The clear and present challenge of unemployment in Nigeria is already well known, and in many ways, Lagos is the ground zero for this challenge. The response to it was what led to the establishment of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) in 2016, with a broad mandate to address unemployment and support entrepreneurship in the state.
Our impact in the first three years has already been significant. We have over 10,000 beneficiaries of our loan programme who have accessed nearly N7 billion. As a result, they have created nearly 100,000 direct jobs. On the Employability side, over 5,000 young people have been provided with tangible skills they can leverage to provide themselves a better life and break the shackles of poverty, with over 2,000 of them placed in jobs. 47,000 new taxpayers have been added to the register.
We have just been scratching the surface, but these initiatives have played a role in taking unemployment in Lagos down to 14.6%, one of the lowest in the country, despite being the most populous state.
At the outset, there was a need to establish credibility with potential partners by distinguishing ourselves from other government lenders and initiatives. For example, loans gotten from the trust fund was not ‘money for the boys’, with strict guidelines for application as well as repayment. Efforts at recovering loans – from issuing demand notices, filing an action at the Small Claims Court and prosecuting unrepentant defaulters – are ongoing and will expand in the coming months.
Having demonstrated our capacity to fulfil our mandate, the next stage of the LSETF’s evolution is the sustainability of the Fund’s work. In order to bring in more private sector capital and deepen access to funding, our loan programmes will now attract an interest rate of 10%, as against the initial 5% interest rate. The recent announcement of the LSETF W-Initiative in partnership with Access Bank is a fruit of this revised interest rate, and we are working toward more partnerships with commercial banks and development finance institutions.
On the employability side, our partnership with the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) and German International Development Agency (GIZ) will enable us to impact many more lives across the state by providing the skills so many young Lagosians need. We recently requested for proposals to evaluate potential partners for an expanded employability programme and got an overwhelming response. On Agriculture, we recognise the job creation potential and are designing a program that will be the best fit for the Lagos economy and available infrastructure.
We are also passionate about sharing what we have learned so far with other state governments in Nigeria. In a few months, the LSETF will organise an Employment Summit that will bring together our key learnings, we hope to enable other governments to act to stem the tide of unemployment in their respective states. We realise that the fight against unemployment is one that requires all hands on deck. The more, the merrier.
In all this, the support of the Lagos State government has been indispensable. On behalf of the fund, I must express gratitude to all arms of the state government for allowing us to carry out our duties without fear or favour. Without this institutional support, our efforts would not be as effective.
Personally, it is an honour for me to have the opportunity to lead this team. What the LSETF is trying to do is unprecedented. Other government initiatives have attempted to address one of these issues. However, the times we live in and the challenges we confront require ambition and audacity, courage and creativity. This is what my colleagues and I signed up for.
I recently came across a 1962 speech by John F. Kennedy, where he made a commitment to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. I drew inspiration from the following lines.
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
The challenge of unemployment in Lagos and across Nigeria is one we must accept, one we must refuse to postpone. It is one we must win.
Teju Abisoye is the Acting Executive Secretary of the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund