– Participants insist on return to original YouWin
By Innocent Eteng
Hundreds of YouWin Connect winners who trained in Port Harcourt out of the 5000 that participated in the exercise in 25 centres in Nigeria last week protested when a representative of the federal government allegedly announced new rules especially the cancellation of grants, now replaced with ‘soft loans to lucky ones’.
The 5000 participants emerged from a total of 61,000 applicants after rigorous screening exercises and were asked to proceed to the 25 centres to undertake in-class training for three hectic days on entrepreneurship and business module canvas to help them understand how to use the module to prepare business plans.
Problem however started when a representatives from the Federal Ministry of Finance (FMF), John Erikoro, allegedly told participants on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, that, despite being termed ”winners”, not everyone of them was going to receive funding for their businesses anymore.
He rather said: “You should get it (the fund) if you are lucky and among those that would be selected”. At this point, it was gathered, participants went rowdy, protesting and demanding more explanation. Erikoro allegedly explained further that ‘fund managers’ have been raised to decide what and what business to fund. This was seen as a clear deviation from what participants knew as the rule before applying for the programme and undertaking the training.
Participants said they interpreted the explanation to mean an introduction of favouritism and nepotism, especially when Erikoro allegedly further said some businesses within the chains of aquaculture and shea butter were chosen in Abuja and Lagos for a pilot study and funding, prior to the training.
To compound issues, participants were allegedly told that even the few would-be-funded businesses will rather get ‘soft loans’, and not grants. “Let me tell you, it is not a grant, it is soft loan; a very soft loan,” Erikoro was quoted to have said.
At this point, participants allegedly began venting their disappointments.
“When we got the message from YouWin, it read ‘you are now winners’, and then all of a sudden winners have been turned into something different. This is a fraud. It is completely different from the YouWin agenda. Whoever came up with this is doing a lot of damage to this administration. We cannot keep quiet. You cannot beat a child and then expect him to smile and be quiet,” a participant in Port Harcourt said.
“We can’t take this. What is the need for the training if you don’t give us funding to start work immediately? I believe they just want to select their own people and give them the grant so that at the end of the day they would deceive Nigerians that they used many billions to fund 5,000 YouWin winners,” said another furious participant.
Apart from individually expressing frustrations within the last few days, participants at the 25 centres across the country where the training took place have been issuing communiqués, with one issued in Abuja as a national communiqué.
The one issued in Port Harcourt and signed by the hall governor, Victor Nta Nta, reads in part: “While we commend the success of the training aspect of the programme, we however observe with deep concern that participants, having made the required sacrifices and attained this level as merit winners at the expense of their comforts, families, loved ones, businesses and even paid their way to the training venue from far and near in addition to bearing the costs of hotel accommodation and logistics these three days, as well as going through the rigorous online and in-class sector-specific training processes that saw us emerge as the merit winners of the 2017 edition, only to be informed by a representative of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Mr. John Erikoro, at the last lap of the academy, that the initial intent of the programme which is to train and financially empower young entrepreneurs with grant award has fallen short of expectations in a way to dash the hopes and aspirations of the merit winners.
“We by this communiqué demand that the Federal Government stick to the original concept of the YouWiN! Connect Programme, which is to train and financially empower the 5,000 ‘Merit Winners’ across the federation.
“Furthermore, we suggest that for the sustainability of the YouWin programme and transparency in the use of funds, that there should be a close monitoring of the businesses of the recipients of the proposed funds.”
The journey of the presumed 5000 winners of the 2017/2018 YouWin! Connect programme began on March 5, 2018, when they were selected from 61,000 young Nigerians who participated in a six-course business-focused online training (December last year till January 2018). It was then that they said they noticed a rare addition to a mail asking them to prepare for the next phase, a three day in-class sector-specific training that began March 12 to March 25 and dubbed “Master-class”.
BusinessDay monitoring the scheme in Port Harcourt gathered that the strange addition read: “Please note that this email is sent without prejudice to the prerogative of the Federal Government of Nigeria to withdraw, terminate or modify the YouWiN! Connect Program at any time without notice to you.”
This could be a pretext for which the federal government has now turned from its original promise of funding businesses and ideas of young Nigerian entrepreneurs after being subjected to rigorous training.
From December last year when YouWin! Connect began notifying applicants (later participants) via numerous emails, participants said that the addition was never included and stands as a deceitful afterthought.
Participants said they never read meaning to the added clause until during the Master-class that took place in 25 locations across the federation, during which they were told that the government may not provide funding.
Participants are now protesting across the federation, insisting that the federal government must maintain the original plan.
YouWin was initiated by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan as an enterprise development programme that saw thousands of Nigerians trained and given grants ranging from 1.8million to 10million to either scale up or start new businesses and in turn create jobs.
Given the huge success of the programme, as admitted by the present Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, in a video currently circulating on YouTube, the President Buhari administration inherited and christened it YouWin! Connect. The 5,000 participants constitute the 2017/2018 (4th edition).