The Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme, Mohammed Yahya, in this interview with journalist Chima Azubuike for The Punch - Nigeria, speaks about UN development work in the violence-troubled North-East.
What is the concept of the Nigeria Jubilee Fellows Programme?
Rising unemployment and the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting the ability of young Nigerians to find work. The Nigeria Jubilee Fellows Programme (NJFP) seeks to bridge this gap by connecting young talented graduates with local job opportunities that apply their expertise, while equipping them with world-class practical knowledge and relevant skills. The programme will serve all of Nigeria – from North to South and East to West – ensuring that organisations and youths from all corners of the country can participate through merit-based selection. Other programmes and initiatives tend to demand advanced requirements from applicants but the NJFP invites qualified applicants across a level playing field without compromising the pedigree of organisations that will play host to successful Fellows.
The initiative targets 20,000 youths. What are the modalities for recruitment?
Transparency, accountability and integrity are cornerstones of the Nigeria Jubilee Fellows Programme. This is being ensured and guaranteed in the following key ways: An end-to-end technology-based digital system has been designed to ensure efficiency across the whole programme cycle – from application to the off-boarding of the fellows. A robust eligibility criterion for prospective fellows has been developed and is a requirement for every applicant. Likewise, an eligibility criterion for host organisations has also been developed. Prospective fellows and eligible organisations must submit an application electronically against the criteria through the application portal of the NJFP website. Applications were open for a period of six weeks and only those submitted through the NJFP portal were considered. An independent and highly professional talent management company plays the central role of reviewing all the submissions and producing a long list that will proceed to the next stage. Long-listed candidates will undergo a series of aptitude tests and assessments before final selection is made. Successful candidates will receive formal communication through the talent management company.
The programme is also equipped with a robust financial management system and internal controls to enable financial transfers to be made directly to on-boarded fellows. Payments will be made based on a 360 degree performance review between the fellow, the host organisation and the talent management company.
All the aspects of the programme from the design, application, selection, induction, placement and off-boarding will be subjected to an independent and external and independent audit whose findings will be made public. Accompanying this programme is a comprehensive communications and outreach strategy that will be implemented to ensure the public, fellows, host organisations, partners are effectively updated on the programme
Lastly, to ensure strategic oversight, quality control and accountability, an NJFP Steering Committee Co-chaired by UNDP and government with private sector and international community participation has been established. This steering committee will also provide oversight over the Jubilee Fellows Fund which has been established as a single financing instrument for the programme.
Covid-19 came with a lot of challenges. In what ways was the UNDP impacted?
There are several initiatives that UNDP/UN has undertaken to cushion financial challenges related to COVID-19. First, the UN has established the One UN Basket Fund, managed by the UNDP, to support the government in responding to the pandemic and its related secondary implications. This included assistance to purchase medical equipment, PPEs, and putting in place medical COVID-19 isolation centres. The UN and UNDP are also supporting communities affected by the pandemic. The UNDP has initiated a programme to provide cash grants to affected households, MSMEs/SMEs, and start-ups to continue business in hot-spot LGAs in highly affected states. From a broader level, UNDP is also partnering the government in establishing an Integrated National Financing Framework, and in promoting impact investments which are intended to facilitate strengthening domestic revenue mobilisation and external financial flows.
Not long ago, the cross-border trade between Borno and Cameroon was reopened. What is the significance of that?
Before the insurgency about 13 years ago, there was a vibrant trading town between Amchide and Banki. Obviously the insurgency affected Banki significantly to the extent that trade was halted and the town of Banki became a ghost town. Until recently there was hardly any economic activity in that place and life was restricted to inside the IDP camps. Today, the UNDP working with Borno State under the leadership of Governor Babagana Zulum and his team, we were able to support government in the stabilisation effort which led to a rebirth of the town. And my colleagues were able to do the same in Amchide with the governor of the far north of Cameron and together, under the leadership of these governors we saw transformation of those towns in terms of economic activities and we worked closely with the Customs and the Nigeria Immigration Service, because these two institutions are important for the movement of people and goods. There is a new lease of life with a new Customs office, Customs barracks, a new Immigration office and new Immigration barracks and police presence in place. All these are meant to increase presence of the state in a place where governance once withered away because of insurgency. Now we can all see the return of economic activities for the benefit of the citizens of both countries.
What philosophy underpins the developmental activities being undertaken by the UNDP in northern Nigeria and elsewhere in the country?
Nigeria, like most countries, has committed to the Sustainable Development Goals and at the state level where we operate from, many governors have shown a need or desire for partnership that will ensure the articulation of plans to allocate scarce resources to areas where development are most needed or critical. Against this background, we at the UNDP are very happy to offer collaboration and we are doing this across the country. When you don’t have enough resources you need to be able to put the limited that you have where you will get the best possible result in terms of development by specifically focusing on the most vulnerable members of society and offering economic opportunities. This is what we do. Our work is geared towards building an accountability framework between the people and the state.
Proper planning is essential to effectively implement government policies according to the available budget. Planning also allows states to properly identify challenges, prioritise them, effectively allocate responsibilities and resources as well as contribute to proper coordination and monitoring and evaluation. The Gombe State planning process, for instance, demonstrates the importance of implementing need assessments and costing strategy for effective planning.
What do you think will be the ultimate solution to the insurgency in the North-East: military action or political approach?
One thing is very clear, the fight against insurgency cannot be by only military approach. Military interventions have their limits. Having development engagements, doing robust reintegration and rehabilitation of those who leave the insurgency and overall showing indirect cause of conflict cannot be overemphasised. Everything must be done to ensure peace returns to the North-East.
How do we measure the high and low-level armed groups?
The security forces know these things. It’s called vetting; it is very different from how you treat somebody who was a cook or cleaner in the insurgency from somebody who has been blowing up communities and killing people. So, it is a different level of criminality. There is an international system on how to do this. So, we encourage government to follow these steps and I think they will. As far as I know, Borno State has a plan in line with the national norms.
How many aid workers has UNDP lost to attacks by armed groups?
We have not directly lost any UNDP staff but there has been a lot of impact on our community. We are part of a larger community of development and humanitarian access. Some of our other NGO colleagues have been kidnapped or killed, our contractors have been impacted. So, this a collective issue for the international humanitarian bodies. But it is nowhere close to the impact and havoc the armed groups have caused to communities, the millions they have displaced, the thousands that have died. We are nowhere close to that but we are here to make sure that the insurgency comes to an end.
Do you see the Boko Haram reign in the North-East ending soon?
We are entering, especially in the North-East, a tipping point, the inflection point, whereby in the next few months and years if we do the right thing, and I think the government is also of the same opinion, then we may be at the start of the end of the insurgency and we are hopeful that the North-East, the communities out there will move swiftly to think about even a bigger enemy, which is poverty and underdevelopment.