Massive Unemployment As Millions Of Nigeria Graduates Roam the Streets
Vice-President Namadi Sambo admits the failure of successive governments to stem joblessness and university graduates are reported to be scrambling in their hundreds to fill vacancies for truck drivers, the seriousness of Nigeria’s unemployment crisis situation is palpable indeed. President Goodluck Jonathan and his team must come up quickly with intelligent and robust job-stimulation schemes to avert a social explosion from the mass of unemployed citizens.
And there is much to worry about. The news that about 13,000 Nigerians with PhDs, Masters and Bachelor degrees in various disciplines applied to be drivers in Dangote Group is deeply troubling. The development confirms the woeful state of the economy, which has produced over 60 million jobless persons in a population of about 167 million, according to the National Directorate of Employment.
Experts say the figure of 23.9 per cent unemployment published by the National Bureau of Statistics has probably risen, swelled by thousands that have since left school, completed the mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme or been retrenched since the data was collated in December 2011. Among the youths – the most productive segment of any population – over 50 per cent, according to the NBS, are said to be jobless though the World Bank puts the figure at 56 per cent. The Ministry of Labour and Productivity acknowledged in 2011 that over 41 per cent of Nigerian graduates can’t secure jobs after their youth service year.
Unemployment has been growing globally following the ongoing economic recession. However, according to the International Labour Organisation, national governments have adopted various measures to tackle it. While the Nigerian government also acknowledges the problem, it fails to identify the fundamental causes of an unusually high jobless rate in the resource-rich country. That is why Jonathan bought into the cosmetic Youth Enterprise and Innovation (You-Win) programme sold to him by the Finance Minister and Coordinator of the Economic Management Team, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The scheme aims to train young entrepreneurs, create 80,000-110,000 jobs over three years and cost N10 billion. The government is also promoting Community Services, Women and Youths Employment Project under the controversial Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme that targets employing 320,000 unskilled youths, women and the physically challenged each year. Laudable as these seem, they are too little and are not even guaranteed to succeed.
When over 20 million educated youths are roaming the streets in search of jobs, you go for bold moves, not palliatives to create jobs. Confronted with record unemployment on taking office four years ago, United States President, Barack Obama, did not set up committees like our Aliko Dangote-led National Committee on Job Creation. Instead, he devised a series of stimulus spending plans with the single-minded target of creating jobs. Ours cannot be solved by the timid, bureaucracy-creating schemes that Okonjo-Iweala is promoting. The government needs to change the direction of its economic policies and spending and target what a former World Bank Vice-President, Jeffery Sachs, describes as jobs-led growth.
But time is running out. Civil disorder is the most obvious consequence of high youth unemployment. The riots in London and throughout the UK, which took place from August 6-10, 2011, are an example. Unemployment bred the anger that set off the Arab Spring in motion. Speaking at the weekend, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, said because there was no serious, concrete, realistic, short and long-term solution to youth unemployment, he saw a revolution in the making. He was quoted as saying, “I’m afraid, and you know I am a General. When a General says he is afraid, that means the danger ahead is real and potent.”
But the problem is not intractable. What have been lacking are the seriousness, sound policies and creative job-creation plans by successive administrations, including Obasanjo’s. The keys to absorbing the millions of the jobless are massive investment in infrastructure – roads, railways, power, refineries, petrochemicals, mining and agriculture. The United Nations Development Programme recommends that developing nations reduce their bureaucracy and invest in highways, agriculture, education and training, water supply, irrigation, health care delivery and rural development. Studies by the Nigerian Economic Summit Group echo strong suggestions by the International Monetary Fund that the private sector be encouraged to invest in and run power plants, railways, downstream oil and gas facilities, steel plants, airports and our 11 under-utilised river basin development authorities.
These activities will naturally create millions of jobs. The government should liberalise key industries through the repeal of obsolete, investment-inhibiting laws and provide necessary incentives to encourage private investment. For instance, Nigeria suffers incalculable harm by the refusal to repeal the Railway Act of 1955 and implement the rail master plan drawn up by the Bureau of Public Enterprises to open the floodgates for foreign direct investment in the sector and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Selling the four moribund, loss-making refineries will free government from the corruption-fuelled plan to spend another $1.6 billion on their turnaround maintenance. That sum will, if intelligently directed to small and medium-scale enterprises, create millions of jobs. If the government is serious about creating jobs, it should complete and implement the reforms on the solid minerals initiated by a former minister, Oby Ezekwesili, as private sector exploitation of minerals not only provides massive employment, but also stimulates processing and manufacturing and boosts exports.
The government should partner with the private sector to revive the textiles, hides and skins, furniture, food processing, burnt bricks, clay, leather and footwear, as well as pharmaceutical industries through reform of the tax and tariff regime, export-stimulation and credit management and strict enforcement of standards, import regulations and anti-smuggling laws.
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