The Federal Government acknowledged recently that the burgeoning youth unemployment posed a serious threat to security and the country’s socio-economic development. Remarks by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports Development, Olusade Adesola, that our large army of jobless youth is a “great challenge,” align with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s concern that unless urgent steps are taken, the problem could become intractable. That is an understatement: by global consensus, Nigeria’s youth unemployment, put at 52.65 per cent, is a bomb that is ticking louder.
In the corridors of power, there is no lack of awareness of the reality; doing the right thing to change the narrative, however, is an insurmountable hurdle. The forum at which Adesola spoke was a job creation policy initiative jointly organised by the ministry and the International Labour Organisation in Abuja; a few days earlier, in Ibadan, Oyo State, Osinbajo had bemoaned the prevailing high rate of joblessness and declared that only through job creation for its youths could a nation truly develop. Question is: since this administration took office 41 months ago, what is its record in job creation and productivity?
Very dismal. Indeed, so poor that youth unemployment rose to 52.65 per cent by Q4 2017, from 49.7 per cent in the preceding quarter, which translates to 22.64 million persons aged between 15 and 35 years old who were either jobless or underemployed, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Its data showed that 7.9 million jobs were lost January 2016 to September 2017; some four out of 10 Nigerians are jobless or underemployed; its 18.8 per cent official jobless rate was the world’s third highest after South Africa, 27.7 per cent and Greece 20.9 per cent by Q3 2018.
The gravity of the problem is revealed in the reality that over 54 per cent of Nigeria’s rising population of 197 million are below age 35, while the ILO identifies those aged 15-64 as the economically active segment of the populace. With the economy projected by the IMF to grow marginally by 1.9 per cent by year end, amid factory closures, a new, higher public sector wage bill and investors taking flight, the jobless time bomb may explode anytime unless urgent, creative steps are taken to put the restless youth to work.
Like his predecessors, President Muhammadu Buhari refuses to think outside the box or even reach for low-hanging fruits. An economy with low complexity and often run like a primitive fief, Nigeria requires a fundamental restructuring to make it productive and provide jobs for its youth. Instead, the administration repeats the mistakes of the past by tokenistic schemes like N-Power and traderMoni that only scratch the surface when almost 30 million young men and women desperately need jobs, according to an estimate that says 500,000 fresh graduates from our institutions of higher learning join the market yearly. Immediate liberalisation and privatisation, opening up key sectors like mining, steel, railways, ports, airports to foreign capital and modernising agriculture are some quick wins it ignores.
Like other emerging economies with high population like China, India, Brazil and Indonesia, we should adopt strategies to unleash the productive energy of the youth, harness natural resources and promote innovation, technology and small and medium enterprises. Despite turbulence, Brazil’s unemployment rate is 8.2 per cent, Russia’s 4.5 per cent, while India’s averaged 4.05 per cent 1983-2017 and is projected at 3.4 per cent in 2017/18.
An economy that relies on oil and gas that contributed only 8.55 per cent to GDP by May 2018 is doomed. Better to promote investments and modernisation of agriculture that contributed 22.86 per cent and services that added 53.97 per cent. Change comes by critical thinking, planning, strategy and consistent implementation of policies. Malaysia’s economy has been under-pinned by job creation strategies and today, it is transiting from manufacturing to knowledge-based services as embodied in its Multimedia Super Corridor and Biotechnology Policy adopted in 2005 and faithfully implemented since then, irrespective of party or personnel changes in government. Job creating policies include adopting new technologies with high value-added linkages, emphasising ICT, biotechnology, nanotechnology and advanced manufacturing, while the Ninth Malaysia Plan 2006-2010 focused on ICT, SMEs, start-ups and on Public Private Partnership to provide infrastructure.
Here, we hardly follow through on policy: the National Industrial Revolution Plan adopted in 2014 is on the shelf; the National Employment Policy, first adopted in 2002 and reviewed in 2016/17, acknowledged “novel aspects” of Nigeria’s rebased economy – ICT, creative/entertainment/ Nollywood, expansion of the agriculture value chain – that have immense growth and job-creating potential, are not integrated into the policy or actively promoted.
But India’s Make in India programme aims to add 100 million new jobs by 2025 with a stronger role for manufacturing. It backs this up with massive investment in infrastructure. Nigeria too, should fulfil its commitment to make full employment the basic priority of economic and social policies as a signatory to the World Social Summit Declaration in Copenhagen, Denmark 1995, by deliberate action to facilitate massive private investment in agriculture, mining, downstream oil and gas – refineries, petrochemicals depots and pipelines – ports, steel and railways. The current futile template of seeking to solely fund rail, ports and airports is self-defeating; the size and cost of governance continue to inhibit growth and funding for social services. The 36 states and 774 local governments should transform to facilitators of productive activities and job creation. Remaking the union to pave the way for fiscal federalism and resource control is imperative.
Neither the President and his cabinet, nor the 36 state governors should ever again feel comfortable until they drastically reduce the army of our restless, betrayed unemployed Nigerian youth.