The Founder, The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Bishop Mike Okonkwo, is an education enthusiast. But much as he loves education, he says neither he nor TREM will set up a university as other faith-based institutions are doing.
The major challenge facing the country, according to him, is unemployment. And to reduce the scourge, Okonkwo believes that investment in vocational education and youth empowerment is key to reversing the trend and consequently enhance the nation’s development.
“As a church, we have primary and secondary schools, but my interest, really, in terms of higher institution, is building a vocational centre. I do not have a dream to establish a conventional university. What informed this is that we have many universities now and many more are coming, but our people are stranded. A lot of our people, after leaving school, have no job. Can you imagine a doctor, after finishing school, is struggling to take up a job of N10,000 per month? That is frustrating! Nigeria is a developing country; we have not even scratched the resources that are in the country. So, we want to be able to train people who can use the gifts that they have to become entrepreneurs and employers of labours. And that is one of the things my mind is going into concerning the education sector,” he says.
But how does he intend to manage the negative perception Nigerians have about vocational education? Okonkwo says this is due to ignorance, adding that dependence on paper qualification would not help the country.
“That is lack of understanding, when people begin to see that it is not about your certificate but about what you can do for the society, they will have a change of mind and attitude. The first thing God gave to us is our individual gifts, and when that is brought out, it can be useful in the society,” he adds.
To give fillip to his belief in vocational education, Okonkwo said he had started a vocational centre where youths would be trained in various trades, including welding, fashion designing, computer studies and masonry. This, he says, would complement the Mike Okonkwo Educational Youth Initiative.
“We have acquired a land at Aba in Abia State and we have put up some structures there, but we have not put up everything. As soon as we finish, we would start imparting skills. Most of our youths who claim to be artisans are not well trained and that is why some multinational and construction companies do not employ them as labourers. Look at the tiling of this office, we had to look for labourers from Benin Republic after we discovered that the ones done by Nigerians were not well done. So, I want to be able to tell our people that you do not lose by doing a nice job. In the final analysis, people will look for you. But our people are too much in a hurry, as everybody wants to become millionaires overnight, so they do shoddy jobs. A tailor will sew a cloth for you and within weeks, the zip is off. That is shoddy job!”
The centre, he said, would be well equipped to equip youths with the skills needed to excel in their chosen vocation.