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Declaring emergency on youth unemployment

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PHOTO: QUEST FM

The call the other day by the House of Representatives on the Federal Government to declare emergency on youth unemployment merely reaffirmed the fact that despite the much-talked about efforts by government to create jobs for the teeming unemployed youths through different programmes, the unemployment situation is still worsening. The figures released recently by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) underscore this fact.

The call was made following a unanimous adoption of a motion by Messrs Muda Umar, Kabir Tukura and Karu Elisha, titled, “Need to declare a state of emergency on the challenges of youth development in Nigeria.” In the motion, the lawmakers noted that the population of Nigeria, as reported by the United Nations Population Fund, had risen to about 201 million in 2019, with 60 per cent of the population being made up of youths between the ages 15 and 35. The motion is concerned that if the current socioeconomic challenges of unemployment, poverty, drug abuse, insecurity, access to quality educational and economic opportunities, corruption and greed in Nigeria are not addressed, they could undermine the stability and sustainable economic development of the country. Accordingly, the resultant effects on the youths would be increasing crime rate such as kidnapping, insurgency, banditry, armed robbery, cybercrimes, prostitution and other vices. This is already happening.

The House is worried that some of the youths are already being manipulated by politicians to either serve as political thugs during elections or engage in senseless anti-government protests as a result of their vulnerable condition.

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It is difficult to ignore the claim by the House, which believes that declaring a state of emergency on the challenges facing the youths has become imperative given the current circumstances. Though, the House’s concern has re-enforced the worries expressed in different quarters about the rising youth unemployment, it beats imagination that the lawmakers were just waking up from slumber on the monster of youth unemployment. They ought to have risen to the challenge by making appropriate laws before now to address the social malaise.

According to the NBS, Nigeria’s unemployment rate rose from 14.2 per cent to 18.9 per cent in 2017. At the same time, the country’s labour population increased from 83.9 million in the second quarter to 85.1 million in the third quarter of 2017, a difference of 1.2 million.

In its latest report titled, “Unemployment and Underemployment Report from 1st Quarter to Third Quarter 2017” released in Abuja, the NBS said the total number of people in full-time employment declined from 52.7 million in the second quarter 2017 to 51.1 million in third quarter.

At the same time, the unemployment rate increased from 16.2 per cent in the second quarter 2017 to 18.8 per cent in the third quarter 2017. The number of people within the labour force who were in unemployment also increased from 13.6 million and 17.7 million respectively in the second quarter 2017 to 15.9 million and 18.0 million in the third quarter 2017. It stated that the combined total unemployment and underemployment increased from 37.2 per cent in the previous quarter to 40.0 per cent in the third quarter.

During the third quarter of 2017, the report stated that 21.2 per cent of women within the labour force aged 15-64 were unemployed compared with 16.5 per cent of men.

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It is obvious from the foregoing, that the country is facing a grave situation, which requires urgent attention. The hordes of graduates of tertiary institutions that have been hit by unemployment have become a matter of grave concern.

Something needs to be done to redress the situation. The solution lies, not in rhetoric but in a well thought out policy framework. The state of emergency being canvassed by the lawmakers is warranted and should be given serious consideration.

Whereas this newspaper has repeatedly highlighted some of the factors behind the unemployment situation, which include, epileptic power supply, exit of foreign companies and shutting down of many others, poor quality education resulting in ill-equipped graduates, low self-employment culture, among others, truth is that individuals and not government can create jobs.

Absence of technical skill, for instance, has become a problem. Youngsters with technical skill in plumbing, masonry, electrical, furniture making, block-laying and concreting, etc, are lacking. The changing education system has robbed the youths of needed skills for self-employment. Nowadays, Nigerians turn to the neighbouring countries for skilled tradesmen. This is scandalous for Africa’s richest economy.

Organic engagement is the answer. People should be pro-active in creating their own jobs. Unfortunately, agriculture has been abandoned with millions of able-bodied youngsters roaming the cities. Micro employment at personal and family levels should be pursued.

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What is worse, the country is not industrialising and so jobs cannot be created. The products of agriculture are there but there is no value-chain addition.

The negligence of agriculture and other natural resources is a self-imposed punishment. The country is blessed with abundant arable land as well as unutilised natural resources that could employ millions of people if exploited. Government has been long on rhetoric here without action.

The starting point is, we need infrastructure to get things working. Electricity is critical. Without power, the problem can only get worse. We need to plan ahead for graduates being churned out of our tertiary institutions yearly. But we need foresighted leadership to do that. Government should come up with programmes that will put idle hands into agriculture and public works. This will stem the horde of young people taking to criminality. So, the high point here is that government should stop deceiving people about job creation. Unless the organised private sector is galvanised into working, the dream of creating jobs for Nigerian growing and restive youth will continue to be a mirage.

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