How To Address Nigeria’s Demographic Tsunami (2)

(By Emmanuel Ojeifo)

I am, therefore, certain that in order to change the plot of our story, our country badly needs a band of sincere and committed leaders who are passionate about unlocking the doors of prosperity for the poor and jobless Nigerians. We need leaders who can build a policy for governance marked by an extraordinary combination of sober realism and visionary idealism with regard to unemployment; leaders who can translate the abstract rhetoric of democratic principles into practical politics in helping us to break out of the puzzling cycle of our problems. 

Continued from yesterday

IN this light, I believe that unemployment is really the tip of the iceberg of problems faced by young people. If we look beyond that, we have got big increases of young people in precarious insecure jobs and people juggling many part-time jobs. In other words, the focus on unemployment makes the problem look smaller than it is. Many initiatives aimed at supporting young people and getting them into jobs are coming short. They focus only on the narrow definition of youth unemployment – those between the ages of 15 and 24. But this forgets the fact that in many places, including Nigeria, students leave university later and only enter the job market as late as age 30 or more. With the few jobs available doled out on the basis of the applicant’s “social connection” and not on merit or competence, we end up with a society where social injustice becomes an institutionalised system of government in which the cult of mediocrity takes a front seat in the choice of people who occupy public positions.

   I believe it was this situation that the late Prof. Chinua Achebe was lamenting in his 2012 memoir, There was a Country, when he wrote: “The denial of merit is a form of social injustice that can hurt not only the individual directly concerned but ultimately the entire society. The motive for the original denial may be ethnic discrimination, but it may also come from sexism, from political, religious or some other partisan consideration, or from corruption and bribery. However, whenever merit is set aside by prejudice of whatever origin, individual citizens as well as the nation itself are victimised.”

  It goes without saying, therefore, that deepening understanding of our problems is crucial to solving them. In this light, we need to understand that the crisis of youth unemployment is not an exclusively Nigerian problem but a global phenomenon. In the Eurozone alone, more than 26.5 million people are out of work, and young people have been hit the hardest. As of March this year, 23.5 per cent of youths in the European Union between the ages of 15 and 24 were unemployed and searching for jobs. The situation is most dire in Eurozone countries that have required a bailout: youth unemployment in Greece is more than 62.5 per cent with Spain close behind at 55.9 per cent. In Nigeria, unemployment rate for the year 2011 stood at 23.9 per cent with youth unemployment rate at over 50 per cent. In comparison to other African countries, the story does not get any better. Unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 25.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2013 from 24.9 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2012. Kenya’s unemployment rate reached an all-time high of 40 per cent in December of 2011. Ghana, Nigeria’s close neighbour, had an unemployment rate of 11 per cent in 2012. The population in the 15-24 age group has an unemployment rate of 25.6 per cent, twice that of the 25-44 and three times that of the 45-64.

  All of this implies that our attempt to marshal out solutions to the crisis must take on a holistic approach: we think globally and act locally. This understanding will help our nation to articulate and implement good public policies that will create jobs and take care of the emerging needs of our present youth population. Secondly, we have to understand the impact of youth unemployment on wider social pathologies such as poverty, social unrest, street protests, armed robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking and crime. This understanding will help us to find a long-term recipe to unlock rapid growth in larger part of the country as well as to increase in the standard of education, healthcare, transportation and other essential social services. Thirdly, no one should be under the illusion that only the government holds the magic wand to fight unemployment and poverty. However, government needs to provide the enabling environment that will make both the formal and informal private sectors to thrive.

  As Mallam Nasir El-Rufai has said in his recent book, The Accidental Public Servant, “in order for the private sector to flourish, the public sector needs a certain minimum level of functionality.” We cannot as a country continue to run mini-governments made up of a handful citizens who have the wherewithal to provide essential social services for themselves in those areas where the government is failing. We joke about it, but that is one of the sore points of our national problems. If public electricity supply is deficient, we buy our own generators. If public water supply is not working, we sink our own boreholes and install our own water treatment plants. If the roads are bad, we buy our own FWD (four-wheel drive). When the clinics and hospitals are in bad condition, we fly our sick family members overseas for treatment. Now that the public air transport seems unreliable, many prominent Nigerians are buying private jets and helicopters.

   All these are symptoms of a failed state and they raise a whole new question about leadership and governance, which require a whole new level of political thinking. We need a government that understands the real challenge of harbouring millions of young people with bustling energy who happen to be jobless in a country that is already notorious for social uprisings. As an avid follower of the currents of social history, I understand that it is this kind of frustration among a roving army of jobless and disillusioned young people that gives rise to social revolutions. We have to learn anew from countries such as Syria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia how not to govern people.

   I am, therefore, certain that in order to change the plot of our story, our country badly needs a band of sincere and committed leaders who are passionate about unlocking the doors of prosperity for the poor and jobless Nigerians. We need leaders who can build a policy for governance marked by an extraordinary combination of sober realism and visionary idealism with regard to unemployment; leaders who can translate the abstract rhetoric of democratic principles into practical politics in helping us to break out of the puzzling cycle of our problems.

   With this in mind, we need to become aware that solutions to our national problems must purposefully engage youth at all levels. Our youth generation has the passion, the dynamism and the entrepreneurial spirit to shape the future. We should stop talking about what we can do for them and begin to focus on what we can do with them (collaboration, synergy). As noted in the British Council Report, ‘Next Generation Nigeria’ commissioned in 2010, “Youth, not oil, will be Nigeria’s most precious resource in the twenty first century.”

Concluded.

• 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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