Poverty and the Trend of Youth Unemployment in Nigeria

(By Fadipe Olanrewaju Abiodun)

Young men and women, who have put in a decade or two in schools and colleges, have dreams and aspirations. These are dreams of securing satisfying jobs following their years of struggle, meeting basic necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter and healthcare), graduating to a life of comfort and dignity and, eventually, enjoying the luxuries of life. The trauma of seeing their dreams shattered week after week, month after month, can and does lead to deep psychological scars that are very difficult to face at a young age. These can impact any individual’s self-esteem and can lead to clinical depression.

ONE of the greatest challenges facing the Nigerian economy is unemployment which has maintained a rising trend over the years. The total labour force in Nigeria is made up of all persons aged 15-64 years excluding students, home keepers, retired persons and the stay-at-home to work or not interested. Unemployment in Nigeria is defined as the proportion of labour force that was available for work but did not work. Official figures from the Bureau of Statistics puts the figure of the unemployed at 23.90 per cent, about 34 million, but this figure still does not include about 40 million other Nigerian youths captured in World Bank statistics in 2013.

   In 1995, Nigeria recorded its lowest ever unemployment rate with just 1.9 per cent of the country’s population and this is about 2.1 million out of about 111 million of the then total population. Although, a low unemployment rate was recorded in the years 1972 and 1977 during which about 2 per cent of the country’s population are unemployed. The trend veered towards a new direction in 1999, presumably because of a change in government from military to civil rule. That year, about 22 million of the country’s total population were unemployed. It dropped to 16 million the following year (2000). Since 2007 until date, Nigeria unemployment trend has increased as the population size increases. By implication, it means that if Nigeria’s population is 140 million, then 50 per cent of Nigerians are unemployed. Viewing this from the perceptive of the recent events in the Middle East where unemployment and poverty among others played a key role in the uprising, one can only conclude that Nigeria’s unemployment poses a threat to development, security and peaceful co-existence, Nigeria being made up of diverse entities with different cultural and religious backgrounds. These have been exhibited in differences in levels of political, cultural and religious understanding and accommodation.    These have led to concerns over abuse of power, resource allocation, nepotism, negligence and corruption among others.

  The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines the unemployed as numbers of the economically active population who are without work but available for and seeking work, including people who have lost their jobs and those who have voluntarily left work (World Bank, 1998:63). Examples include housewives, full time students, invalids, those below the legal age for work, old and retired persons. This study therefore focuses on the statistical investigation to determine the trend of unemployment in Nigeria.

  If we may refer to causes of unemployment: the first is poor economic growth rate. The overall situation in the country for most part of 80s, 90s, and even in this decade, has been very hostile to economic growth and development. The high level of corruption, mismanagement of public funds, harsh economic policies and the insecurity of the Nigerian environment coupled with long – term despotic rule of the military, among other factors, dampened the spirit of economic growth for a long time. The situation in the 90s was so terrible that analysts have described the period as a lost decade to Nigeria in terms of economic growth and development.

    Adoption of untimely economic policy measures is another cause. The crucial factor that has elicited unemployment problem overtime is the demise of the small scale and cottage industries which operated in both formal and informal sectors. Following the introduction of the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in September 1986 that ushered in liberalisation, deregulation and the devaluation of the domestic currency, many of the emergent domestic firms collapsed. This resulted in the loss of many jobs. Although, these policies were designed to jump start the growth of the economy, but given the structure of the Nigerian economy, some of the policy packages became out rightly inimical to the system due to wrong timing.

   There is, also, what may be called wrong impression about technical and vocational studies. The wrong impression of students about the place of technical and vocational education accounts for the deteriorating state of unemployment in Nigeria. There is an enduring societal biased attitude against technical and vocational education. A large number of job seekers lack practical skills that could give them self-employment. That is why rather than providing jobs for others, the graduate unemployed persons keep depending on the government and the non-vibrant private sector for job offers.

Neglect of the Agricultural sector: The agricultural sector has been the leading provider of employment in Nigeria especially in the 60s and 70s. Then the sector provided employment for more than 60 per cent of the Nigerian population. However, unfortunately, in the wake of oil discovery, the attention on this anchor was gradually drawn away to the oil sector where employment capacity is very low. The resulting effect is the large number of job seekers who have no place in the oil industry. Even with the expansion of the industry, unemployment has continued to grow at an alarming rate.

Poor enabling environment: The poor economic enabling environment that has characterised the economy over the years has continued to pose serious challenges to employment generation. This, coupled with poor security environment, hampers investment drives which by resultantly reduces the prospects of employment generation. Many job seekers who would have embarked on self – employment programmes are unable to do so because of the hostile production environment. Others who make attempt are forced to wind up due to absence of infrastructures and the overall heat of the investment environment.

    What are the consequences of unemployment? Contribution to GDP is low. It is an established economic reality that the size of the workforce directly influences a country’s GDP. Not only does the work force produce manufactured goods or services or agricultural produce in direct proportion, but also brings in its wake increasing purchasing power, which in turn, fuels economic growth. Thus unemployment contributes to a reduction in the potential to spur a country’s GDP.

Unemployment contributes to crime and violence: With growing youth unemployment, the divide between the rich and the poor grows, resulting in social tensions which could affect the entire fabric of a community, state and the entire country (e.g. Boko-Haram). It contributes to drugs abuse. Due to frustration because of not being gainfully employed, most people turn to drugs.

    The most direct impact on the economy of an unproductive labour force is lost output in terms of goods and services. With no income tax to collect and the loss of receipts from indirect taxes such as the value added tax, the government takes in less in tax revenue.

Psychological effect: Young men and women, who have put in a decade or two in schools and colleges, have dreams and aspirations. These are dreams of securing satisfying jobs following their years of struggle, meeting basic necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter and healthcare), graduating to a life of comfort and dignity and, eventually, enjoying the luxuries of life. The trauma of seeing their dreams shattered week after week, month after month, can and does lead to deep psychological scars that are very difficult to face at a young age. These can impact any individual’s self-esteem and can lead to clinical depression.

Family support: In a country like Nigeria, where the people retire when they are not tired and there is no social security net, very often a family depends on a son or a daughter graduating from school or college to take up employment to support the entire family. When that does not happen, the financial woes lead to unimaginable sorrow.

Law and order: It has been established that educated unemployed are likely to take to crime—- whether blue collar or white collar crimes—more easily than others are. This arises out of the theory that they would have, at some stage of their careers, seen good life, even from a distance, and formed their dreams based thereon. When they fail to see these dreams turn into reality, some turn to crime.

Effect on health: It is easy to visualise that lack of steady income could, apart from the foregoing ills, also leads to inadequate nutrition which adversely affects the health of the youth and their families.

Political instability: When unemployment grows in a community, dissatisfaction with the incumbent government follows. This, in turn, leads to frequent changes in governments or formation of unsteady coalitions. Neither is healthy for long term stable economic policies as the situation could lead to a vicious circle of political changes. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt had stated, “Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of our government to give employment to idle men.” Youth unemployment (as also underemployment) therefore means, “The saddest sight that fortune’s inequality exhibits under the sun”.

  In offering solutions to problems of unemployment, it is necessary to summarise the causes of unemployment. Unemployment in Nigeria stems from unequal wages where the political office holder earns more wages than workers in other government organisations, lack of infrastructure, particularly economic infrastructure such as electricity, railway, roads and effective communications between the government and the citizenry. The economy of the country depends only on crude-oil without any effort by our government to diversify. Insecurity in the country discourages both local and foreign investors.   These are topped with corrupt practices that do not allow the government to think seriously and act seriously about unemployment. Against this backdrop, the following recommendations are made:

   The government should introduce welfare package for the unemployed rather than wasting the existing resources through corruption.

All governments should work together to eliminate insecurity in the country. This will encourage foreign private investors to come, and likewise local investors.

   Governments at all levels may also go into partnership with private individuals to establish industries, with the private partner providing the driving force.

Local and state governments should similarly collaborate with meaningful private farmers to modernise agriculture which has a large capacity to reduce joblessness.

   The government should enact a law that will make best youth corpers to be automatically employed wherever they serve.

•Abiodun is a recent graduate of Statistics from Ladoke Akintola University of Technology.

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