How To Address Nigeria’s Demographic Tsunami (1)

(By Emmanuel Ojeifo)

Last year, the Federal Bureau of Statistics reported that out of Nigeria’s 167 million people, 112 million live in poverty. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die because they are too poor to live. With all our rich human and natural resources as a nation, there is simply no conceivable excuse for this kind of tragedy to be taking its toll on the lives of Nigerians each year. After 53 years of Independence, 13 heads of state, two tested systems of government and various reform programmes and a population approaching 200 million, Nigeria is today ranked 153 out of 186 countries in the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index. Each year, about 18 million young Nigerians enter the labour market and the prospects of providing a decent future for them seems bleak as far as the dire situation of unemployment is concerned.

“These are times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”  – Thomas Paine

THIS stirring quotation from the founding father of the American Revolution vividly captures the present situation of apathy and inertia in Nigeria, especially with regard to the widespread epidemic of youth unemployment that seems to be ravaging and decimating the lives of millions of our country’s youth population. In its Economic Report on Nigeria released in May, the World Bank noted, “job creation in Nigeria has been inadequate to keep pace with the expanding working age population. The official unemployment rate has steadily increased from 12 per cent of the working age population in 2006 to 24 per cent in 2011. Preliminary indications are that this upward trend continued in 2012.” With Nigeria’s present youth population and the proportion of those who fall within the so-called “Lost Generation” as a result of unemployment, we are headed for tortuous days to come unless the government rises to its responsibility of providing a decent life for everyone.

   On April 14, 2012, the New York Times published an article by Elisabeth Rosenthal about the population growth rate in Nigeria. It began by saying: “In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people – a population about as big as that of the present-day United States – will live in a country roughly the size of Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada.” At present, with a population of 167 million people, Nigeria is already the world’s sixth most populous nation and Africa’s most populous country. Of this number, close to 100 million are young people between the ages of 18 and 30. That is the age bracket for people in the most critical stage of life. They can either convert their bustling energy into creative enterprises or channel them into destructive pursuits.

  Last year, the Federal Bureau of Statistics reported that out of Nigeria’s 167 million people, 112 million live in poverty. Every year, hundreds of thousands of people die because they are too poor to live. With all our rich human and natural resources as a nation, there is simply no conceivable excuse for this kind of tragedy to be taking its toll on the lives of Nigerians each year. After 53 years of Independence, 13 heads of state, two tested systems of government and various reform programmes and a population approaching 200 million, Nigeria is today ranked 153 out of 186 countries in the 2013 United Nations Human Development Index. Each year, about 18 million young Nigerians enter the labour market and the prospects of providing a decent future for them seems bleak as far as the dire situation of unemployment is concerned.

    Today, people who are under the age of 40 constitute 70 per cent of the population. According to the renowned British journalist, Michela Wrong, this is a ‘demographic tsunami’ that can either be a blessing or a curse for Nigeria. It is a warning bell and the only thing that has the capacity to determine in what direction it sways is the quality of leadership. As a student of human society, I believe that when poverty clashes with youth, it produces a heavy conundrum. It is even worse when poverty and youth meet with joblessness and idleness.

  From a sociological point-of-view, large-scale youth unemployment is a disaster not just for young people but also for the entire nation. When people graduate from the university with dim prospects of getting jobs, it destroys their confidence in society and leads to segmentation. As the economic stability of the nation falters, so too is the security and hope that young people feel about the future of their country and of their own place in that vision of peace and prosperity. Today, under-30s make up the first generation of young people since the end of the Civil War to have fewer opportunities than their parents. Many of them feel disillusioned and forgotten and they blame the political and business elite for their predicaments.

  Right now, a young graduate in Nigeria has only three options: Unemployment, job insecurity and exile. Those who are lucky to have a job don’t know if they will be able to keep it. Firing young people out of work is cheap, and most companies don’t even know if their own future is guaranteed. As young people try to find an outlet for their frustrations, protests and criminality are brewing all around the place – a message to politicians that young people want change and the same opportunities afforded to their parents. They want jobs and the chance to stay at home instead of going into exile, to find jobs elsewhere. Faced with little in terms of future prospects, many educated youths are taking their skills and qualifications and moving to Europe’s biggest economies in search of jobs.

To be continued.

• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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