‘Skill-Up’ artisans ’ll transform 20 million lives – ITF DG, Afiz Ogun

He is variously described as a workaholic, tireless, energetic, a lover of youths, particularly artisans who call him their father. Dr Afiz Oluwatoyin Ogun is the Director-General of the Industrial Training Fund, ITF. He is a passionate leader, teacher and administrator who believes in can-do-spirit of the Nigerian artisans and currently on a mission to scale up their knowledge. He spoke with Saheed Ibrahim in this interview. Excerpts:

Can we meet you sir?

My name is Dr. Afix Oluwatoyin Ogun, the Director General of the Industrial Training Fund (ITF). I’m a dental surgeon, and I’m a teacher, teaching for the past 39 years.

How has it been since your appointment as the DG of ITF?

So far so good. So far so awesome. Good. Fantastic. Very, very good. What we hear outside Nigeria is much better. Nigerians are very intelligent and hardworking.

What is the impact of ITF in Nigeria?

DGs have been coming in Nigeria and have been going. You see, this time around, we have a new government, new projects. This time, our president and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is ready to lift the lives of the artisans in the country. We have a lot of jobs in ITF, but he’s telling us, you have been doing all this job, but you have abandoned this particular one. I want you to lift the lives of these artisans.

So, what do we do? We are scaling up the performance of the artisans. If you look around today, you see artisans coming from Togo, ordinary tiles; Togolese will be doing it. PoP, electricians are from Togo, Ghana, and all other places. Do we have them here? Of course. Too many of them in Nigeria.

And we keep shouting, there is no work. Do you know why? Because Nigerians no longer patronize them the way that we used to patronize them before. Why? Is it the fault of Nigerians? No!

Nigerians want quality jobs. If we want quality jobs, so we want artisans from other places. Ghanaian artisans will come to Nigeria and become millionaires and take our wealth back home. Yes, they have the right according to the international labour law.

After all, Nigerians are also in other places. However, our artisans are the landlords. Why are we not going to them? Because their quality of job is below international standard.

The president said, scale them up to international standard and that is what the programme SUPA, Scale Up Artisans, that is what we are pursuing and we have started.

If you had been at the airport, you would have seen the way the artisans came en masse to welcome me to this state. Because they call me the father of the artisans. I tell them, don’t just call me the father, but tell me who the father of the artisans is? Because he gave me this job to do. I have started the job. I have a hypothetical drum.

This hypothetical drum, all artisans; young, old, experienced, not experienced, intending artisans, everybody inside this hypothetical drum, we train them and certify them.

We give them international standard. We are with international Q and A. We want to make them, East Coast standardized. We want to make sure, we are with City and Guild, AQ, and QA of Europe, such that once we are done with them, artisans will now have their own license, like driving license.

There will be no artisan that will be able to operate in Nigeria without a license. At that time, we know that they are qualified. Apart from this, you are looking for a plumber in Alagbaka, we have what we call marketplace for artisans.

You go there, you say plumbers in Alagbaka, and everybody, everything will come out like Facebook. You start picking which one do you want by looking at their reviews. They’ve worked for other people before, and people have written reviews about them.

It is this one I want. By the time that starts, artisans will not be able to do low-quality job for you, because they have been trained, they have been certified, they have been licensed, they have been raised up, and now they want to work for you, and they want you to write something good about them, so that another customer will come tomorrow, they will do your work very well. Will they not? So we are doing that.

We also have another box outside this room, known as F-Desk. This F-Desk, we are going to keep super artisans there. Now, during the training, we are going to recognize super artisans.

There are some Babas that are so good. We keep them there. These super artisans, if a mechanic has a problem outside, maybe he’s trying to fix a particular engine, then he has a problem, he faces a problem.

He calls the help center. The super artisans will say, do it like this, do it like this. Those ones will be under the government, we’ll be paying them salary.

They are old, but we need their brain. After all this training, do we end it there? No. So, after this training, we have three exits.

First exit is labour export, talent export. We want to export our artisans. We are forming conduit pipes between Nigeria and other countries.

We are meeting with the chambers of commerce. What do you need? They don’t have artisans. We are going to export some of them abroad. But it’s going to be from government to government.

You can’t cheat them. This is how much you should pay them. This is health insurance you should give them.

This is the condition of service you should give our people. Then we forward them there. From country to different countries, that’s the first exit.

There are other two exits. The other exit, when you look at it very well, our companies in Nigeria, when you go to them, if you ask them their greatest problem, they say we don’t have artisans. We don’t have the workers to work for us.

You will see Chinese. You go to some companies and you see only Chinese working. You will go to their country.

They want to come and invest in Nigeria. You will invest in Nigeria and still go and import artisans and we say there is no job in Nigeria. And you will go and import artisans.

We don’t want this to happen again. We have Nigerian Employers Consultative Association. We have Manufacturing Association of Nigeria.

We collaborate with them. Go out to your industries, to your company. What do they need?

We fetch them. We give them agreement. This is what you should pay them.

This is the condition of service you should give them. We post them to those companies. That is what satisfies our local companies.

And the third exit is MSME. In Nigeria, once a man, even though he’s a carpenter, once he’s above 35, he’s 40, he’s 50, he doesn’t want to go out.

And he doesn’t want to go and apply for a job. What do we do for them? We incubate businesses for them. We open workshop for that carpenter. We open a workshop for that tailor. We open a place for that hairdresser.

What we see today is, when they finish their training, what do they give the tailor? They give him scissors. Is that what he’s going to use to eat? Or they give him one Obioma sewing machine. Is that what he’s going to use to eat? No.

Proper, proper business incubation, and government will go into partnership with you. That money, once the money is already made, then that place becomes your own. Do you understand now? This is a very brief, description of what we want to do.

The president said five million people every year. You see it is enormous.

The first year will be difficult, because the foundation year, we may not be able to meet that. But as we move on, you see, when you give yourself a very high projection, you understand, then you will be able to do well. You understand? When you look down and you are not sure of what you can do, that’s when you give yourself small targets, and you cannot meet.

And we have started collecting them. Within a month, we have collected over 500,000 artisans.

In our database, in the world of today, data matters a lot. And you know what? We have screened them, so that we know that these artisans we are talking about, they are not just fake people. We organized screening in all the 109 senatorial districts of Nigeria.

We announced in local languages. And you know what? They turned up. It was like INEC registration.

We made sure that the Artisan Association of Nigeria, we made sure they were there on the ground to recognize their own people, to ask the technical questions, so that we’ll be sure.

If you say you are a tailor, how can you cut this? You are a tailor, you cannot fix buttons. That’s why we have artisans and intending artisans.

What about undergraduate students?

Undergraduates are under the Ministry of Education.Our own in ITF is when you have finished school. That’s where we come in.

Just like the doctor. The university will train the doctors, but when they finish, they pass them to Ministry of Health for housemanship and every other thing.

When they finish from there, and they are now ready for job, they come to the Ministry of Industry. That’s where ITF comes up. Do you understand now? So, when it comes to the Ministry of Education, to university, all those things, it belongs to the Ministry of Education.

Our own is industry. Continuous professional development.

Once you finish, the accounting that an accounting student read in the university, is not the accounting that he’s going to use to work. Is it the accounting he’s going to use to work? No. You have accountants in bank.

You have accountants in the industry. You have accountants in the hospital. You need to be trained according to the industry you belong.

This is where Industrial Training Fund comes in. And that is what this programme is all about. Very soon, I’ll be going to the ‘Corpers’ camps, and I’m giving each camp a tablet, ready-made tablet, where they will register for this programme.

What is the role of ITF in the area of tech hub?

Now, when it comes to tech hub, you see, we have what we call labor market information. Labor market information is under our remit.

We are the ones in ITF going out, checking the evolving skills, checking the trends that is going on in the skills for the industries. Are you getting it now? You see, we have Ministry of Science and Technology. Whatever happens there, the engineers are under them.

When they finish, they are under those people. They take them up. But when it comes to every other job in the industries and all other areas, it comes to us, and we have labor market information.

This labour market information is the one that takes care of the tech hub. We’re not just stepping up. When we say artisans, Nigerians make this mistake. They just think that it’s only the gardener that’s an artisan. It’s only the small, Obioma the tailor, that’s an artisan. They look at artisans as poor people.

Now, as I’m talking to you, Germany have already sent to us the list of artisans they need. You know one of them? Software developers.

If we look at software developers in Nigeria now, we say they are not artisans. They are artisans.

Mechatronics. They want us to bring them. And in the entire Africa, ITF has number one training for mechatronics.

First in the whole of Africa. It’s in Abuja. Our MSTC training centre there.

The rate of unemployable graduates is alarming. Are you not worried?

We are worried. That is why this programme is important.We are saying, you see, there was a day I was looking for a secretary for my office. I said, call all the secretaries in my headquarters.

All the people, they called all of them and I started interviewing them, especially those that were employed recently. I shook my head.

Why? I could only get three out of 39. Why? Because the skill is not there. This is why we are saying what to do in the university.

Even if you are half-baked, bring them to us. We will reshape you. We will skill you up.

That’s why it is called Skill Up Artisans. We want to skill you up to international standard. We are not going to be the only one to train them.

We are bringing white people. We train our own trainers. So that we will not be bringing them every time.

Once they train our own trainers, our trainers now, we now begin to train our own trainees.

It is easier for Nigerian leaders to formulate policies than implement. What are you doing about this?

I believe in practicality. I don’t want to come here and say, I will do this. If you want me to tell you how far we have gone, we have gone far.

We have gathered 500,000 artisans. 500,000 plus. We want to take it bit by bit. If you want to eat big pounded yam, you can’t put all of them in your mouth one time. You take it one step at a time.

Now, we want to train them. We are starting now. What is happening now? You see, our artisans, not that they are not good, but they have a problem.

They cannot organize themselves. They are not truthful. They lie a lot. They play. They will take jobs. Five places at the same time.

And they will start lying. We want to train them first. We will give them soft training.

And we will give them technical training. The first soft training we are giving them is called project management. If you want to fix a button, it’s a project.

How do you organize yourself? We are collaborating with the Chartered Institute of Project Managers of Nigeria. It’s a government agency in that industry. And these people, as I’m talking to you, they are writing the curriculum for our artisans.

Artisans in Nigeria will have a certificate for project management. And if you misbehave, your certificate will be seized. After the project management… And you know what? All our training will be in Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, and Pidgin English.

These four languages, nobody will tell me the whole of this country that I don’t understand one of them. Because many of them are not educated. Even the exam, certification exam, we have designed it in a way that even if you don’t go to school, you put a picture there in the projector, look at this and look at this.

We’ll give you A, B, C, D. We’ll give you a pencil. Number one, A, B, C, D. This one is climbing that ladder. That one is climbing. C is climbing. D is climbing. Who is doing it properly? Who is not doing it well? Who will fall easily? Who will do this? You show this, A or B. We’ll change the picture again.

A Chinese man cannot speak English, but he’s doing a lot of things. This is the way we want it to be.

You know why? Because we have a leader who is ready. It is not easy to fix things that are already bad. It is easy to destroy. We are ready. That’s why you see the artisans very happy with me.

We have gathered them. We have screened them. Now, we are starting… By next week, we are going to start announcing in the media list of artisans we have screened in the whole Nigeria. By next week, it will come out. Page by page. And the centers where they will be trained because we already visited 820 centres. Our assessors have gone to them all over the country.

We have already seen them, what they can do, private training centres. We give them students.

We pay them for each student. It’s like you have a private school, and somebody is bringing students to you. Government is giving you students, and they are paying you.

That’s what we are going to be doing for them. And from next week, you’ll see the list coming out, the newspapers, of all the artisans and where they will be trained. We are doing intending artisans, all of them.

Those ones, they don’t need sub-training, because if you want to do professional project management, the sub-trainings are four. First is project management. After that, we teach them industrial health and safety.

We train them on that. Then we now train them on ethical issues. The major problem is ethics.

They lie. They shortchange the people they are working for. That way will no longer work, because there will be consequences on that artisan.

So we are doing all those curriculum that are going on now. By next week, we are going to bring out the list. The date they will start, and we will also be going there to check television.

Everything we are doing, we carry the press along. We have started. We have screened. We have accredited 820 centers all over the country, apart from our own centres in Niger. We have accredited around the country. And now, those we have screened, we want to start the training with them.

As I’m talking to you, the curriculum for our artisan is being written by the people involved. And some of them are international bodies.

What is the duration of the training?

It depends. You see, when you have a super artisan, and you take him to training, you put him there. Easily, you know that this is a super artisan. When you see a super artisan, he may not need more than only the soft skill.

He may not need more than two weeks before you deploy him. So that’s why it is categorized.

Do you think this programme will discourage Yahoo Yahoo and other vices?

You see, if we put dignity in level, and you know, you must have been alive during the days of MAMSER. During the days of War Against Indiscipline. When everybody was shouting and shouting on the radio.

The government was shouting, don’t defecate here, don’t piss here, don’t do this here, don’t have a dirty compound. And Nigeria will begin to see. One thing about Nigeria, we easily fall in line if there is proper organization.

By the time they see our first 100,000 and see what they are making. Yahoo is not easy.

You think Yahoo is easy? Yahoo is not easy. They will suffer and suffer and suffer for months before they will make small money.

They will even go and borrow money from these artisans. At the end of the day, the artisan’s life will be going steady and steady. We want a situation where a tailor’s child can stand up and, a tailor can stand up and send his or her child to university abroad.

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