Nigeria - Looming youth unemployment crisis
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by FricNews · Nov 08, 2019 - 9:11
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By Punch Editorial Board

Concerns expressed recently by the African Development Bank about the desperate lack of decent job opportunities for Nigeria’s teeming youth population are legitimate and spot on. Beyond mirroring the present state of affairs, they also foreshadow the forlorn future being bequeathed to this class of unfortunate Nigerians, who are also the future of the country. Admittedly, such concerns are not new, but coming from a respected international organisation, there are hopes that the Nigerian authorities would be jolted out of their present inertia into urgent action to turn things around.

It was indeed a sobering moment for Nigerians when the Senior Director, Nigeria Country Department of the AfDB, Ebrima Faal, described the unemployment situation in the country as not only frightening, but also catastrophic. In 2013, a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, had also raised serious concern about youth unemployment in Nigeria, which he likened to a time bomb. “We have almost 150 universities in this country, turning out these young Nigerians every year but without jobs for them,” he lamented. Again, in May, it was the turn of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, to make his own appraisal, describing the rate of unemployment as alarming.

Their opinions could not have been more apt, as the country’s youths are currently experiencing a most torrid time. More than 10 million of them are classified as out-of-school – the largest of such a group in the world – and are therefore left with little or no hope for the future. They constitute the pool from which groups like Boko Haram and bandits draw their membership. But those who have graduated from universities are, sadly, also roaming the streets, looking for what to do.

Unemployment rate has been put at 23.63 per cent and underemployment at 16.6, climbing up to 33.5 per cent in 2020. Youth unemployment and underemployment are 55.4 per cent, says the National Bureau of Statistics. Years of economic mismanagement and absence of policy direction by successive administrations have driven the economy to the precipice. Things are only expected to get worse unless there are concrete plans for job creation. Programmes such as N-Power and TraderMoni are merely tokenistic or cosmetic, which is why poverty has become so endemic in the country.

About 11 million Nigerians are actively looking for work, the NBS adds. The number is growing. For a country whose economy has been struggling in the past five years, caught in spells of recession and stunted growth, the future can only be ominous. Government programmes of job creation have been failing because it is not the job of the government to directly create jobs for every Nigerian. The government can only provide an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs.

One very important factor militating against adequate job creation has been the absence of stable power supply for Nigerian manufacturers to compete with their counterparts the world over. It is shameful that Africa’s largest economy runs on over 3,000MW of electricity, while the second largest, South Africa, boasts over 52,000MW. A Reuters report of May 2018 put the amount of electricity usage in New York City, in the United States, at 33,956MW in 2013. “In 2017, demand peaked at 29,699MW, which was 7.4 per cent below 2016’s peak of 32,075MW,” said the report, quoting New York Independent System Operator.

Before the advent of democratic rule, Nigeria was running on a little over 2,000MW. Twenty years after, the situation has not changed drastically. In fact, with the expansion of the economy and growth in population, it can only be said that the situation has worsened. Experts have consistently averred that without electricity, there is no way adequate job creation can take place.

Interestingly, Faal was particularly worried about the impact of population growth on the fate of the Nigerian youth population, which he said would hit the 130 million mark by 2063. “As the most populous nation in Africa, the World Population Review estimates that the population of Nigeria is expected to double – from 200 million today to 413 million people by 2050,” he said. No country can allow its population to be growing uncontrollably, without matching infrastructure provision and job creation for the teeming youth.

This is the time for Nigeria to take a second look at her population that is growing faster than the rate of economic growth. When China, the most populous country in the world, was having problems dealing with a rapid and uncontrolled population growth, the country came up with the one-child policy – limiting each family to one child. To run concurrently with that policy was a comprehensive economic plan that has now propelled that country into the forefront of economic and technological advancement. Aside from successfully controlling her population, China is now threatening to overthrow the US as the largest economy in the world, having long overtaken Japan hitherto the second largest.

Here in Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to take 100 million people out of poverty in the next 10 years, but this appears to be just a political statement. There is no concrete plan to see this through. After more than six decades of oil find in Nigeria, the country is still dependent on imports for her refined petroleum products, thus creating jobs abroad at the expense of Nigerians. Buhari may not have started it, but he is not lifting a finger to stop it.

To demonstrate his sincerity, he has to liberalise the railway and oil sectors to ensure solid private sector participation. He should also sell off the four moribund but money-guzzling refineries, which over 25 years of mismanagement has proved that the government cannot run effectively. Although some modest progress has been made in the ease of doing business, more needs to be done to encourage new businesses and a private-sector-led economy. Attracting foreign direct investment will also go a long way in creating jobs.
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