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Halting slide into higher unemployment, poverty levels

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When Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo announced that about 39.4 million Nigerians, or 33.6 per cent of Nigeria’s population may be left without jobs by the end of 2020, if the country failed to take proactive measures, many experts and employers acknowledged that the reality had just dawned on the leaders and limits of propaganda reached.

They argued that before the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world with biting effects on economies, high unemployment rate had been prevalent in Nigeria, as many had been left jobless, and thousands of young graduates thrown into the labour market yearly without the hope of being gainfully employed.
 
They urged that now that limits of propaganda have been reached and reality dawned, all hands must be on deck with sincerity and commitment to the people and the nation, to halt the drift and reverse the trend.
  
The recent predictions and Action Plan submitted by the Osinbajo-led, Economic Sustainability Committee (EAC), to President Muhammadu, also mentioned that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may fall between -4.40 per cent and -8.91 per cent.

 
They argued that averting the crisis required a practical, focused and strategic recovery plan involving organised businesses, sincerity on the side of government, and commitment to genuinely see some proffered solutions yield results rather than as conduits for more corruption.
 
The Director-General, Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Dr. Timothy Olawale, who maintained that job creation and economic recovery cannot be discussed without direct input from businesses, said while economic diversification and other recovery strategies could be medium or long term, immediate actions are needed to arrest the slide both in unemployment and GDP growth.
 
He stressed the need to focus specific support like grants and job retention schemes in the real sector, noting a thriving productive sector has the capacity to kick-start economic recovery process by creating jobs, and productively engaging the teeming youths.
  
According to him, as economic activities commence, it will have a direct impact on government revenue, disposable income of the populace, GDP and other areas of the economy. He also urged increased support to the construction industry, because it is one of the sectors that employ the highest low-end skills personnel is construction, adding that Nigeria can wriggle out of the crisis by embarking on large scale construction to build infrastructure.
 
Olawale further called on government to reduce the cost of governance, by cutting down administrative costs, and prioritising the most effective developmental programmes, as this will free up more money for infrastructural spending, and the build-up of fiscal buffers to improve the country’s resilience.
 
According to him, now more than ever, policymakers must be responsive to lessen the effects of the imminent macro-economic crisis, and better prepare Nigeria for the future. He canvassed at least 10 per cent of the GDP to help effectively mitigate the forthcoming crisis, as well as tax waivers to businesses for the remaining part of 2020, and a further reduction to a single digit (7-9 per cent) would help in reflating the economy.
 
He said: “We believe that there is the need for the government to ascertain the quantum of stimulus package that is needed to jump-start the economy and avert the looming crisis. We appeal that the disbursement should be done in close collaboration with critical stakeholders of the economy.
 
“Strategic tax waivers could be instituted in the short term to drive production and job creation. Also there should be effective collaboration with the states to ensure that the Federal and State Governments work towards the same goal, thereby creating employment for her citizens.
 
“The Monetary Policy Committee should consider further reduction of the Monetary Policy Rate (MPR), in order to provide more liquidity in the economy. Corroborating Olawale, the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, who canvassed three critical factors to drive economic diversification, hinged on the quality of infrastructure, the quality of policies, and the quality of institutions. 
 
Noting that it is crucial to get the key parameters right, he also said it was equally critical to ensure proper alignment among the major variables to ensure sustainable economic diversification. He maintained that the key lesson from the current COVID-19 experience and the consequent collapse of crude oil prices is the single biggest shock to the Nigerian economy.
 
However, to stimulate the economy, promote growth and make the economy sustainable, Yusuf said diversification requires the right policy mix for the desired outcomes to be achieved. He also hinged on resource-based industries – agro allied, oil and gas, and manufacturing with high local content as major focus for the diversification, saying that these sectors would strengthen the capacity to create jobs, drive inclusive growth, promote income redistribution, and generally impact positively on the economy. 
 
According to him, resource based industries should naturally get preferences in the deployment of incentives, adding that they have the zeal to promote inclusiveness, poverty reduction, and job creation, which should be a major focus of investment policy.
  
Similarly, the Deputy General Secretary, United Labour Congress (ULC), Chris Onyeka, decried that the nation’s developmental challenges are many and varied, and are not about to go away by waving a magic wand.

However, he hinted on measures Nigeria could take to immediately halt the slide into higher unemployment, poverty and deeper recession. He said most of the measures, designed for short term purposes required sincerity on the side of government and commitment to genuinely seeing them yield results rather than as conduits for more corruption.
 
He canvassed as a matter of urgency, an immediate re-prioritisation of Nigeria’s budgetary allocations in favour of capital expenditures to productive centres. He said the N27billion for National Assembly renovation be stopped immediately, while the fund should be used to form an investible pool for real sectors of the economy.

He said the Federal Government must work with State and Local Governments to stop harassing and destroying the businesses of informal sector, insisting that street trading should not be criminalised, but encouraged through deliberate funding of the value chain to help create jobs needed to stem unemployment and encourage economic growth.
Onyeka canvassed a deliberate policy to assist manufacturers and indeed all businesses in paying part of the wages of their workers as a short term measure to tilt them over this period, to reduce the pressure on businesses and allow them to retain their workers that would have been retrenched.

“Easily accessible loans and grants for start-ups and other small businesses will create jobs, increase economic activities, and help jump-start renewed growth in the economy.

“Massive and deliberate investment in infrastructure development in public utilities, functional hospitals driven by direct labour is critical. This will create jobs and stimulate demand for local products thus help keep manufacturers busy as more of their products are consumed – jobs are retained, new ones created and economic activities increased.”
 
He said the Vice President’s acknowledgment of the imminent danger is even more unsettling than comforting, noting that if the government that is a major player is lamenting, what should the citizens be doing – “mourning and gnashing our teeth?”
 
He said Osinbajo should go beyond the lamentation and pressing the panic button to taking immediate actionable steps. “He is the government and not a bystander! If he can no longer function by any reason, he should inform Nigerians detailing what is preventing him from discharging his constitutional roles so that appropriate actions will be taken by national stakeholders. Shouting that the ship is floundering as the captain is not enough but generations of policies and programs will do better.”


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