A 2015 World Bank statistics indicates that 100 million Nigerians live in destitution while a recent data from the same body confirms Nigeria as one of the five poorest nations in the world. The nation’s high unemployment rate is partly responsible for this frightening statistics and heart breaking rating. That our country is in deep rooted unemployment web is further confirmed by the highlights of the unemployment and underemployment.
Watch for first quarter of 2015. According to the report, a total of 17.7 million people between ages 15 and 65 either unemployed or underemployed in the labour force in Q1 2015. The report further asserts that the number of unemployed people (861,110 people) in the first quarter 2015 was more than the number of employed people within the same period (504,596 persons).
Similarly, official figures from the Bureau of Statistics put unemployment figure at about 20% (about 30 million), but this number still did not include about 40 million other Nigerian youths captured in World Bank statistics in 2009. By implication, it means that if Nigeria’s population is 140 million, then 50% of Nigerians are unemployed, or worse still, at least 71% of Nigerian youths are unemployed. This is particularly disturbing and counterproductive because at least 70% of the population of this country are youths.
Former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor and now Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, once revealed that while the Nigerian economy grew at the rate of seven per cent for the past six years, unemployment has actually doubled at same period. He submitted that security crisis and internal uprising across the country were products of chronic poverty and mounting joblessness. So, unemployment has grown to become a monster with many faces. Many have become victims of drug addiction, rape cases, kidnapping and other such criminal vices, no thanks to unbearable unemployment situation.
Interestingly, the Federal Government, FG, is aware of the enormity of the unemployment challenge. This, perhaps, is the reason for its much touted 500,000 employment initiative for unemployed graduates. It is a remunerated volunteering programme of a two-year period that engages graduates in their direct communities, where they will assist in improving the shortfalls in the education, health and agriculture sectors. They will own tablets that contain essential information concerning their precise engagements and other such crucial information. They are also to be provided teaching, instructional and consultative solutions in four major focus areas namely basic education, agriculture extension services, public health and community education (civic and adult education). They would also be trained in skills that could enable them exit after two years to reasonably feasible opportunities. They are to be paid a monthly stipend of N30,000.
After initial hiccups, recent reports have it that the first 200,000 beneficiaries of the scheme would soon commence work. Though, in practical term, the programme is yet to take off, major stakeholders such as the Nigeria Labour Congress, Nigeria Union of Teachers and student bodies have lauded the initiative.
Critics of the initiative have, however, called for caution concerning its prospect. To them, it is rather laughable that the FG is exploiting the unemployment situation in the country to further enslave young Nigerians.
To critics of the project, the meager N30,000 pay packages for beneficiaries might further compound the employment woes of young Nigerians as prospective employers could follow suit by offering them peanuts. Besides, critics also wonder whether it is morally rational for the FG to take up 500,000 Nigerian graduates for a job that has little or no future prospect, taking into consideration its two year duration. This, to detractors of the scheme does not really add up.
Another grouse of critics against the scheme is the rationality of government (public sector) directly employing people in a country where the recurrent expenditure is often well above 70% of the budget, especially when considered that many states cannot at present even pay those in their employ and the FG is talking about borrowing from foreign sources to fund the budget. In the 21st century, it is a free market module economy that creates jobs, not governments.
However, my take on the job scheme is that though it doesn’t really represent a resourceful and holistic approach to tackling the excruciating unemployment miseries in the country, it, nevertheless, would help in relieving some of its beneficiaries, albeit temporarily, the pains and frustrations of redundancy. Equally, the skill that some of them would acquire through the various training programmes, as being proposed, could open more and better opportunities for them in life. On the argument that the private sector should take initiative for job creation, as true as this is the way things now stand in our nation, the private sector might not be able to rise up to do that in the next five years. It is a common knowledge that most private ventures in the country have been downsizing in the past few months.
Also, all tiers of government must give adequate attention to development of infrastructure. Weak infrastructure is inimical to job creation and economic growth. The FG, especially, needs to do more in ensuring stable power supply. Small businesses will, no doubt, flourish with un-hindered power supply. Equally, multi-national firms that have closed down due to unstable power supply could come back if the power situation improves. This would not only bring up new jobs, but will certainly restore lost ones.
Ogunbiyi is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos