Monday, May 20, 2013

Nasarawa State Offer Skills Trainings to Combat High Illiteracy and Unemployment #IRP13

Participants at McCEF training, Lafia

LAFIA, NIGERIA – While applying to university, Isabella Anna Anzolo, 20, enrolled in a free computer literacy training offered by a local organization in Lafia, the capital of Nigeria’s Nasarawa state. Anzolo says she wanted to gather new skills to make her marketable for a job in case she does not receive acceptance to university.

“As a young girl or a young person, the best you can ever achieve is education,” she says. “That is the best you can do to your youthful age. It is a legacy you can never regret.”

During the six-month course, Anzolo learned about computers as well as gained administrative skills. She completed the program in December 2012 and will participate in a graduation ceremony in June.

She took the course through the Mother and Child Care Enhancement Foundation (MCCEF), a nongovernmental organization founded by the first lady of Nasarawa. It aims to empower youth and women through free vocational and entrepreneurial training.

The organization is among various private institutions and government agencies in Nasarawa offering free skill-acquisition classes to combat high rates of illiteracy and unemployment in the state.

Hajia Salamatu Tanko Al-Makura, the first lady of Nasarawa, emphasized her organization’s commitment to boosting literacy rates in an event to promote literacy that it hosted on April 24.

The UNESCO delegation in the Nigerian capital of Abuja gave Al-Makura an ambassadorial award in 2013 to recognize her efforts to advance literacy, vocational skills and entrepreneurship.

Established in 2011, the organization has already trained more than 625 women and young adults through its literacy program, says Audu Blackgold Sanni, the organization’s technical adviser. Its courses are free, though participants must pay for materials as well as 500 naira ($3) to apply.

The Nasarawa State Agency for Adult and Non-formal Education also offers literacy and vocational skills training at 300 centers in the state, says Williams Ebuga, executive director of the governmental agency. The trainings are free in order to make them accessible to all.

“The literacy centers are where we teach those people who did not have the opportunity to go to school when they were young,” he says.

Under the state's current administration, the agency has aimed to modernize the equipment and trainings that the centers offer, including basic reading and writing in the local Hausa language, computer literacy and vocational education for women, Ebuga says. Women learn skills such as sewing, knitting and baking.

“Through those skills, they are able to take care of themselves and have some little independence where they can earn some income,” he says. “And through that, they can contribute to the welfare of the family and also to the society.”

The centers also offer skills training to men and young people, including those who have dropped out of school.

During the May 1 commemoration of International Workers’ Day in Lafia, Gov. Alhaji Umaru Tanko Al-Makura pledged his administration’s commitment to tackling unemployment and increasing self-reliance through these trainings. The state administration does not have the resources to create more jobs and does not want to hire employees only to underpay them, he said.

“There are no jobs to give these youths,” he said. “If the jobs are there, money is not there to correspond with the amount of work they will do.”

Formal education has not provided young adults with the job opportunities they expected, and a diploma is no guarantee of employment, he said. So his administration is promoting trainings to encourage self-employment and to decrease restlessness and social instability.

“The only way out is to go the skill-acquisition way,” he said.

Approximately half of Nasarawa’s population is illiterate, Ebuga said at the April literacy event organized by the first lady's organization. The national literacy rate in 2011 was 67 percent, according to Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics.

Nasarawa also faces high unemployment rates. In 2011, the state’s unemployment rate was 36.5 percent, according to the bureau. This was higher than the national unemployment rate of nearly 24 percent for 2011.

Participants say they are benefiting from the free trainings.

Maiwaazi Rahila, 23, learned how to create and to embroider beaded bags during a three-month training offered by the Mother and Child Care Enhancement Foundation. She now sells the bags to her peers at Nasarawa State University, Keffi, where she studies psychology.

The training has empowered her, has made her self-reliant and has eased the financial burden on her parents.

“Nobody is poor unless you are not using what you have in your life,” she says.

Stephen Usman says that young graduates who struggle to find employment should embrace trainings to acquire skills that will help them become self-reliant. He uses his own experience as an example.

When Usman could not find a job in agriculture after graduating with a degree in this field in 2005, he taught himself photography skills. He now runs a commercial photography business as his main source of income.

“I am encouraging the young graduates to engage themselves in any business to sustain their living,” he says.

And trainings are not just for young people.

“I have seen people going into business because of this program,” Anzolo says of her course. “It is really affecting the lives of especially older women.”

But others say skill-acquisition trainings are not a panacea for illiteracy and unemployment in Nasarawa.

The formal education system is flawed, says Luka Iliya Zhekaba, a member of the Academic Staff Union of Secondary Schools, which represents secondary school staff in Nigeria. But adults and children must still embrace formal education because it provides consistent and continuous schooling, unlike skills trainings.

Ebuga says the trainings increase young people's ability to obtain formal education.

“There is no way you can develop a nation effectively without education, without educating the citizenry,” he says. “The nonformal is to lift them up to a level whereby at a point they may stream into the formal one.”

Usman asks the government to increase both entrepreneurial and formal employment opportunities. Although he was able to start his own business, he says that self-employment is not easy. Even after acquiring skills through trainings, it is difficult to launch a business without startup capital.

“If you don’t have a source of income, there is no way you want to establish that business,” he says.

The government should provide small loans to participants of the skill-acquisition trainings, he says. It also must not lose focus on creating formal jobs for young adults because people tend to respect government employment more than self-employment.

Zhekaba recommends that the federal government increase job opportunities for young graduates by enforcing the federal retirement requirement for public sector employees after 35 years of work.

“They should allow them to go to give room to the younger ones coming behind,” he says. “If they can do that, I think the issue of unemployment will not be too much.”

Meanwhile, state agencies and development organizations plan to expand their literacy and vocational trainings to promote education and employment in Nasarawa.

Although the Mother and Child Care Enhancement Foundation is based in Lafia, the organization plans to bring trainings to rural areas of the state, Sanni says.

“We want to scale up the program to the whole 13 local government areas and development areas,” he says, referring to the local administrations that constitute Nasarawa.

The governor continues to publicly prioritize improving literacy and employment through the state centers. Despite the state’s current unemployment rate, Nasarawa will soon lead Nigeria with its skilled workforce, he said during his speech on International Workers’ Day.

The governor said that his administration recently sponsored a pioneer team of trainers to travel to Singapore for skill-acquisition trainings. Upon its return, the team will provide trainings to the citizens of Nasarawa.

Although other states in Nigeria have similar skills-training programs, the governor said Nasarawa was leading the way.

“Very soon, you will see people from other states asking for graduates from Nasarawa state skill-acquisition centers to come and help in adding value to their own services,” he said.

About the reporter:

Jennifer Ehidiamen is a 2013 New Media Fellow for the International Reporting Project. This report was made possible by a grant she received from the project to report on global health and development in Nigeria.

First Published on GPI:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Celebrating 100 years of collective struggle under an organized labour #MayDay #Nasarawa

"Let me start the speech with the observation by some people that the May Day celebration is a mere ritual where workers gather to lament over their conditions. Whoever thinks this way is sure far from being correct. We do not merely grieve over our misery on a day like this. We celebrate our successes as workers in spite of daunting challenges and renew our resolve to make the welfare of workers, the creators of our commonwealth, better." -- Comrade Asoloko Maku, Nasarawa State Chairman, Nigeria Labour Congress in commemoration of 2013 Worker’s Day.    
"Celebrating 100 years of our collective struggles as workers under an organized labour"

"Workers have made a lot of sacrifices towards the development of the state" Maku
"Nasarawa state is barely 17 years old and the organized labour in the state is as old as the state itself. Indeed, the organized labour made significant contributions to the creation and development of the state." Maku
"I will advice my colleagues to pick courage and give the government a little time. In as  much as we are also crying for ourselves, we should also look at the plight of the government because the government is also faced with a lot of challenges. They cannot meet all the problems at the same time." Comrade Luka Zhekaba.

"I'm very happy particularly today because this is the day the civil servants will air their own problems to the government. And more importantly, those who are not opportune to go through formal education, by the time they grace today's occasion, they'll be encouraged to join the system." Comrade Abubakar Adamu, BESAN PRO

"Illiteracy is a sickness but when there is education, every body will know his left and right. If not because of education, I cannot even speak to you like this... " Victoria Yakubu.
"The thing that is disturbing me is that most of our elders or leaders don't care about teachers today. Without a teacher, nobody can open their mouth to say a word, without a teacher you cannot even know to read and write..."
"It is with appreciation and deep sense of respect that I salute all workers and labour union of Nasarawa state to say well done, keep up the good work." Al-Makura

"It is gratifying to state that within the past one year, our state witnessed immense industrial peace and harmony." Al-Makura

"I must commend NLC and TUC as well as affiliate unions in the state for the sustained understanding, co-operation... it is the prevalent cordial relationship in the state that has encouraged the government to sustain its implementation of the national minimum wage. Today, there is overwhelming evidence that Nasarawa state remains the only state to have implemented the policy 100% in spite of its lean financial resources"

"You will notice since our assumption in office, we have not made elaborate employment of our graduates. It is not that the government is callous or insensitive to the needs and desirability of employing...but you will agree with me that the resources available at our disposal might not make it possible for us to implement what is our mind desire." Al-Makura.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Internet Access in Nigeria and the surveillance brouhaha! #IRP13

Rumor has it that the federal government has awarded $40m contract to an Israeli firm to monitor Internet communications in Nigeria. Have things escalated, so badly? This is what happens when government officials fail to prioritize issues affecting us as a country. We can all count over 40 other things $40m would do to foster Nigeria's development. Instead, our dear government leader has chosen to channel it towards spy-ware et al.

Imagine typing or or any other social media websites for that matter and all you get is ACCESS DENIED! That is what this government's new pet project can result to... or is there any other way to look at it?

With the way things are going these days, it is not only the government that is worried about the internet-age and how much it is giving people too much power. Any organization who has read a blog post or a tweet by an offended customer might nod approvingly that indeed, a little of this power needs to be reduced through censorship and its like.

Today, a bank official advised me to always censor my tweets before broadcasting. The lady means well and yes, her advice makes a lot of sense. But knowing what premise she was speaking from, if she had her way, like President Goodluck Jonathan and other government officials who are afraid of the New Media, she would advocate that people like us should only have limited access on the Internet. Or worse, our messages should be monitored. More like, our mouth should be gagged.

Some are lobbying very hard for a gag on new age journalists/bloggers. Don't let them win the battle. Freedom of expression, information dissemination and its associates, have come to stay.