Having exceeded its target of raising the incomes of 150,000 poor people in the previous five years, the mandate of the Market Development in the Niger Delta (MADE) project was renewed in 2018 by the UK Department for International Development (DFiD).
This time, however, the project’s focus is not just increasing incomes for the poor in the Niger Delta; MADE II is also expected to deal a massive blow to the menace of human trafficking and irregular migration in Edo and Northern Delta using the innovative—and effective—‘Market Systems’ approach, which it previously used to achieve its targets in MADE I.
To achieve this goal, the MADE II programme set up its Edo State Investment Portfolio (ESIP), which aims to positively impact the livelihoods of 30,000 vulnerable households and potential victims of human trafficking as well as returnees between March 2018 and February 2020.
The programme also expects to attract investments worth £10 million (N4.6 billion) to Edo State by creating aspirational employment opportunities for vulnerable youth and women as a means to counteract the increasing prevalence of illegal international migration from the region. This may seem like lofty plans, but the stakeholders’ conference held recently in Benin City indicated just the opposite. The conference created the right platform for stakeholders to unveil successes recorded so far.
This was also an opportunity to get feedback from partners within the public and private sectors. In the words of MADE’s Team leader, Tunde Oderinde, the event was about charting the way forward and discussing, “how to take the journey of ESIP beyond what MADE will be able to deliver.”
“Like travellers, we came into Edo State specifically to look into a new terrain, a new dimension, to see how we can strengthen livelihoods for the teeming youth,” Oderinde said in his welcome address.
“We knocked the doors, we met some of our potential partners, and we met some of the returnees. And you did one thing: you opened your doors and you’ve shared knowledge with us.”
Since its establishment a little over one year ago, ESIP has reached 17,000 residents of the target region, with at least half of them female. The first year of implementation witnessed interventions in five major value chains including improving access to market for rural producers, improving micro-distribution and retailing of FMCGs, apiculture (beekeeping), feed finishing (fattening) of small ruminants, as well as skills development and job placement for the vulnerable population. The initiative has so far stimulated investments from private sector partners valued at £3.6 million into Edo State.
“We had a slow start,” Rufus Idris, the portfolio manager, explains.
“The traction to get interventions started was very slow at the beginning. But now partners are beginning to see the value in our intervention business models. The theory of change underlying the MADE II programme and ESIP precisely is proving to be valid.”
The partners Idris referred to included Asanita Agricultural Processing Company, which is investing into a 50,000 litre ethanol processing plant in the state through which farmers will be able to sell 280 tonnes of cassava tubers in a day; Okomu Oil Palm Company that is expanding its mills and building new ones, creating new market for 40,000 tonnes of oil palm fruits per annum for smallholder farmers; Thrive Agric. that is bringing an innovative financing model into the state’s apiculture industry; and Natural Eco-capital that is establishing a waste recycling plant to engage young people.
“Before, the hardship I was facing was getting unbearable,” admits a pineapple farmer, who’s a beneficiary of Hills Harvest’s (an off-taker) investment.
“When I harvested my produce, it was very difficult to transport them to my house and then to the market; and then I still had to start searching for buyers. It was stressful. But now, my crops are bought as soon as I harvest from the farm.
“I don’t have any problem again; my own is just to go home, have my bath, rest, and prepare myself for the next day’s job.”
Moving forward, ESIP has also taken interest in working in the creative industry generally.
“We are looking at scaling up these interventions that we’ve started already and at the same time how we can introduce new interventions that are even more aspirational and that better target returnees, potential victims, and also vulnerable households,” Idris said.
“This year, we are working with partners to roll out interventions in the entertainment sector. There is a lot more to be done in the ICT sector, and also we see beauty and fashion as a well-targeted sector for the vulnerable population.”
It is noteworthy that as much as ESIP has built a strong relationship with private businesses, the initiative also has a robust partnership with the Edo state government. It has organised events in collaboration with government and supported different state projects with invaluable resources. One of such projects is the Edo Taskforce Against Human Trafficking (ETAHT) chaired by Professor Yinka Omorogbe, the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
While giving her keynote address at the stakeholders’ conference, the Professor of Energy Law said the government welcomed every organisation willing to work with it in tackling human trafficking, and the task force—though only two years old—has received 4,769 returnees in 57 batches.
All of the returnees received counselling to relieve trauma and hundreds of them are also trained and empowered to be self-sufficient.
Education, she submits, was the first thrust to reaching out to the vulnerable persons and survivors, “because education makes a big difference, particularly for the women”.
“There are very few female graduates that will go on this sort of trips,” she explained. “It’s a little different with the men, and that’s because the men are strongly economical, migrants who want to make a lot of money. And that’s where MADE’s interventions are very important.”
Two panel sessions at the stakeholders’ conference featured talks on creating aspirational jobs in Edo and Delta states, and the ease of doing business and investing in Edo.
In the first panel were Ukinebo Dare, Senior Special Adviser to the Edo State Governor on Skills Development and Jobs; Isimeme Whyte, Founder of Genius Hub; Stanlee Ohikhuare, Chief Executive Officer of M-JOT Studios; Chief Executive Officer of God Grace Multiple Fashion and Igbinoba Smart, a returnee.
Kelvin Uwaibi, Head of Edo State Investment Promotion Office; Victor Legogie, Chief Executive Officer of Asanita Agricultural Processing Company; Edosa Eghobamien, Chief Executive Officer of Amena Academy; and Ayo Arikawe, Partnerships and Technology Director of Thrive Agric, participated in the second panel discussion.
Many of the speakers emphasised the need for government to do more in improving the state of infrastructure, financial policies, and security in order to boost investments in the State.
The Edo Innovation Hub, Uki informed the audience, has been able to empower passionate youth regardless of their academic qualifications; and the programme has been so successful that Amazon, one of the world’s top companies, works with these young persons.
“I remember in this very hall we had a session sometime last year organised by the task force where one of the returnees was asked, ‘Okay.
“You told us you went through this very horrible experience; would you go back?’ And he said yes. They asked him why?” she narrates.
“And he said if you convert one euro to naira you’d know why I would go back. So, now, they are here in Benin working, cleaning up data, and analysing big data for companies outside the country, earning that one euro, that one dollar, and they are converting it to naira here.
“So why do they now need to go through the desert and Mediterranean Sea to travel? And that’s just one example.”
She also said one approach that has helped the state government achieve results is to redesign all its trainings in such a way that what takes place in class is just the foundation and, “the real work happens when they leave the class.”
Also on the first panel, Ohikhuare narrated how his organisation was collaborating with MADE in the entertainment sector by having returnees in Lagos interact with movie stars and top film producers to prepare them for opportunities in the space.
“I organise a film festival which is actually a yearly programme,” he said. “Just before we started planning this year, I reached out to Idris (ESIP’s Manager) and said it will be nice to have some of these young people who have just returned to come and learn some skills.
“Every year we do this festival and this is our fourth year, and I told him about our training where we have sessions for people who want to learn one or two things about filmmaking. It is absolutely free and that is where the public, private partnership arrangement comes in.”
The M-JOT Studios CEO believes having young people at such events will make them more confident, better equipped, and more ambitious. The next phase following the festival, he says, is to have the returnees put their skills and networks into use by actually producing a movie in Benin.
“Aspiration is very easy for the person who thinks that he has someone tapping his back and telling him go on and do it,” he concludes.
Arikawe of Thrive Agric, while reacting to a question on what may be done to facilitate investments during the second panel session, said more discussions and collaborations were needed, citing instances when such events have benefited Thrive Agric.
“There is need for more conversations happening. So just really bringing key players in a room, on a table to discuss what their key challenges are can make a lot of difference,” he recommended.
According to Eghobamien, Edo State not only has humongous opportunities but also its geographical location makes it the perfect investment destination. He, however, adds that running a business has been made more difficult than it has to be.
“No economy can strive with the kind of epileptic power that we have” he says. “In our little organisation, on Airport Road, we have four generators running different shifts. This was supposed to be alternative source of power, but BEDC is now the alternative source.”
The Amena Academy boss also urges the government to foster investment by improving security, access to finance, foreign exchange, local production of basic materials, taxation, and closing the widening skill gap.
Beyond the stakeholders’ conference in Benin City and even beyond the lifespan of the ESIP project and MADE II, what all participants agree on is that the task of tackling trafficking and poverty in the Niger Delta region requires not only concerted but consistent efforts.
“We need partners that can carry on and do this work beyond MADE,” says Oderinde.
“This is why we are working with partners, strengthening their capacity to see how they can take these interventions and put more innovativeness into the implementation even beyond MADE because the fight against human trafficking and irregular migration will not end in two years.”
The organisers hope the footprints of ESIP will leave an enduring ripple effect many years after the project itself is no more, especially through the activities of the many partners who have been oriented, supported, and engaged over time.