By Lukman Olabiyi

Terkimbi Ikyange, one of the trusted lieutenants of Governor Hyacinth Alia of Benue State has given reasons the governor and his party, All Progressives Congress (APC) is getting massive support from the masses, especially the youth.

Ikyange who is a grassroots politician, mobiliser and the State Commissioner for Youth, Sports and Creativity, in this interview, spoke on Governor Alia’ agenda to reposition the state for greatness and what the governor is doing to win the heart of the masses through numerous developmental projects.

The commissioner also revealed the reason the governor is investing heavily in youth, sports, ICT, among others. 

Can you justify Governor Alia’s heavy investment in youth empowerment through ICT?

The governor understands that what is going globally is gravitating towards ICT. Almost everything we’ve got to do now has to be ICT compliant because the world is phasing out the analogue age. Hence, His Excellency, Governor Alia decided to expose Benue youths to ICT. When some of our ICT centres are fully ready, the youth will be taught some certain skills.  So far, the state government has recruited 10,000 of these youths to be trained in some specific areas where they can function better. 

Most of them are graduates, while some are undergraduates. With this training, the undergraduates among them can fund their education without having to depend on others.  For the graduates, the skills can be a source of livelihood, as they may not have to depend on the government for white-collar jobs, as the skills they’ll acquire through these centres can make them employable in any part of the world, even from Benue.

After the training, the trainees will also need to have a place where they can sit down and have the interface they need because the centre has internet already and it’s wide and everything is ready. The state government chose Benue State University (ICT centre) because the school already has some equipment in place that will make it easier to achieve that goal. When this administration came on board, it reviewed several projects it inherited. This is one of them.  And since Gov. Alia’s programme aligns with the initiative, he decided to upgrade the centre with the latest equipment and technology.

How many ICT centres does the state have?

For now, the governor has chosen Benue State University ICT Centre as a pilot scheme. And since everybody across the state cannot come to the capital for the same reason, the governor is already thinking of establishing similar centres in other higher institutions in the state. For instance, we have a College of Education, University of Health Sciences located in other senatorial districts where a similar centre may be sited.

How will the training run smoothly, considering the number of youths recruited and the capacity of the centre?

This is just a pilot scheme. This administration intends to go beyond this centre and empower many of the youth with laptops so they can work from anywhere. So, we’re going to equip them because this is what His Excellency intends to do.  The government will also empower them with data.

With rising cases of cybercrime, how would the state checkmate that possibility among the Benue youth?

Our goal is to raise responsible youths and dependable adults; therefore, we won’t leave anything to chance. First, the state will profile all the trainees. Two, the systems that will be given to them will have some kind of features to restrict them from doing certain things. Some of these features will enable us to monitor their activities.  Three, we will also introduce a feedback mechanism to review what they do.

Will the training be free of charge?

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Though the training will cost the state huge money, the governor has directed that it should be free for all enrollees. This is to ensure that nobody qualified and selected loses the privilege due to lack of funds.

It’s one thing to train, it’s another thing to ensure that the trainees make use of what has been learnt. What will the state do to ensure many of the enrollees make use of the knowledge?

We are mindful of that and that is why the take-off grant is part of the package. The state will also equip them with the internet to a certain point.

Away from ICT, are there other initiatives to empower the youths?

When I came on board, what I first did was to have a data bank of the entire youth of Benue State. This was to have in place data we as a government can work with. That assignment covers all our youths whether in or outside Benue, whether in Nigeria or outside. The task also captured those born in Benue, who are interested in our programmes. 

This task enables the government to have proper categorization of our youths – i.e gender, education, social and others. After the completion of this assignment, I can tell you that now I know Benue youths from outside the state who are graduates, under-graduates, SSCE graduates, those with lower qualifications, or those who didn’t attend school. This assignment has brought to the fore certain skills some of our youths possess and we are already working towards harnessing these potentials. With this data bank, it will be easy for the administration to get some information at its fingertips. Soon, we are going to host that on a website which we already designed.

Similarly, we are going to look into sports development.  We have come to realize that sports activities are strong tools to discourage youth restiveness, make them focused and energise them to become responsible adults.  We also encourage craft development both for the educated and non-educated youths. Our programmes are all-encompassing.

The Ministry of Youth, Sports and Creativity has decided to engage with the Ministry of Education because where you fetch out talent is where you have primary school sports, secondary sports and also tertiary and higher institution sports. We shall also enhance all secondary games. Under my watch, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Creativity will re-tool to encourage talent haunt from the grassroots. Thereafter, we can prepare them for the sports council and make them marketable products.

We have equally created a creativity department in the ministry.  This will drive the government to encourage and develop content creation. Many of our youth are content creators but they don’t know it. Many of them are gifted in music, artistry, comedy, skit-making, drama, writing etc. This is one sector that has been long overlooked. But His Excellency has seen the need to introduce that aspect to the ministry of youth and sports development. There’s a creativity angle to it so we have started gathering street dancers and all of that and profiling them to see how we will be able to organize shows for them and promote them.

Does the state have the funds to see through these initiatives?

While funding at the moment isn’t a challenge, we shall also look out for international organisations, non-governmental organisatons and seek their assistance where and when necessary. Gratefully, even as we speak, due to our governor’s pedigree and integrity, so many international organisations are already showing interest. I can confidently tell you that we have found out some organisations that are committed to seeing the development of our youths programmme, though I can’t reveal their identities. But, these organisations are eager to bring meaningful interventions to the state. In a few days, we shall get to see their impacts.

Also, there’s a training programme for females within 18 to 35 years that runs for three days. Again, the database made it easy for us to shortlist and recruit the trainees.

You have spoken on several plans, but there’s no mention of the disabled. What’s the plan for the physically challenged youth?

We have para-sports. On February 29 this year, which was my birthday, I sponsored some para sports. I also gave some gifts to some of the participants and encouraged them. I also gave some prices to the winners. We already have some figures of the disabled in our database and we will engage them wherever their competencies are.