Oluwole Ariyo, Commissioner for Labour, Productivity and Human Capital Development in Ekiti State, in this interview with Adejuwon Soyinka, deputy general editor; Anthony Akaeze, assistant editor; Abiola Odutola, staff writer; and Sunday Adedeji, senior photo editor, speaks on manpower development in the state and what the state government has been doing to reduce unemployment and poverty in Ekiti State.
The major objective of all the items on the eight-point agenda of Dr Kayode Fayemi is to drive away poverty from Ekiti State. The payment of the social security fund for the elderly people is captured under agenda 1. If you look at the various groups in Nigeria – the young people, middle-age people, the working class, the old people – there’s a line that connects all of them and that line is poverty. Poverty pervades all the various strata in Nigeria’s economy and the people that are most vulnerable amongst these various strata is the elderly people, first, because they are very old, some 80 years, 90 years, 100 years, some of them are very ill and have even lost their bread winners in their family, like the young ones catering for them and they as such are exposed to all the danger you can think about. And Mr. Governor now said that the only way to intervene in such unhealthy situation is to come up with a social security scheme under which a sum of N5,000 will be paid to the aged people that fall within the criteria that we have stated on a monthly basis.
In 2011, the Governor said that about 20,000 people who are poor will be paid N5,000 each per month in Ekiti State and what we did was to conduct an enumeration to know who should be qualified for it. The first criterion is that you must be 65 years and above. Two, your living apartment must tell us that you are a poor person. Three, we want to find out whether you are a widow, or a man without a wife. Four, we want to see your health status. Using all these criteria, we were able to sift out about 20,000 people from the almost 60 something thousand people that we captured. The Governor now launched the programme about two and half years ago and from then we started the payment of N5,000 to those that are qualified.
Beyond that, the problem of good policy in Nigeria as you will understand is the problem of policy somersault. A governor will come up with good policy and you discover that after the exit of that administration, someone else would come and undo it. So the Governor said there should be a law backing up this policy. So the governor has appended his signature to a bill passed in the House of Assembly to become law, meaning that till eternity, unless a House of Assembly comes up to undo what this House of Assembly has done, the payment is already guaranteed for these elderly people. Even beyond the law, the way our elderly people have come to profess what they benefit from this programme tells us that there is no government in Ekiti State that can come up and undo this legacy.
What measures do you have in place to avoid corruption in the process of selecting these elderly people and also to avoid ghost earners?
When we commenced the process of enumerating the people that we feel were qualified for the money, we never used civil servants or politicians because civil servants come from these places and everybody wants good things to come to their parents or relatives. We employed the services of youth corpers. Some of them were Yorubas anyway but most of them were not from this place and we ensured that all the people that we used were not from Ekiti State. So the thing was done dispassionately. The various criteria that we laid down, we told the youth corpers to stick to them 100 per cent and that was just what they did. And later, the fallout of this was that a lot of our people in our party were now crying that the enumeration that was done favoured members of the opposition party. But Mr. Governor emphasised the point that as soon as he became governor of Ekiti State, he has become a father of all.
But as a matter of fact, the programme was not only meant for Ekiti State indigenes. The governor said as long as somebody who faces poverty in old age resides in Ekiti, that person must qualify to benefit if he meets the other criteria that we have set out. So, we have Hausa people benefiting from the scheme, we have Ibos, and Ibiras benefiting from the scheme. Apart from that, there is no other consideration whether you are a Christian or a Muslim.
On the other leg of the question whether the process of payment is compromised, I want to say that in anything that involves human beings, there’s no way you will not face some challenges. We have had occasions of people compromising the process. Because those people that pay the money don’t belong to the various communities where the money is paid, it is easy for some people to deceive them and take money that does not belong to them. We’ve had occasions where people that are dead, some people will just run up to impersonate and in Yoruba land there are so many people that bear the same name so it is possible for people to be deceived. But we tried as much as possible to reduce these to the lowest manageable level by inviting the executive assistant to the governor on mobilisation that is appointed for every ward and warned that if there’s any incidence of impersonation, they are going to bear the consequence. As a matter of fact, there were some officials that lost their positions as a result of impropriety.
Again, we are trying to come up with a uniform identity card for all of them and the identity card will be based on biometric data capture. We hope that the issue of corruption in the process of payment and the rest will further reduce. Besides that, we’ve been having a smooth sail all along.
Youth unemployment is a major issue. How well have you been able to tackle that?
Poverty and youth unemployment are two of the most serious problems that Nigeria is facing today and the problems arise from other problems that had been created by the national government. You could see what happened when the Immigration was conducting recruitment exercise for new officers. It looked as if it was a world cup tournament going on at the stadium. The numbers of the youth that are in employment now are so insignificant, less than 10 per cent. What happens to the remaining 90 per cent? The remaining 90 per cent can bring any government down, any day. So something drastic has to be done about it. Mr. Governor also identified this but the situation is so bad; if you do a census of employed youths in Ekiti State, they are likely to be well over a hundred thousand, even two hundred thousand. Mr. Governor said this situation cannot continue, there must be an intervention and he came up with the youth volunteer scheme, some idea that intends to mop up some of the graduate youths who are roaming the streets looking for jobs to be a stopgap employment for them.
At the first count, about 5,000 of them were removed from the labour market and were taken to the orientation camp and given some orientation on what to do. The intention was to engage them in some public works and government paying them 10,000 a month and government has been doing that since 2011. The first batch spent two years on the scheme, but the plan is not to exit them into the unemployment market again. Government promised to give them an unemployment package that can enable some small business. And even during the programme, they are encouraged to take part in some skill acquisition training programmes. Government did that the first time and another 5,000 batch has been engaged again. They are now in the various communities doing some public works and taking the N10,000 per month.
If you go down memory lane, you will discover that the largest number of professors in Nigerian universities in those days came from Ekiti State. Ekiti State is a place where the only thing we know how to do best is to pursue education to its logical conclusion. A woman can decide to sell everything that she has to train her child; a man can forgo all the pleasures of life to make sure his children go to school. We have various pioneers in various fields coming from Ekiti. The first woman graduate, lady Jibowu, is from Ekiti.
I was one of the people that sat with others to take a decision on what the state should bear. That was in 1996 when the state was first created. The Governor, Colonel Bawa, came from Abuja after his swearing-in and one of the first things he wanted to do was what name should appear on our number plate. After we resolved that with the FRSC, Bawa, who knew the stride of this area in the area of education, said it should be Fountain of Knowledge and we all agreed with him; but later we had some government which cared less about education in the state and the quality of education in our schools was going down.
In the national scale of performance, Ekiti was found around 20 something. Dr. Fayemi now said, with this name, Fountain of Knowledge, are we not making a mockery [of] ourselves in view of our performance in NECO and West African School Certificate examination. There was a discussion about it and everybody came to the conclusion that it was high time that we stopped, and the slogan was changed to land of honour. Land of Honour, because we have had occasions to be seen as people that have honour in the face of serious difficulty. You will remember the [late Colonel Adekunle] Fajuyi and [late General J. T.] Aguiyi-Ironsi incident at Ibadan during the counter coup in the ’60s. Ironsi was the guest of our son, Fajuyi, who was Governor of Western region then. The coupists abducted Ironsi and Fajuyi said there’s no way you can abduct my guest, you have to carry me along. And he and Ironsi were killed. So we see that as an honourable act, which was why we changed to Land of Honour instead of Fountain of Knowledge. But with Dr. Fayemi, things have started to look up again in the education sector.