Anthony C. Okoye
It is a consensus globally that young people are the greatest and most compelling assets any nation could rely on for meaningful development. The obvious under utilization of this demographic segment in productive enterprises portends huge danger for the wellbeing of nations. It is worrisome that young people in Nigeria have long battled the unwholesome impacts of unemployment, hunger and poverty amidst degraded environment. With a population of over 167 million, Nigeria is unarguably the most populated black nation in the world. Estimates show that youths constitute over a half of this population. Despite this pool of active and pliable human resources, much is still desired in effectively limiting the scary gulf between enormous opportunities and wanton misapplications (or even non-application) of the youthful energy. The crucial need to articulate functional schemes aimed at skillfully harnessing the abundant raw youth resources to constructive economic vents therefore confronts any government so burdened.
Entrepreneurial forces are relatively strong in Nigeria, as lack of ready jobs and poverty rise leave few other options for the youth. It is evident that the core academic bent of the curriculum earlier adopted by Nigeria’s tertiary institutions of learning, particularly the universities, has failed to produce graduates with entrepreneurial sparks. This underscores why millions of our graduates suffer unemployment or are unemployable as prospective employers now emphasize. It was in response to this that former President Olusegun Obasanjo mandated that all university students in Nigeria, regardless of their academic discipline, would study entrepreneurship. He sought to infuse entrepreneurial spirit which includes acquisition of practical skills, resourcefulness and ability to survive harsh economic realities. It is in keeping with this culture of growing our youths to gainful entrepreneurs, and cognizant of my area of comparative advantage that I make this contribution.
There is enormous hidden treasure in waste. Very little attention is paid to the fact that wastes are resources and waste management could be a veritable source of income generation which in turn leads to cleaner and healthier cities. Capacity building in solid waste management is a key strategy in ensuring permanent solution to solid waste management problems, unemployment and persistent poverty in the country. Unfortunately, Nigeria is a late starter in the field of waste recycling. The sector requires special skills, hands-on-experiences, and expertise that may not be easily available within the nation’s work force. Lack of technical expertise in solid waste management planning, and the dearth of other requisite demands for meaningful recycling operations constitute impediments to sizeable investments in the solid waste recycling industry. Some efforts at establishing waste recycling plants in the country failed because of insufficient inquiry on the requirements for their establishment and sustenance.
People create wealth from waste from various activities ranging from informal waste collection, scavenging, recycling and others. Scavenging has the potentials to create jobs, reduce poverty, save municipalities expenditure and supply inexpensive raw materials to industry promoting its competitiveness. It conserves natural resources and helps clean up the urban environment. Studies reveal that some scavengers make as much as ₦52000 – ₦75,000 per month while the middle men might make as much as ₦2,200,000 per trip. In comparison with Civil Service earnings, scavenging can be more profitable. It makes for a sound environment and affords the worker good latitude of independence. This group of self employed auxiliary cleaners of the environment could take home a lot more if they group themselves to resist the exploitation they suffer in the hands of the middlemen, and repressive government policies. According to Medina (2007) when scavengers get organised and are supported by authorities, they can get over poverty and contribute more to sustainable development.
In most cities in Nigeria, evacuation of wastes by municipal authorities is only partial. This is as a result of poor road network, improper routing and shortage of funds. Informal refuse collectors in most cases are paid by the residents to evacuate these wastes with the aid of wheel barrows or pick-up tricycles (Keke). Informal waste collection can be a profitable venture if the workers are properly trained and organised. An informal waste collector in Awka was interviewed in course of my study, and the 28 year old man who was very happy with his job revealed that at ₦50 per flat, he covers 40 flats on the average and makes ₦2,000 every day. Thus, according to him, excluding four Sundays in the month, he makes ₦52,000 in a month. Another interesting example is that of a youth corp member (NYSC) who embarked on informal waste collection in the Government Reserved Area of one of the northern states where he did his youth service. He made an average of N45, 000 on monthly basis – more than four times his monthly allowance. This implies that young graduates and other job seekers can venture into such businesses while they wait for better jobs. Who says they cannot make the venture more attractive with some ingenious touch.
Government or NGOs can sponsor capacity building for youth empowerment in solid waste management in the areas of recycling of various wastes, ranging from paddy husk for briquettes and cement substitutes, conversion of organic waste to organic fertilizer, plastic waste recycling into plastic chips, ebonite rubber and pellets; nylon waste recycling into nylon flakes and pellets, electronic waste recycling, machine designs for solid waste recycling through indigenous technologies, black soap production from organic waste etc. On the whole, this has several advantages to offer the state and the youths which, among others, include: environmental protection, resource conservation, income generation, employment generation and poverty eradication. It could further provide vocational training opportunity, peace and security, opportunity for carbon credit/ CDM application etc.
States are therefore enjoined to embark on capacity building on entrepreneurship in waste recycling. The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, recently created the Ministry of Youth Entrepreneurship and Sports Development as a way of defining and amplifying his desire to bequeath the youths critical skills capable of redefining and harnessing the economic potentialities in the large army of unemployed Anambra youths some of who otherwise could turn dregs of society, with the attendant pains to everyone. It is my expectation and hope that the Ministry will avail itself of the huge opportunities in training the youths for Entrepreneurship in waste recycling. If this happens soon enough, Anambra will again take credit for throwing the light for other states to follow.
Dr. Anthony C. Okoye (email@example.com) writes from the Department of Environmental Management, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.