Nigerians are still reeling from the aftermath of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment exercise in which an estimated 20 hapless young men and women tragically lost their lives. No matter how one looks at it, the exercise was a depressing spectacle which could easily have been avoided. Top officials of the NIS have a lot of explaining to do, and we are gratified that President Goodluck Jonathan has already ordered a full investigation. The President’s kind gesture in offering automatic employment to the families of the deceased is also welcome. As we noted last week, it is important that the investigation ordered by the President is speedily and transparently conducted, and those found to have been negligent appropriately punished. This is the only way in which the collective memory of the young men and women who perished during the exercise can be honoured.
Be that as it may, the exercise itself is a sad reminder, above all, of the tragedy of youth unemployment in the country and the need for urgent remedial measures. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), 54 per cent of Nigerian youths are currently unemployed. Of this figure, the unemployment rate for young women stands at 51.9 per cent, while the rate for men is 48.1 percent. No country hoping to ascend the ladder of development can afford to have so many young men and women idle or, at best, fitfully employed. An idle hand, goes the old saw, is the devil’s workshop. It is therefore imperative that the government takes the issue of mass unemployment in the country as a crisis that can no longer be kicked down the road. It is time to come up with solutions that will unleash the energy and creativity currently slumbering in millions of young Nigerians.
In the meantime, as the government chews on various possible solutions to the crisis of youth unemployment, something urgently has to be done to curb the current shameful tendency among potential employers of labour of taking advantage of the unemployed through various exploitative methods. Such ruses include placing advertisements for non-existent jobs and charging exorbitant application fees; collecting ‘processing’ fees from more applicants than can be feasibly processed, and in numbers highly disproportionate to the existing vacancies; convoking ‘aptitude tests’ in which hardly any arrangements are made for the safety and health of applicants; and in short, treating the unemployed with absolutely no regard for their humanity, let alone their rights as compatriots.
Unfortunately, these nefarious practices are not limited to ‘recruitment agencies,’ which have mushroomed in tandem with the spiraling rates of unemployment. Regrettably, government parastatals have been caught in the same web of deceit. During the NIS debacle, more than 500,000 desperate young men and women congregated in different venues for aptitude tests for a reported 4,500 or so vacancies. Each of them had paid the sum of N1,000 for the opportunity, as it happens, to be shoved, pushed, and trampled upon. In some government offices, applicants have been pressured to offer a bribe before their applications can be processed, and not too long ago, in Imo state, poor young men and women enthusiastically collected application forms and even paid the attendant fees for phantom jobs. Clearly, the problem of mass unemployment has become a honey pot for many who do not balk at the thought of piling more misery on those who are struggling to make ends meet; and instead of being part of the search for a solution, many government offices are fanning the embers.
It is important that decisive action be taken to eradicate this problem once and for all. First, the Federal Government should open an official register for recruitment agencies as a strategy for rooting out fake recruitment entities. Second, recruitment agencies found to have run afoul of the law must be prosecuted. Third, exercises for recruitment into government offices must be fairly and transparently conducted, taking advantage of the most up to date information technologies.
In the long run, both the government and the private sector must collaborate in confronting the problem of youth unemployment. This is the most effective way to undercut those seeking to capitalise on the desperation of the unemployed.