-By David Inung Ejim, Edited by Shadrach Unakang
A lot has been heard about EMPOWERMENT and much ado made about such schemes. The term empowerment fits the doctor’s prescription to the diarrheic malady of youth unemployment that has achieved a place of commonness in Nigeria, like Dangote sugar sits on our tables.
The whole notion of empowerment schemes is mired in flaws. It is difficult to convince an average reasonable person that empowerment schemes have really succeeded in empowering the nation, individuals, sure but society? Unlikely. Whether it takes the form of government organizing fairs and teaching people tailoring, catering et al, for the most part, these so-called empowerment schemes do not impart commodifiable knowledge and where they do, fail to empower people with the required resources. As such, the sad reality remains that there are a lot of “skilled” people in Nigeria who are poor. The fact is laid bare that having a skill is not what it entails to be empowered.
What then does it mean to empower people? Is it giving youths wheel barrow tyres, Okadas and Keke (tricycle)? Or is it the payment of Twenty to Thirty Thousand naira to unemployed graduates in a scheme called N-power?… My belief is that true empowerment must seek to achieve loftier goals than maintaining people at subsistence level. Sure, it is helpful to the teeming hordes of unemployed to get what amounts to less than $100 USD and stave off the worst ravages of poverty, but are they empowered when no social mobility is afforded by such handouts? My take is that true empowerment must allow the beneficiary true socioeconomic mobility and barring that, it merely is a propaganda that entrenches dependency rather than empowers. To look at the problem of youth unemployment and think that the sum of thirty thousand naira monthly survival allowance (MSA) in two years answers that is to be very myopic.
Nigeria is littered with lots of schemes that claim to empower people but fail to do so – their failures often not in the execution of the projects but in making them harness the knowledge and skills of the beneficiaries. The question that must be asked therefore is how can whatever goes by the name empowerment meaningfully transform the existence of a person within their unique context. So as a graduate of a technical discipline, how will whatever government want to implement as an empowerment scheme meaningfully transform my ability to apply the knowledge I have gathered in my chosen field? etc. The contention here is that all the schemes we have implemented for the most part have failed to address that fundamental question of how to improve the context of an individual; maybe the only schemes that come close are those that provide loans for great ideas – like the Bank of Agriculture providing loan schemes for individuals with great agricultural ideas or the similar programmes like YOU-WIN with several millions earmarked for great ideas pitched to them. But, as with everything that is classically Nigerian, corruption always sets in with selections based on connection, favouritism and a lot of persons being allegedly selected and not paid in the first instance. While these are the only schemes one can point to as meaningfully transformative, often time they are bedevilled by the problems that afflict the Nigerian society. So, the bottom line is simply calling this empowerment schemes (scams) what they really are; nothing other than acts of propaganda to get popularity in the eyes of the people. That mass unemployment is mollified with some sum barely enough to survive month to month, pay-check to pay-check is not empowerment but just putting people under oppressive dependency on a government who claims to be benevolent. Such empowerment schemes are very similar to the former system of Amala politics where a certain Ibadan politician fed his people Amala on weekends or special occasions while running the state like his little fiefdom. The N-power scheme is Amala politics at a national level and it is very shameful that a lot of politicians have bought into this frail gospel of empowerment. True empowerment must not just give skills but materials to transform one’s life and make it more meaningful, all while being transparent and meritocratic.