(By Adewale Kupoluyi)
“By the 1960s, the country was already a leader and a force to be reckoned with as the world’s largest exporter of groundnuts and palm produce and the third largest producer and exporter of cocoa. The diversity of natural resources then gave each region a mark of identity. For instance, cocoa was grown in the Western region and groundnut was largely grown in the Northern region, resulting in massive employment for the people. That legacy could not be sustained due to over-dependence on oil, which has provoked the question of whether it’s a blessing or curse?“
FOR a long time to come, Nigerians will not forget so easily, the aftermath of the sad experience of a large number of young males and females that participated in the recruitment exercise into the Nigeria Immigration Service. At the end, scores of innocent applicants met their untimely death, while several others were reported to have sustained varying degrees of injuries. Albeit, what is certainly clear to everyone from the whole saga is that the nation is inundated with an acute problem of gross unemployment.
The country’s high rate of youth unemployment gives one serious concern as thousands of graduates continue to leave tertiary institutions with no prospects of getting jobs, year-in-year out. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had raised concerns over rising unemployment and poverty levels in Nigeria. The UNDP had observed that for over a decade now, the country has been recording consistently, high economic growth rate without producing commensurate employment opportunities, drastic reduction in poverty and sustainable development. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria’s unemployment rate averaged 14.60 per cent from 2006 until 2011, as it declared that “each year, about 1.8 million young Nigerians entre into our labour market and we need to ensure that the economy provides jobs for them.”
Our children have perpetually been turned into street hawkers and teenage female roving traders, who are constantly faced with the threats of kidnapping and sexual molestation by depraved adults. Many university undergraduates – due to lack of any means of livelihood – engage in drug trafficking, armed robbery, high class prostitution, political thuggery, and advance fee fraud, just to survive. University graduates were recently reported to be scrambling in their hundreds to fill vacancies for truck drivers. These 13,000 Nigerians with PhDs, Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in various disciplines were allegedly said to have applied to be drivers in the Dangote Group! Getting any type of job is almost a mirage in Nigeria; the advertisers themselves and the influential in the society at the detriment of the common man usually fill most vacant positions. This speaks volume and confirms the woeful state of the economy.
If care is not taken, civil disorder could be the obvious consequence of high youth unemployment because these jobless fellows are restive and constitute not only social liability unto themselves; they are also a big burden on the other few people that are working, as if they too are not working because of the ever increasing demand from others. Not too long ago, former President Olusegun Obasanjo warned the Federal Government of the possibility of having the “Arab spring” experience in Nigeria, if the rate of “unemployment”, is not checked without delay.
Going down the memory lane, Nigeria has operated a mixed economy with prospects for economic growth, which has been brightened with the discovery of oil by contributing more than 66 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Agricultural activities, such as farming, livestock production, forestry and fishery have contributed far less from what it was before the advent of oil. By the 1960s, the country was already a leader and a force to be reckoned with as the world’s largest exporter of groundnuts and palm produce and the third largest producer and exporter of cocoa. The diversity of natural resources then gave each region a mark of identity. For instance, cocoa was grown in the Western region and groundnut was largely grown in the Northern region, resulting in massive employment for the people. That legacy could not be sustained due to over-dependence on oil, which has provoked the question of whether it’s a blessing or curse?
Perhaps, the Federal Government, not unmindful of the spectre of unemployment and increasing insecurity in the land, has formulated many policies in a bid to curb this growing monster. For example, the government recently introduced the National Job Creation Scheme with a seed take-off allocation of N50 billion. It also made a provision for the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (You Win) Programme, which was expected to create about 100,000 jobs and the Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P), which was newly introduced by the Jonathan administration.
The 2012-2015 Medium-Term Fiscal Framework was equally designed to create jobs with agriculture as the pivotal sector for employment opportunities. This is because the sector has potential for growth as well as the capacity to absorb a large percentage of the unemployed. Despite these attempts, the rate of unemployment seems to be astronomically tending towards a crisis point, chiefly because the programmes do not reach their targets. Therefore, the nation should review its strategy and adopt a combination of a feasible and less restrictive macro-economic policy in terms of expansion of infrastructure investment and the stimulation of other ‘real’ jobs, involving public and private partnerships.
Entrepreneurial development, with emphasis on the retraining of small investors is a good strategy to solving or reducing unemployment because there is the ever need for a mechanism to develop the skills of unemployed graduates. Additionally, there should be massive investment in infrastructural projects such as railways, power, roads, refineries, petrochemicals, mining, agriculture, water supply, irrigation, health and rural development. As is done in other progressive climes, the government should embrace the private sector specifically, to help revive our comatose industries in the areas of food processing, textiles, hides and skins, furniture, burnt bricks, leather and footwear, pharmaceutical industries and solid minerals, through virile reform that would bring about cheap access to capital, tax and tariff regime, export-stimulation, credit management, strict enforcement of standards, import regulations, anti-smuggling laws and genuine waivers.
Basically, serious attention must be paid to agriculture and allied industries by all tiers of governments as the vehicle for employment generation. It is counter-productive for the nation to be mobilising and sharing revenue from a mere monolithic economy. There is an urgent need for governments – federal, state and local – to cut spending on governance and bureaucracy and rather devise ingenious avenues for expanding their revenue base by venturing into diverse areas of commerce. It is high time government began subsidising credits to sectors that are likely to be able to generate employment while tax incentives could be deployed to attract investment in labour-intensive areas.
There is also the need to urgently provide solutions to the mismatch between education outcomes and skills demand, to ensure that the country’s educational system provides the necessary skills required by ensuring that there is not much emphasis on paper qualifications at the expense of entrepreneurial skills. As of now, most of the curricula of institutions of higher learning are completely out of tune with modern day realities. It should be realised that the supply of labour for development is dependent on increasing the skills of the youth to improve their productivity and market value. If this re-orientation had been put in place, the mammoth crowd that trooped out for the poorly coordinated recruitment exercise into the Nigeria Immigration Service would not have been witnessed.
While it is appreciated that the government alone cannot address the disturbing unemployment situation in the country, we should realise that the private sector too has its role to play but there should be the enabling environment. This is a mission that must be accomplished. It is a constitutional obligation for the government to be awake to its core responsibility of providing gainful employment and enabling other employment generating avenues. This should be transparently and vigorously pursued.
Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.
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