From Gyang Bere, Jos

Poverty is the greatest concern and nightmare confronting Nigerian youths.

The menace was compounded by insecurity, orchestrated by Boko Haram in the North East, banditry, kidnapping and killer herdsmen attacks in North Central and other geo-political zones.

The situation got worst with the outbreak of the COVID-19  pandemic, leading to turbulent global economy conditions that shattered many businesses, which compelled business owners to fold up.

Nde Ezekiel Gomos, Special Adviser (Honourary) to Plateau State governor, who presented a paper, titled “Changing the poverty narrative through skills: The role of the ITF and the imperative for institutional synergy” at the 50th anniversary celebration of Industrial Training Fund (ITF), described the poverty level in Nigeria as massive and chronic.

He said: “Poverty is the obvious deprivation in well-being and comprises many aspects like low incomes, the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival like food, lack of shelter, mental and physiological deprivation.

“It is no longer news that poverty level in Nigeria is massive, pervasive and chronic, engulfing a large proportion of our society. Resulting from large-scale poverty, human conditions in the country have greatly deteriorated, particularly in the last decade.

“Real disposable incomes have dwindled while malnutrition ratesDig are on the increase and, for most Nigerians, poverty has become endemic, real and devastating.”

He noted that there was a regional disparity in the rate of poverty across Nigeria, with the South having relatively low poverty rate: 20 per cent in the South West, 40 per cent in the South East, while North West and North East are 70 per cent and close to 80 per cent, respectively.

Gomos noted that ITF was positioned to address poverty in Nigeria through provision of skills to indigent citizens and, by so doing, the economy of the country will grow.

“The ITF has evolved into Nigeria’s leading human capital development agency and training organisation with the aim of promoting and encouraging acquisition of skills in industry and commence to generate a pool of indigenous trained manpower sufficient to meet the need of Nigeria’s economy.

“The ITF has designed, developed and implemented various training programmes for the teeming workforce of the nation, some of which are technically inclined.

“It has established industrial skills training centres in parts of the country, where youth are trained in various technical areas. Despite all the spirited efforts of the ITF working across the various area offices and skill training centres all over Nigeria, there is still an enormous gap in the expected role of skills development and poverty reduction,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ITF insists it has remained resolute in changing the poverty narrative in Nigeria through the provision of requisite skills to unemployed youths in the country.

This effort has yielded positive result in providing employment opportunities to indigent Nigerians despite the soaring number of unemployment confronting the nation.

The Director General, ITF, Joseph Ari, noted that the Fund has done remarkably well in 50 years of its existence but the national economy revealed that despite the huge success of the ITF,  there are still enormous challenges begging for the attention of the Institution.

He said: “The problem of unemployment remains as intractable as ever despite the multifaceted efforts of government. Recent survey conducted by National Bureau for Statistics (NBS) indicates that rather than fall, the number of Nigerians that are unemployed, particularly the youths, has continued to soar.

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“NBS revealed that unemployment rate rose from 27. 1 percent in Q2, 2020 to 33.3 percent in Q4, 2020. Like unemployment, the problem of poverty has also not been fully tackled as it has witnessed a marginal rise as 40 percent or 83 million Nigerians currently live in poverty.

“A figure that is projected to increase to 90 million or 45 percent by 2022. If this are not contained, our population which is projected to hit the 400 million  mark by 2050, according to Rotary Action  Group for Reproductive  Maternal  and Child Health (RMCH), will become a real albatross if concrete efforts are  not invested in tackling  these blights.”

Ari, who assumed office in 2016, unveiled the first phase of ITF Reviewed  Vision: Strategies for mandate actualisation, which gave birth to new skills intervention programmes while the existing programmes were expanded to meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians

“We have been able to train over 500,000 Nigerians  with cutting-edge technical skills in four years. The beneficiaries were all empowered with start-up packs for the first time since the establishment of the Fund. Strides have been recorded in infrastructural development, direct training  services, collaborations and other facets of the fund’s activities.

“I am desirous of seeing an ITF that has answered its name as a leading learning and development agency that Nigerians can depend upon to facilitate the development of the national economy.

“I will also want to see an ITF that competes favourably with other learning and development  agencies worldwide. I would like to see an ITF that grows not just into a household name where every young  Nigerian would  see as a pride of place to belong to in terms of actualizing his or her career prospects,” he said.

Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Amb. Mariam Yelwaji Katagum, described the giant stride recorded by ITF as key in the success story of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.

She noted that the present administration has championed the diversification of the nation’s economy from oil by setting policies that will create wealth in the country through the ministry of trade and investment by providing skills for Nigerians and equipping them with start-up packs.

Represented by Dr. Ahmed Mamadi, Katagum maintained that the agency has accounted for the numerous successes and achievements of the ministry that stood it out in 2018 as star partner for Micro, Small and  Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) Development in Nigeria as well as becoming an outstanding MSMEs clinic partner in 2019.

“You will agree with me that the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated in the last five years its determination to turn around the fortunes of this country from dependence on oil by diversifying the economy as evident through robust policies like the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

“The ITF was included as a member of the Federal Government’s steering committee to drive the implementation of the various support schemes for MSMEs in the country as part of the national response to COVID-19, an initiative that covers five stimulus programmes under the survival  fund,” she said.

She added that ITF is among the agencies mandated by the Federal Government of Nigeria to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty, saying: “ITF will train over  seven million Nigerians in the agriculture, construction and facility maintenance, information and communication technology, manufacturing and services sectors.”

The minister equally called on the agency to redouble their efforts for the enormous task ahead of them towards developing the nation’s economy especially “in view of the current challenges of dwindling economy, unemployment, poverty and rising cases of criminality,” while assuring the ministry’s support to the Fund in achieving more in the coming years.

Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State said the fund has contributed immensely in addressing the challenges of unemployment in his state with its various programmes.

He said: “As government and people of Plateau State, we sincerely appreciate the tremendous contributions of the ITF to the development of our dear state. I pledge the continuous collaboration and support of the state government to all initiatives of the ITF and the Federal Government.

“That explains why my administration has continued to invest in the training and empowerment of our citizens within the realm of sustainable economic rebirth which we have been carrying out in the last six years. Through the PLASMIDA and other agencies of government, we have ensured that our youths acquire necessary skills and access empowerment support that will turn them from being job seekers to job creators.”