By Sunday Attah

Despite partisan considerations, Nigerians have a unanimous consensus about the dreadful magnitude of youth unemployment ravaging the country. It is Nigeria’s biggest threat next to corruption.  Corruption rather founds and nourishes the other aspects of the problems faced by the Nigerian state.
But youth unemployment, reflective in idle skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour is incontestably Nigeria’s glaring threat to development, security and attainment of its dreams of nationhood. The menace is so alarming and dangerously consolidating in a nation, with a near prostrate economy.
Analysts on security issues posit that youth unemployment provides the fertile ground for breeding social vices through its bottomless reservoir of idle youth, who feed the army of ethnic militias or such other violent contraptions. They are willing recruits into armed robbery, lured into kidnappings gangs or victims of child-trafficking and other assorted crimes replete in Nigeria’s landscape.

More to it, the restiveness in the Niger Delta is linked to youth unemployment; the frequent uprisings of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC) in the South West or real or imagined vexations and the irritant activities of South Eastern self-styled  groups  like MASSOB or  its sister organization like the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) all have a nexus to youth unemployment. They find an army of jobless youth to exploit by recruiting them into their fold for pittance.
It is on this premise that Buhari promised during campaigns to create hundreds of jobs annually in all the 36 states of the federation, including the FCT, Abuja, as a measure of tackling this crippling monster.

The development has placed the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) on high pedestal as one of the platforms for actualizing this laudable presidential initiative of reducing youth unemployment.  Many have adjudged NASENI’s versatility as indispensable in the nuances of President Buhari’s initiative on curbing the deadly menace of unemployment in the country.
Though, nearly three decades in existence, NASENI is still in its infantry and grappling with a problem as basic being accorded required recognition and funding in an era where knowledge economy drives the globe.  To say Nigeria is oblivious of the relevance of science and technology for its development is an understatement, hence the Ministry of science and technology has survived all ministerial trimmings till date. How an agency as essential and viable as NASENI is deliberately under-utilized, in the face of mirage of the same problems it’s multifarious mandate is licensed to solve, remains baffling.  In consequence, over the years, government’s disinterest in this vital agency has led to the current emphasis on Nigeria’s importation of engineering infrastructure needs, including manpower, at the expense of indigenous technology as symbolized in  NASENI.  The situation has been sustained for years.

Even in the midst of poor funding and other debilitating challenges, Engr. Haruna carved a niche for himself, by deploying the meagre resources at the disposal of the agency to launch technological inventions  and popularize the agency’s services such as waste recycling  equipment for metallic, polythene and plastic wastes; special technology for the installation of solar lights and resolving of problems associated with unprofessional solar installations.

He also introduced some modifications and new approaches in the operations of the agency by partnering with the private sector for Research and Development (R&D) activities, a key component of the agency. Conglomerates like the Dangote Group were also involved and the synergy was sought beyond the borders of Nigeria.

His tenure also actualized the establishment of industries from the agency’s already developed, but deliberately ignored technologies by Nigerians, not necessarily for excuse of poor quality, but for the haughty penchant for imported goods.  In spite of this hostile environment, NASENI under Haruna braved the odds to launch the finished products factory in Karshi, which is accorded the status of a public limited Liability Company.

The agency is also currently working assiduously to resurrect and finalize the deal with China and Indonesia for the manufacture of spare parts and tools for machines, based on Buhari Presidency’s renewed overwhelming interest in it. These are no doubt, pleasant developments in Nigeria’s fresh quest to rediscover itself.
NASENI, which also targeted the manufacturing of aircraft and heavy duty trucks in  2014, but abandoned the project midway because of failure of the then Federal Government to sign the necessary  agreements has injected life into it again.  Also, with Buhari’s overt interest, the agency has revived the project.

Indeed, NASENI’s team led by the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu has undertaken a trip to Indonesia one of the countries already producing multi-purpose aircrafts, military, civilian, commercial heavy duty trucks and military equipment.
Focused as ever therefore, when President Buhari recently directed NASENI to collaborate with strategic ministries, departments and agencies to develop technologies that would advance the nation’s technological growth, Haruna immediately swung into action.

He kicked the ball rolling by engaging the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) in discussions on areas of partnership, exposing the agency’s array of engineering resources and technology innovations at the disposal of states for the development of perfect products and services with almost 100% local content. NASENI was assured by the Acting director-general of the NGF’s secretariat, Alhaji Abdullatif Shittu.
Already, Haruna and his team have travelled to most states of the federation where presentations on NASENI’s activities have commenced. The agency  identified technologies in its kitty that can be explored by each state of the federation in most of the sectors to create jobs for Nigerians. In so doing, the agency is poised to attend to their rural needs in order to improve the lives of the masses. And the interest it generated is infective, especially in the areas of rural electrification and agriculture and even housing.

At the moment, the agency is equipped to assist states in their quest for rural electrification, with NASENI’s solar technology, as against imported technology as obtained in the past. The agency can also construct small hydro turbines for electricity generation; efficient energy saving lamps for use in rural areas instead of Made-in- China lamps; manufacture agricultural and farm equipment. Quite revealing too, NASENI has technological capacity to manufacture equipment for science education required in Nigerian schools at all levels.

Therefore, properly accorded attention, NASENI has unbeatable capacity for job creation in states in all the aforesaid sectors, while executing these projects. Except state governors go for the “kill,” where they prefer backdoor foreign technology or experts, youth in states that have embraced NASENI would  create artisans in plumbing work, wielding and fabrication, carpentry and so forth, in  all  such  aspects of engagements.

Haruna, like most Nigerians, has a deep conviction that in order to facilitate Nigeria’s efforts to achieve rapid technological development, R & D requires adequate funding to generate the needed;
“Technologies developed in the areas of spares, components and increase in systems engineering, which could easily be transferred to entrepreneurs for the production of goods and services.”
NASENI’s s current budget is so infinitesimal, so much that it creates a gulf to the extent realizing the agency’s full dreams and mandate is like day dreaming. The modest achievements flaunted by Haruna and his team is because of prudence in using available funds and his zero tolerance for corruption in the agency.

An agency such as NASENI’s immense capacity can blow off most of the burden of youth unemployment, as it looks poised to reach the zenith in actualizing its core mandate under a Buhari Presidency, which has demonstrated more than passing interest in the mandate of the agency.

Attah is a public affairs commentator based in Abuja.

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