By Jerome-Mario Utomi
‘For a nation to move forward both politically and socio-economically, the leaders must demonstrate esteem for talents, actively encouraging able men, and honoring those who excel in their profession. And encourage their citizens so that they can go peaceably about their business, whether it is trade, agriculture or any other human occupation’- Anonymous
It is a general knowledge that Nigeria is a vast country with vast problems that disrupt its progress- corruption, insecurity, unemployment, and lack of energy. But one need not pause to know that the most pernicious of all these challenges is youth’s unemployment as a large army of unemployed youths often always becomes a security threat to the few that are employed. And one of the cardinal promises of the APC during the 2015 electioneering was massive job creation for the army of young unemployed graduates in the country. That promise and a legion of other similar promises ‘conspired’ to give the party victory at the polls.
Five years after that promised employment creation, President Muhammadu Buhari, recently, precisely on Friday 12th June, 2020, during the nationwide broadcast to mark the democracy day celebration, informed Nigerians that his administration’s Social Investment Programme has continued to be a model to other nations. As it has recorded the following results; engaged 549,500 N-Power beneficiaries, 408,682 beneficiaries of the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme and 2,238,334 beneficiaries of the Growth Enhancement and Empowerment Programme, registration of 774, 000 Nigerians youths for employment in progress. These youths, he submitted, will be engaged in Special Public Works Programme aimed at cushioning the effects of economic downturn. Each of the 774 local government areas in the country will be allotted 1,000 slots.
Unarguably a well thought out plan and an alluring scorecard. The initiative becomes even more attractive when one remembers the experience of the general election in the country where jobless Nigerian youths flood every political campaign grounds in their numbers for illicit electoral responsibilities while looking up to the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. The events of that period really demonstrated that youth unemployment is rapidly on the increase and may not end suddenly unless something dramatic is done by the government.
However, this widening stride by Mr. President notwithstanding, the grinding truth is that considering the fact that unemployment rate is currently well above 26% and underemployment about 16%, says the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), such staggering figure renders the planned employment of the 774,000 youths as not only insignificant but not good enough.
Also, as subsequent paragraphs will reveal, there exists ingrain factors that characterize this scheme by the Federal Government as a mere palliative that cures the effects of an ailment while leaving the root to flourish, there are other concerns/factors that plagues the programme.
First is the politicization of the programme. It was in the news a while ago that disagreement over control of the programme exists between the Joint Committees on Labour of the Senate and the House and the Honourable Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo. While lawmakers going by reports, argue that they ought to have an input on how the programme should be implemented- in other words, they sought to control the programme as to who gets what, where and how, Keyamo shared a different opinion. A development that purportedly forced the Joint Committees to suspend the work of the Selection Committees nationwide until they decide how the programme should be run and who should be in those Committees. Even if the rancore is resolved amicably, it will not in any appreciable way uplift the life chances of the youths as it plagued with short duration and ‘peanuts’ as remuneration.
While I sympathize with these youths on whose shoulders rest on the crushing effects of unemployment, it is important to state that solution to youths unemployment in the country lies neither in this mechanically manufactured program or similar politically motivated ones in the past but on carefully planned and execution of certain economic policies which should chiefly revolve round entrepreneurship and skills development.
Lamentably, the nation’s educational system did not in any way help the situation as it was structured without recourse to entrepreneurship and skills development from kindergarten to the university. That informed why everybody heads to the labour market upon graduation thereby increasing the sea of heads labouring in vain in the already saturated labour market.
While the nation keeps the above awareness in mind, it is important to add that the current unemployment challenges call for an urgent attention and concerted effort by government as the nation is currently in ‘dire need of solution to this problem because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, ‘large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation that does not have job creation as its main objective will not take us anywhere”.
To explain; if the government has done anything substantial in this direction, Nigerians will not have to look very far to see the impact. And my concern is not what the federal government intends to do or is capable of doing. Rather, my concern is about what they are presently doing, and if it’s in the best interest of the Nigerian youths?
Now, look at the danger of such wicked neglect.
First, aside from the fact that youths unemployment has put us in a position of appearing before the world as a people that lack plan for their future leaders, the situation impels the watching world to conclude that government is unmindful that youths unemployment comes with challenges that cuts across, regions, religions, and tribes. Of which such has in the past led to the proliferation of ethnic militia as well as restiveness across the country.
Notably, this threat has become even more pronounced not just in the southern oil-rich region of the country with the chunk of the proponents spearheaded by the large army of professionally-trained ex-militants currently without a job. But in the northern part were the Almajiris who are on the increase by the day.
Very instructive also, our leaders may be ‘winning political positions’ but their inability to turn these victories into better lives for the youths through job creation and other social programmes is beginning to generate questions about their integrity.
I hold the opinion that the government must do something to help the youths come out of this challenge. It Is in the interest of the government to create jobs for the youths as a formidable way of curbing crime and reducing threatening insecurity in the country. It should be done not merely for political consideration but from the views of national development and sustenance of our democracy.
To get started, it will translate to great steps taken in the right direction if the Federal Government could overhaul agencies such as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the Presidential Amnesty Office to be more responsive in job creation and youths capacity building.
In the same token, getting both the nation’s academic curriculum and the National Youths Service Corp (NYSC) scheme to accommodate entrepreneurship and skill development- with the likes of the National Industrial Training Fund (NITF) and the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) equipped to handle youth’s skill training with startup funds made available.
Very importantly, creating a productive collaboration between the government, private organizations and civil society groups during this window of vulnerability that will act as both a crucial enabler as well as a means to an end should be an urgent task before the government.
Youths on their part must recognize that ‘the future is full of promises as it is fraught with uncertainty. That the industrial society is giving way to one based on knowledge’. They must, therefore, learn to be part of the knowledge-based world.
While this is ongoing, the Federal Government should as a matter of urgency take steps to address the current energy challenge in the country. Achieving a stable power regime will guarantee the peaceful existence of both the medium and small scale industries. It may also bring back multinationals that fled this country at the wake of the nation’s energy crises. This will go a long way in throwing Nigeria’s monster-youth unemployment which breeds all manners of restiveness. A stitch in time, definitely, will save Nigeria’s dangerously burgeoning “unemployment nine”!
Utomi is a Lagos-Based Media Consultant.