Keeping Idle, Angry, and Unfulfilled Nigerians Productively Engaged

Nigerians having been feeling like giants refreshed following the recent pronouncement of the Federal Government of its intention to create 320, 000 jobs beginning from 2013. The proposal which was made known by the Coordinating Minister of Economy, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is already captured in 2013 Appropriation Bill now before the National Assembly.

Lauded as a prospective milestone, the proposal has received much skepticism. The average Nigerian insists that it is not the first time of hearing such a promise; yet none has ever become a reality. The pessimism of this group is well founded in Nigeria’s history of implementing policies which they argue may not be different this time around. However, some analysts wishing that something different may be seen this time around have written enough on how to turn the promise into a windfall for the angry Nigerians kept outside employment market.

Supposing government decides to shock all of us this time around by keeping to its words, though it is not possible, the proposed job opportunities will still be like a slap on the waist if the figure released recently by the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Temi Kale is anything to go by.  In the latest release, Dr. Kale put the number of those out of jobs in Nigeria at 20.3 million, a figure, experts dispute, saying it is understated.  The effort made by the agency in-charge of statistics to convince Nigerians that the number has reduced over the years could not gain acceptance. This is not necessarily because the figure is understated, and the nation’s population soared, but evidence of massive rumpled people on Nigerian streets unable to provide their livelihood heightens fear that the figure is far below reality.

Besides the number of unemployed, Nigeria has a high percentage of underemployed. The underemployment affects production in economic ethics because people are not engaged in their professional fields. A master’s degree holder in the English Language and Linguistics is employed to teach mathematics in the secondary school while a graduate of Mechanical Engineering is employed as a government information officer perhaps because his uncle or father has long legs in the corridors of power; and partly because he featured as a comedian or Master of Ceremony in a ceremony held while at school. Underemployment has also meant that many of those in government employ can no longer afford the basic necessities of life because of low pay.

Painfully too, many of Nigerian graduates are not just unemployed but unemployable. This is due to the decay in our institutions of learning. The implication is that when 320, 000 jobs are given to unemployable graduates, as the exercise will surely be politicized when the time comes, the non-productivity will have a domino effect on the economy and may lead to government austerities that may further worsen the situation of those left out of the labour market. At the end what we will see is a scenario of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

More worrisome is the confirmation by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that the youths form larger part of the unemployed in Nigeria. It does not give a right thinking Nigerian a cause for smile that these revelations are coming despite much publicized government’s effort to root out poverty and unemployment in the land. At various times since the dawn of democratic era, different programmes have been designed and initiated by successive Nigerian government to help create jobs but none has significantly improved the situation.  We know of National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP), Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES), and currently, Youth Enterprise With Innovation (YOU-WIN)

Our experiences with these programmes can irresistibly open up forgotten wounds with the capacity to stir up a revolt against government. Take NAPEP for instance; nobody would have remembered that NAPEP ever existed or worst still exists, if not that the programme allied with Indian manufacturers of tricycle popularly known as ‘Keke Napep’, with the officers entrusted with the programme reaping in kickbacks for being the sole importers of the automobile. The conspiracy of the implementers of the programme worsened unemployment rate in Nigeria. For sure, the heavy importation of the tricycles ignited the nationwide ban on operation of motorcycle popularly known as ‘okada’ around Nigerian cities, a ban which has further kept many of the former operators out of job. Despite being a menial job, many okada operators were actually graduates of Nigerian universities. Today, they have been pushed out of the labour market without any alternative to sustain their livelihood.

Without probing into the pitfalls of other similar economic programmes geared towards reducing unemployment and poverty, it is good to note that many of the programmes have ended without people being aware of their existence. And when the programmes tend to work, they are besieged by nepotism, socio-political patronage and improper management. The result is that if jobs are created, they are given to ghost staff and the money end up going to the pockets of the officials of the agency in-charge.

Unfortunately, there is the Ministry of Labour and Productivity saddled with the responsibility of fighting the rising scourge. The ministry which one would have expected to be at the forefront brimming with initiatives, has reduced its function to resolving disputes between labour unions and the government. And when replacements need to be effected in civil service, what we see is a list of relatives of those close to the powers that be, some bogus names and certificates, thereby denying opportunities to the otherwise credible unemployed. These facts leave us with doubts on the chances of Federal Government turning her proposed 320, 000 jobs creation into reality. If history has taught us anything, it is that Nigeria government has proved incapable of being the sole provider of employment opportunities for her rising population. Nigeria has been unable to solve the unemployment debacle. And keeping youths outside the vortex of economy is risky and an invitation to dangers.

It is known that private sectors are not just possible complements but useful partners in the business of job creation. If private investors are given enabling environment to thrive and to generate job opportunities, Nigerian youth will not just be employed but productively and professionally engaged. This will spring up Nigerian economy and put it at the same pedestal as the Asian Tigers where over-population is turned into opportunities.

In this regard, key areas have been identified with the capacity to provide jobs. These areas noted with potentials to absorb job seekers are agriculture, industry and technology. In these sectors, government has failed woefully. It is interesting that Nigeria has slid from a +$350 million net agricultural commodity flow value (domestic food supply minus food imports) to -$2, 750 million in just two years according to Ton Dietz, the director of African Studies Centre (ASC) in Leiden, The Netherlands. Coming to industry and technology, ICT readily comes to mind. While Nigerians are creating self employment through ICT, the energy coming from this sector is wrongly channeled to crime because positive alternatives are not available. The mad rush by Nigerian youths to explore the opportunities offered by ICT would have been a good booster for industrialization. Unfortunately, it is not.

Servicing of nation’s economy lies largely with the age bracket of the youth. No country can expect peace and progress when her youths are idle, angry, and unfulfilled. Not to engage the youth productively is to allow them engage themselves in crime. The internal security challenges in the country today should be an eye-opener. Time of procrastination should give way to actions otherwise it will not be long and hell is let loose upon the nation because every day now brings further evidence that the way we act sabotages our destiny and strengthens hardship and charges our revolting potentials. 320, 000 jobs, okay! But that is a drop in a mighty ocean. We need to do more and fast too!