BusinessDay

FG presses for access to finance for 39,000 Niger Delta youths, women through LIFE-ND scheme

...as IFAD, NIRSAL throw in support

The Federal Government is said to press on with its plans to create access to almost 39,000 youths and women in the Niger Delta after empowerment in training and incubation.

Now, the special purpose vehicle, LIFE-ND (Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprise) with which the FG seeks to deliver massive support in the oil region has launched a certification scheme to boost the effort.

The scheme is however said to suffer setback by the failure of a sensitive federal agency in the oil region to remit $30m as its counterpart fund.

Details

The certification scheme that would grant access to billions of naira funding to over majority of the 38,850 Niger Delta youths and women entrepreneurs has thus been launched in Port Harcourt, Rivers State capital.

This is as the fate of 13,500 others from Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Imo states are now hanging in the balance for over two years due to alleged failure of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to remit its counterpart fund of $30m that would allow them to participate.

The scheme is the Livelihood Improvement Family Enterprises- Niger Delta (LIFE-ND) which runs in partnership with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

According to National Project Coordinator of LIFE-ND, Sanni Fatai Abiodun, the launch of certification of LIFE-ND as an entrepreneurship development institute by NIRSAL Micro Finance Bank (MFB) would open the way for the trained participants to move to the MFB for access to the funds provided by IFAD and other partners.

Abiodun said at the Tulip Hotel in GRA 2 venue of the launching that by this, LIFE-ND can now catalize the training of youths to get loans from NIRSAL MFB, an agency of the FG.

He said the scheme was designed by the FG in response to agitations in the Niger Delta and the need to help families, youths and women to boost family upkeep through access to funds.

He said this is to implement development goals of the FG because LIFE-ND directly supports Nigeria agricultural policy and strategic framework for youth employment and job creation. “It is therefore why poverty alleviation and youth/women empowerment are the core of our project activities.”

He explained that the event is meant to enlighten stakeholders of the project in the region and country at large that LIFE-ND has further raised the bar in implementing project activities.

Abiodun said entrepreneurship development equips the unemployed with skills and tools needed to fight idleness, hunger, poverty, and economic hardship. He said the transfer of skills and knowledge requires institutional structures to validate such activities.

H said this; “This why the certification of our project as an Entrepreneurship Development Institute (EDI) is a milestone worthy of making being made known to stakeholders.

“We are guided always by project development objectives which are to enhance income, food, security, and job creation for rural youths and women through agri-enterprises development on a sustainable basis in the Niger Delta, setting up and strengthening relevant structures are prerequisite for sustainable development.’

Abiodun said the country has been under consistent economic threat from Covid crisis to Ukraine war. “Arguments have been on both negative and positive sides with respects to the effect of the conflict on agriculture in Nigeria. As an opportunity to take up the export deficit, Nigeria could increase the cultivation of wheat and other grains and earn foreign exchange while others argue that non-supply of certain inputs from those countries are hurting production in Nigeria.

“The solution would depend on a number of agri-business operators who can take advantage of the opportunities and earn income in forex via export.”

He said the launch of the certification would elevate EDI status to that of global class that would develop graduands as agri-business operators with a world class training to operate in both domestic and foreign markets in agro value chain of interest.

“We must place on record the significant role played by NIRSAL Micro Finance Bank in giving LIFE-ND this opportunity to partner with her to enhance livelihood of youths and women-headed households.

“The Federal Ministry of Finance continuous support is hereby acknowledged for their pioneering role about the birth of LIFE-ND.”

The LIFE-ND strides have however been slowed by the NDDC failure to remit the $30m. “We are running in six instead of nine states. Rivers, Cross River and Imo are yet to start because the NDDC has not paid for them to join.”

The NDDC crisis was raised one year ago. In an interview, Abiodun however said nothing has changed since 2021 when this matter came up. “We have made all efforts to make the NDDC act but no result. So, it is the six states that are being funded by IFAD.

“It has lingered by over two years. By end of 2022, mid-term review will take place. Youths and women from the three states will miss it because NDDC has not met its duty, which is $30m in six years as counterpart as IFAD paid.”

He explained that the initiative was a response by the FG to reduce youth restiveness and unemployment, add enhanced income, and food security. “FG created the initiative, NDDC declared its support. It ought to end in 2025.”

Peter Kukwi PhD

Speaking, Peter Kush Kukwi, representing the Project Coordinator, Federal Ministry of Agric, Ubandoma Ularamu, said the programme means a lot in terms of food security, employment, and other areas of life in the oil region. He said Agriculture plays a big role in lifting the livelihood of individuals.

Speaking further, he said: “The FG depends on agric because 60 per cent of the populace depends on it. The Niger Delta region also needs food schemes too. We are happy so far, and a step has been taken to train and empower youths and women with access to finance. We are very happy how far they have gone.’

Funding: He said the content of the programme is good, but said the issue they have is finance. “The essence of this programme is to move people closer to finance. Training without finance is not good. They must learn to how to manage it.

He said the FG has put a lot of programmes together such as NIRSAL, out-growers scheme, etc to help the masses.

Empress Obiageli

The LIFE-ND National Financial Inclusion Consultant, Empress Obiageli Ekwelem, whose role is to help the incubatees, said there is an incubation model.

She went on: “A learner works under an established farmer while we help them access to finance. My role is to look for financial institutions that can support them in capacity building and give them loans.

“We have been able to get loans for them. We partner with NIRSAl MFB, SMEDAN, Sun Trust Bank, and we are closing in on BOI.”

Antonia Ezenwa

A coordinator, Antonia Ezenwa, said the essence is to collaborate with financial institutions to link their beneficiaries to financial services including savings and borrowing.

“The beneficiaries have opened accounts with NIRSAL and Sun Trust. You know you won’t get credit until they assess your credit ability. So, they are yet to get credit.

“Our partners have been able to assess them. We have got partners. We are in nine Niger Delta states, but for now in six; Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Ondo, Edo, and Cross River. We have over 1000 beneficiaries in each state.”

Beneficiaries speak

Emmanuella Agbodo from Bayelsa State said the scheme is full of impact. I have benefitted a lot. This scheme has empowered us. We are now undergoing mentorship and incubation. We have trained on gender action naming system, financial inclusion, and poultry.

Atuke ThankGod from Delta State said he loves agriculture and is happy to be trained. It has given me an opportunity to go into agric with lots of lectures on proper cultivation.

LIFE-ND has done a lot. I see myself as a potential employer. I have no much challenge. Our mentors always help us. We have enjoyed much financial training, budget planning, books, enterprise names, etc.

Conclusion:

The NDDC has not been able to explain why it has failed to remit its part, though the Commission has been on a kind of comatose status for years.

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