba and Arochukwu with monthly stipend paid.

 On the buildup to the democracy day in 2012, May 28 precisely, in the spacious, Aguiyi Ironsi cenotaph with most of the youths on the terraces, enabled by giant T.V sets for viewers on all corners with funfair as youthful musicians and Nollywood stars participated, the Governor gave out tools, equipment and tricycles upon which he promised that the next edition would be resounding and amazing to all.

 Knowing T.A. as a man of action not given to too many promises, the question on many lips were, what date? Wednesday April 24th 2013 provided the answer.

 The three phased programme took off with the awesome lecture. For a start, the no-nonsense Governor who keeps all the money, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the key speaker, was on hand at the Okpara Auditorium and delivered his thought provoking speech which should be adopted nationwide as a template for youth empowerment and panacea for restiveness.

According to Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the youth constitute 18% of the world population but African countries under invest on the youth at great consequences such as breeding an unproductive segment who live under the poverty line of two dollars  a day. Not only that, they find themselves highly unsecured in jobs, marital affairs, financial statuses and therefore psychologically marginalized. To add insult to injury, this unhappy, ill-equipped segment will metamorphose into parents, guardians and leaders. In an apt reference to Hopenhyan, an established authority, the plight of the unhappy youth and victims may exacerbate intergenerational conflicts when young people perceive a lack of opportunity and meritocracy in a system that favours adults who have less formal education and training but, more wealth, power and job stability. Could this be a reenactment of Karl Maxi’s class struggle? From studies available, the rise in unemployment triggers off an increase in the crime rates and other vices as prevalent in the growth of armed robbery in the Southwest, cross border banditry and terrorism in the North, while in the South-South and South East, kidnapping and youth restiveness and other violent acts preside like a colossus.

 He reeled out some government based initiatives past and present, which include the NDE, the 100 Billion Textile Revival Funds, Smedan, PW/WYE-Public Works and Women/Youth Empowerment Scheme. The EDC,-Enterprise Dev Centre, the You Win Project, Niger Delta Amnesty Training Project, and some real but unheard-of projects in the CBN like Initiatives Towards Promoting Youth Empowerment- NIRSAl-Nigerian Incentive-based risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending and many others. Do you know that Airlines Services would have collapsed and jobs lost? Check out the PAIf-Power and Aviation Intervention Fund.

As solutions, he recommended massive job creation, great emphases on technical and vocational Education, provision of social safety nets like the Social Security Act of USA which came into reckoning since 1935, huge investment in agriculture, developing the rural areas to check urban migration, and a change of mentality which prefers white collar jobs as the only source of survival. He greatly advocated that the exuberant nature of the youths should be channeled to production, patronizing the many windows opened by the CBN.

Before the ovation died down after the lecture, it was a massive movement to the Umuahia Township Stadium, even the looming rain was not enough to deter the large numbers.  Carefully parked and arranged were cars, buses and painted taxis of all types. If not for the yellow colour branding of the buses and taxis, any undiscerning would have taken the arena to be the Apapa Wharf and the assembly ground of Toyota put together. Those who tried to count the numbers could not complete the exercise due to parallaxes as their gazes were dazed.

 In all, the Abia Governor staked 200 vehicles as handouts, seven hundred tricycles and one hundred Laptops.

The question in many minds were: ‘how does the government  manage to do all these with ongoing massive constructions in roads and buildings in-spite of the paltry funds?’

His Excellency may have taken seriously the admonition of his namesake, the former American president, Theodore Roosevelt who said “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

If I have the temerity to venture an opinion, the Abia government should as a matter of strict urgency set up a committee to study critically the financial windows opened by the Central Bank many of which are unknown to Abia Youths.

On the other hand, the Abia government ably led by sir T A Orji has not fared badly judging by the recommendations of the CBN oracle. With hindsight and a few examples already mentioned, the agricultural reforms ranging from the rejuvenation of all the Eastern Nigeria farms located in Abia and the Ochendo liberation farms in the 17 LGAs are instructive.

There are various skill acquisition centres private and public. The 4500 selected group from all wards on monthly stipends gulping 65 million naira monthly is akin to the Social Security of USA. Likewise, the numerous equipments already given out. The amnesty scheme where Abia was left out but deftly negotiated by the governor speaks volumes. The bursary and scholarships re-instituted and the free education in primary and secondary are effected to lure the youth to school and for the parents, any who gets the youth off drugs and crime may have done quite a lot.

Eddie Onuzuruike