Mr. Celestine Okeke, has several years of experience helping small business enterprise attain best business practices with the aim of staying profitable and sustainable. His working career began with the United Bank for Africa PLC (UBA) where he served as Team Lead, Small Business unit before leaving the banking industry to serve as Managing Partner, Roschistan Consult Limited. Mr. Okeke also serve as Business processes mentor at YOUWIN (Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria). In addition, he teaches the 3c of entrepreneurship namely; Starting-Up, Sustaining and Scaling-Up enterprises. We discussed on the need and importance of empowering people in the North East by means of staring up businesses to help eradicate poverty as it is one of the root causes of the Belligerents Insurgency that has engulfed the North East. Mr. Okeke pointed out Agribusiness as one area that can be explored by youths in the North East due to the fertile and vast land in abundance that can be used in farming, crops like; Millet, Sorghum, Maize, Cowpea, Groundnuts, sugarcane and also vegetable, fish farming etc. Can be cultivated to meet the high Demand of food in the North East and the country at large. But this can only be achieved if there is sustainable peace in the North East such that Agribusiness can strive and attract investors to boost the economy thus bring about job/wealth creation. However for this to be successful, the youths must be resilient, efficient and willing to learn the technical knowhow of entrepreneurship. Mr. Okeke further explained that although there are key agencies supporting and financing economic growth in Nigeria, it has been a litany of failures. The missing link has been the inability of these agencies to conduct needs assessment that would help define where to and how to invest in youth employment interventions. He said the agencies have not made judicious use of funds made available to them and the consequences include our high youth unemployment rate and the inability of a large number of Nigerian youths to understand what entrepreneurship is all about. Here are some of the questions the NEIEF FELLOWS asked, and Mr. Okeke’s Reponses;

1. NEIEF FELLOWS: With the current situation in the North East, how can we ensure that business continues to thrive and also attract investors? MR. OKEKE: The task will be first to agree on steps to engaging youths and taking them away from violent extremism and then providing conducive ecosystem for private enterprises to thrive in the North East. The Insurgency in the North East has been contained across several local government and communities, we will have to get data on areas in the North East where the threat is either minimal or non-existent and then work towards modality for attracting investors.

2. NEIEF FELLOWS: Is it possible for youths to start up a small scale business with no capital, especially those that have been affected by the Insurgency? Mr. OKEKE: This is possible. If we find a cluster of such individuals we can work with them to help mobilize resumes they need.

3. NEIEF FELLOWS: Does one really need to have much money to start up a business, as this is the belief of many youths today? Mr. OKEKE: This myth needs to be addressed. How much did Dangote start business with? We can start up a program to address the fundamentals of entrepreneurship in the North East. Every business has a cost of setting up. Talking generally, you should be thinking more of a mobile business or one not requiring investments in getting a trading space. With Twenty Thousand Naira one can start up a small mobile vegetable delivery business. There exists several enterprises one can invest Twenty Thousand Naira in, but the market to be served has to be considered.

4. NEIEF FELLOWS: Most times we hear youths say “I don’t have business sense and all” how can we help such people find their path on this journey? MR. OKEKE: We can begin with teaching them fundamentals of entrepreneurship, for the educated ones, we have a couple of online courses they can take for free, maybe we can work together to develop this for use in the North East.

Lastly, Mr. Okeke closing remarks was that of hope to address hunger/nutrition challenges posed by the Belligerent Insurgency currently rocking the North East. He said they will be launching the “Communities United to Stop Hunger” project in January 2018, and will be creating clusters of youths in the North East to achieve two things; address food security challenges and create jobs for unemployed youths.

As a NEIEF FELLOW, am thrilled to see this project kick start considering the zeal/passion youths in the North East show towards entrepreneurship so that #NotAnotherNigerian youth will be idle/unemployed thereby becoming vulnerable to radicalization to violent extremism, but rather be resilient towards rebuilding the North East for sustainable development.

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