The decision of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to set aside N2.5 billion for members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) with good business ideas to actualize their dreams of becoming self-employed is well-thought out. It is an ambitious initiative that deserves the commendation of all Nigerians and a prompt response from the intended beneficiaries. If our youth corps members take advantage of this scheme, it should help to reduce youth unemployment that has become a serious problem in the country.
The loan is part of the N220bn voted for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) development, which has reportedly been lying fallow since it was budgeted in 2012. The initiative is expected to create about one million jobs through the Youth Entrepreneurship Development Programme (YEDP).
Speaking at the unveiling of the programme and the training for the first batch of applicants under the YEDP in Abuja, last week, the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, outlined the objectives and criteria for accessing the loan. He said the loan is for business-inclined and innovation-driven young graduates. Under the scheme, each corps member who has satisfied the criteria will be entitled to a maximum of three million naira. However, their degree and NYSC discharge certificates will serve as collateral.
The CBN, under the programme, will in collaboration with Heritage Bank Plc develop the entrepreneurial skills of the youths as well as provide each of them with the necessary funding to establish their own businesses. Some of the businesses covered under the programme are start-ups and expansion projects in the agricultural value chain such as fish farming, poultry, snail farming, cottage industries, mining and solid minerals. Others are tourism, arts and crafts, Information and Communication Technology and other businesses that are determined to be viable by the CBN. The apex bank explained that the initiative would also help the country to conserve the huge foreign exchange which is currently used to import food items. It will be recalled that CBN had last year banned the importation of 41 items.
Overall, the CBN initiative is a bold effort that could unleash innovation and the can-do-spirit of our fresh graduates. It is a scheme that could power start-up businesses and generally bolster economic growth. We urge the initiation of similar programmes that can promote the establishment of small and medium enterprises among the general youth population. Youth unemployment is a serious problem which the nation must do everything that is possible to address before it becomes a threat to the peace and stability of the nation.
The NYSC beneficiaries should be reminded of the need to reciprocate the kind gesture of the government. They should appreciate the fact that it is not a grant, but a loan that must be repaid. They should understand that the scheme is designed to turn them into entrepreneurs and not job seekers.
They should not default in repaying the loan, as they stand to lose their certificates. More importantly, we implore the beneficiaries to think outside the box in their chosen business lines. To succeed, they should stay ahead of their competitors. They must innovate. They should not overlook commercially viable offerings that will attract their target customers. Nigerians are looking forward to seeing how they will utilise the loans in their businesses and improve the economy.
In addition to this collaboration between CBN and Heritage Bank to develop the entrepreneurial capacity of the beneficiaries, there is need to embrace other new partnership models that can protect the business start-ups.
For these young entrepreneurs to succeed in their chosen businesses, the environment must be conducive. The loans should be at a zero interest rate while the government should work harder at improving power supply which is critical to most businesses. Let the beneficiaries concentrate on businesses that can create value for everyone and stimulate economic growth. The extent to which they use the loans to improve their lives and create jobs for others will influence the initiation of similar programmes in future. Recent figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that youth unemployment has increased remarkably in recent years.
Therefore, creating jobs and reducing unemployment rate require synergy between business-inclined and talented young graduates, relevant government agencies and financial organizations. This will help to fast-track economic development.
Altogether, the N2.5bn loan should lay the groundwork for future job opportunities and training for millions of our unemployed youths.