Dealing with Nigeria’s joblessness – Thisday

Dismal economic figures call for urgent reform

Last week, Bloomberg, a global media and financial data and analytics conglomerate, predicted that Nigeria would soon set another record as home to the highest number of the unemployed. A third of Nigeria’s labour force, according to the report, is without employment with many working only a few hours a week. That puts the country second after Namibia in the list of 82 countries. The report noted that unemployment has more than quadrupled over five years, making the World Bank to warn even before the advent of coronavirus pandemic that “Nigeria could become home to a quarter of the world’s destitute within a decade.”

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has in the past few years consistently confirmed a pattern of worsening unemployment in the country, rising from 9.9 per cent in 2015 to 19.70 per cent in the last quarter of 2016. In its latest report presented two weeks ago, the situation is even more dire. The jobless rate rose to 33.3% in the fourth quarter of 2020, from 27.1% in the second quarter of 2020. Namibia is barely a fraction higher at 33.4 per cent. In clear terms, more than 23 million Nigerians had no jobs or worked less than 20 hours a week.

That one fourth of the nation’s labour force is idle is bad enough. Worse and extremely dangerous is the fact that more than 40 per cent of that army of idle citizens is peopled by the youth. In the Northeast and the Northwest, wracked by insurgency and general insecurity, the numbers of the unemployed are much higher. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele said last week that the level of unemployment must be addressed swiftly “to moderate the restiveness among the populace.”

The prevalent public disillusionment is worsened by severe economic hardship occasioned by rising inflation. At more than 17 per cent and rising, inflation is at its peak in four years, evidently helped by the constantly depreciating value of the naira which exchanges for almost N500 to a dollar. In the last five years, the country was plunged into recession twice. Already home to the world’s extreme poor, the prevailing economic downturn has worsted the capacity of both the state and individuals such that basic necessities, including food, medicare and shelter have gone far beyond the reach of majority of Nigerians. This is not only frightening but breeds the risk of social, economic and security turbulence.

Some of the factors responsible for this state of affair include a rapidly growing population amid declining financial resources, predominant production of primary goods over finished products. Nigeria relies on oil as a foreign exchange earner, even in an age where fossil fuels are gradually going extinct. Besides, the general insecurity in the country is putting everyone on edge and scaring away investors. Unfortunately, the response from government to these challenges remains incoherent. Even with all the rhetoric about diversification of the economy from oil to agriculture, the tilt is still towards heavy government participation. As pointed out by Bloomberg, the present administration’s efforts at repositioning the economy had been largely ineffectual. The tilt should be towards adding value to agricultural produce through industrialisation. Also of fundamental imperative is that we must urgently realign the nation’s educational curriculum with the needs of the economy.

Even though there are many well educated young men out there, it has been said with some measure of justification that majority of school leavers are actually ‘certificated illiterates’ who are unemployable. It has therefore become necessary that our educational training curriculum at all levels incorporate skills acquisition and entrepreneurial development. There is also an urgent need to examine the pattern of our largely unproductive population growth.

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