ABAKPA, ENUGU: Unemployment rate in Nigeria rose to 33.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from 27.10% in the second quarter of the same year, data from the National Bureau of Statistics shows. It has not gone lower since then, and youths (18-45-year-olds), who make up about 60% of Nigeria's population, account for about 42.5% of the unemployed.
Among the unemployed are university graduates and secondary school leavers - including those who cannot afford university education and often subscribe to vocational training in skills like carpentry, tailoring, and hairdressing.
However, there is a third group: those who cannot afford even secondary education or vocational training cost. The future is often bleak for them due to an increased lack of access to meaningful economic opportunities.
Eighteen-year-old Precious Ogbodo fell in this category. Her father died in 2008 when she was six, and what her 60-year-old mother made as a small-holder farmer was never enough to take care of the family. As the last of six children, it was by some miracle that she managed to complete her secondary school.
After secondary education in 2020, her efforts to get a job to support her family yielded no result. So every morning, she would leave her house at Abakpa Layout in Enugu, moving from house to house and shop to shop. When she is not fetching water (with the aid of a wheelbarrow) for homes, she is sweeping shops and helping dispose of solid waste.
The house and shop owners paid her little sums for her services. She made as little as N500 a day or a little above that. She was not proud of the job and desperately wanted a change.
Waiting to 'shamefully go home'
One Saturday morning in May last year, a neighbour called Ogbodo's attention to a Facebook post that advertised free skills acquisition training for youths. The training was being organised by a nonprofit called Kennedy Care Foundation, and Ozioma Ugwu, the neighbour, encouraged her to apply.
At first, Ogbodo was reluctant because she had no smartphone or a computer to aid her application. But Ugwu offered to help her register using her phone.
The registration procedure was as simple as commenting on the said Facebook post, providing some personal details and explaining why she should be considered for the opportunity and the skill she was interested in (from a list).
Twenty-four hours after applying to train as a hairstylist and makeup artist, Kennedy Care Foundation replied via Facebook messenger. Ogbodo had been accepted for the free training, it announced. It further directed her to visit their office (at 42 Hill View Road, Independence Layout in Enugu - the training venue) for final vetting.
Ogbodo showed up at the office the next day as directed but was still unsure if the training was truly free.
"I was just waiting for them to ask me for the registration fee, so I can shamefully go back home. But to my greatest surprise, it was [truly] free," she said.
Every week - Monday to Friday - for three months, Ogbodo trained alongside 49 others spread across several skill sets, including makeup artistry, baking, photography, and photo and video editing.
Since she completed her training in November 2021, she has been working independently, making people's hair at their homes at a negotiated fee, plus producing and selling wigs. She makes at least N32,000 every month.
It is not a large amount, but it is slightly above the minimum wage (N30,000) in Nigeria and gives her a sense of satisfaction.
"I am living as an independent woman now, being able to cater for myself and still get my mum [a] few things sometimes. It really makes me feel so fulfilled," she said, adding that she no longer has to beg home and shop owners for menial jobs, even as she hopes to set up her salon.
'pain…in my heart'
Kennedy Obinwanne's family was doing well financially, living in Nigeria's expensive commercial city of Lagos until things went rough for their father when Obinwanne was 13.
His father, a borehole-drilling contractor with the government, lost most of his contracts following some legal fights he was involved in. The situation crippled the family's finances and forced Obinwanne and his siblings to start hawking bread and akara (beans cake) in Lagos's Ojota and Yaba areas for survival.
Later, Obinwanne saved some money from hawking and travelled to South Africa in 2014 with the aid of a relative. There, he bought and retailed clothes for two years, raised funds, and returned to Nigeria in early 2016 to start Kinndrill Fashion and Alluring Place, a fashion firm in Enugu.
As things gradually got better for Obinwanne, he began to reflect on his days on the streets of Lagos hawking and the many poor kids who hawked with him and could only dream of a better future amid regular physical and mental abuse on the streets.
"All this pain accumulated in my heart, and at that time, I could only cry," he said.
In November 2016, Obinwanne launched Kennedy Care Foundation to help people in dire need - beginning with food donations to widows, outreaches to hospitals to pay the bills of selected sick and poor people, and visitations to internally displaced people's camps in Benue State.
In 2020, Obinwanne's foundation included free livelihood skills training for poor young secondary school leavers in its activities. And Ogbodo was among the first set trained.
"We found out that if we can empower one person in a family, they would assist the rest of their family members. That way, we will be breaking the records [of poverty]," 37-year old Obinwanne told Prime Progress.
Since then, the foundation has organised free skills training for some selected youths in Enugu every three months. The training venue is the premises of Obinwanne's fashion company.
However, to meet its financial needs amid low donor support, the foundation allows youths who can afford to pay for the training to pay a subsidised fee of between N15,000 and N30,000 (depending on the chosen skill). Nearly 50% of the nonprofit's trainees pay the subsidised fee. But at least 45 youths have been trained free since 2020.
One of them is 17-year-old Joan Ogbobe, who trained as a makeup artist for three months. Now she advertises her skills to people around her and on social media, sometimes getting contracts to makeup people celebrating birthdays or preparing for engagement parties and weddings.
"For each of my work (contract), I get N5000, N6000 or N7000, and that is because I am just trying to create awareness. When people get to know about my skills very well, a job usually is from N10,000 and above," she said, adding that her target is to raise enough money for her university education.
The foundation said it has reached 10,216 with varied support. But Kennedy Care Foundation is just one of many nonprofits working to equip Nigerian youths with skills for employability and independent livelihood.
Ladi Memorial Foundation, for example, through its Chateko Vocational Institute, provides free skills-learning opportunities to physically challenged people, out of school kids, rural women, and impoverished youths in selected locations in Nigeria, including in the federal capital, Abuja, and in Kogi State.
Hope Builders Skill Development & Acquisition Foundation also regularly organises "personal empowerment programmes" or PET for youths in Lagos State. The initiative trains secondary school leavers in barbing, hats and beads making, cake making and confectioneries, photography, fashion design, interior decoration, hand-made cards, and fabric and flower decoration.