Nigeria’s troubling unemployment rate has, once again, been brought to the fore by the Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Quoting figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in Abuja last week, the minister said no fewer than 5.3 million youths are jobless in the country, while 1.8 million graduates enter the labour market every year.
This figure, we believe, is a conservative estimate of the actual number of unemployed youths in the country, going by previous statistics released by NBS, which put the number of jobless Nigerians at 20.3 million.
Okonjo-Iweala, however, explained that the unemployment figure has been accumulating over the years. In her words, “this did not start this year, neither did it start last year”. She added that the nation’s inability to track the number of people coming into the labour market is a part of the problem of managing the new entrants into the market.
The minister’s explanation is not far from the truth. However, the worsening employment crisis in the country is partly a reflection of government’s inability to design policies that will create more jobs, or provide enabling environment that could encourage both individuals and the private sector to expand employment opportunities without let or hindrance.
If government needed to know the gravity of the nation’s unemployment rate, especially graduate unemployment, the trampling of graduate job seekers to death during stampedes at last month’s Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment drive across the country, presents a graphic picture of the problem. That incident, alone, tells us that something needs to be done urgently to address the scourge of unemployment in the country. The position of the Finance Minister that creating more jobs “is the only way to honour the memory of those who lost their lives” in the NIS recruitment exercise is a narrow view of Nigeria unemployment imbroglio. It is disheartening that despite repeated claims by the Federal Government that it has been able to create 1.6 million jobs, there is no demonstrable evidence that that figure has done much to reduce the rate of unemployment and poverty level in the country. Instead, the contrary appears to be the case.
World Bank statistics, last year, put the number of Nigerians living in destitution at 100 million, while its latest report released last week put Nigeria among the five poorest countries in the world. The high rate of unemployment and low per capita income in the country are just two of the indices used by the World Bank in arriving at this assessment.
We are certainly not unmindful of government’s efforts to create jobs. However, programmes such as the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) and the Youth Enterprise with Innovation (YOU-WIN) have only scratched the surface of the job crisis that requires a more comprehensive approach to address. All levels of government in the country need to be reminded that unemployment, especially among youths, is a time bomb for any country. Experience from other nations, including some in Africa, has pointedly shown that youth unemployment could provoke violent revolutions. We, therefore, advise the government to design larger and more realistic programmes for job creation.
However, the private sector also has a role to play in creating employment, as government alone cannot provide all the needed jobs. Unemployed persons, too, will also have to start working towards self-employment, through which they may even provide jobs for others.
Over all, it is important to recognise the fact that Nigeria is in a race against time to address the present job crisis. The problem requires more pragmatic action from both the public and private sectors of the economy, especially the agencies and institutions charged with job creation and implementation of poverty reduction programmes.
This is no longer the time to sit on the fence. Unemployment and poverty have become serious problems that all levels of government must tackle with sincerity of purpose to keep the nation’s youths productively engaged, and out of avoidable trouble.