Given the enormous wealth and immense developmental potential she possesses, that Nigeria is now grouped with Mauritania, Cape Verde and Cote d’Ivoire as countries with the most acute unemployment in the world is a very sad and embarrassing development desirous of immediate action.
Although those in the national economic advisory team have, in the last one month, been gravely concerned about the disturbing state of unemployment and its imminent adverse consequences, the recent statement by the Minister and Deputy Chairman, National Planning Commission (NPC), Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman, captured in very clear terms the enormity of the situation.
While assessing the poor state of economic development vis a vis the marginal economic growth experienced by West African economies in the last five years, Usman was quoted to have said that, “during the five-year period 2008-2012, the West African economies grew at an average annual rate of about five per cent… The economic growth has failed, however, to translate to significant economic development, poverty reduction and job creation in most of these countries… Unemployment is most acute in Mauritania, Nigeria, Cape Verde and Cote d’Ivoire and least challenging in the Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Youth unemployment is generally more acute everywhere than adult unemployment; and youth unemployment is more prevalent in the urban areas than in the rural areas.”
This observation is not different from the recent World Bank report which indicted the present administration for increasing poverty and unemployment, and also spotted disparities between the reported statistics of Nigeria’s economic growth and the absence of corresponding welfare benefits for much of the population.
Indeed, the official statistical presentation is nothing compared to the reality of the situation. The dreadful state of unemployment in Nigeria is well known to all Nigerians with its excruciating and biting presence in their lives. With current unemployment rate at 23.9 per cent and unemployed youth population put at 20.3 million, Nigeria has been living on the edge for the past five years. A report compiled in December 2008 by the Federal Ministry of Youth Development, stated as of then that Nigeria generated about 4.5 million new entrants into the labour market annually. The figure, it stated, was made up of one million people out of the school system, 2.2 million primary school leavers not proceeding to secondary school, one million secondary school leavers not proceeding to the tertiary level and 300,000 tertiary graduates finding no placement anywhere for productivity. This is apart from another survey of the Federal Ministry of Education, which put the yearly graduate turnover at over 600,000.
In 2011, the Ministry of Youth Development reported that 42.2 per cent of Nigeria’s youth population was out of job. Before then, the House of Representatives Committee on Youth and Social Development announced that 23 million of the over 40 million unemployed youths in the country were unemployable.
Irrespective of the statistics, the current level of unemployment should be nerve-racking for Nigeria’s leaders and must stimulate them to action. It is unacceptable, disgraceful and smacks of insensitivity on the part of any government when this situation is viewed against the fact of legislators’ unjustified jumbo pay, corruption in the executive branch and general waste in government. In the light of this, it is not surprising that an army of angry and desperate unemployed youths prowling cities and the unending influx of youth into the urban areas to eke out a living, now pose further threat to an already precarious state of national security.
In the last three decades, different administrations, often in collaboration with the private sector, have embarked on youth employment programmes, leading to the establishment of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), the Small and Medium Enterprises schemes, the poverty alleviation programme, the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN). However, these employment and empowerment programmes have been largely tokenist because they were tied to political partisanship and emanated from ad hoc reactionary circumstances, rather than deliberate national planning agendas. There are indeed reasons to question the genuineness of these schemes in conception and coverage. The poor (if not clandestine) publicity given to these schemes, the scope of mandate and the modus operandi for participating in them, among others, give rise to suspicion that the proposals were never intended to alleviate the unemployment situation.
For those who think acquiring university or tertiary education holds the key to gainful employment, the situation is also bleak. As a matter of fact, a national survey jointly sponsored by National Universities Commission (NUC) and the then Education Trust Fund (ETF) some years ago to determine the labour market needs from 20 reputable organisations gave damning reports that buttressed an earlier held position that Nigerian university graduates are unemployable. Therefore, in the light of the current state of graduate unemployment in the country, pursuing education primarily as a means of gainful employment is already a disincentive.
To avert any disastrous consequence, which a groundswell of this potentially dangerous unemployment situation may cause, there is need for a practical and results-oriented approach to addressing the plague across the country. Government officials should desist from reeling out impersonal statistics and figures to explain economic growth. What Nigeria needs is the establishment of massive employment-creating programmes all over the country.
Working with state governments and the private sector, the Federal Government may want to embark on massive works programme that would facilitate the creation of a buoyant construction industry which in turn would employ a large number of Nigerians. A few good steps are already being taken in agriculture. This must be intensified with the encouragement of greater investment in large-scale farm projects and other areas where mass employment can be created.
In tandem with this proposal is the need to overhaul the nation’s vocational training system by vigorously encouraging and empowering vocational education. This would help build a bank of skilled labour for the nation. If properly managed, this would not only make more people employable, it would also correct the wrong notion that acquisition of university education alone is the only way to gainful employment.
Above all, there is need for a conscientious manpower planning system that would incorporate the labour needs assessment of the country and the deployment of appropriate funds into special areas of national interest at any given time. This is the practice in many countries that have had to confront high rate of joblessness.
It is the only way to a lasting solution to the scourge of mass unemployment, instead of groping in the dark.