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How Nigeria can innovate its way out of youth unemployment crisis


A young man sits atop a wheelbarrow as he awaits a possible customer in Lagos. Photo: Ifeanyi Andrew Ibeh

The World Bank estimates that Nigeria needs to create 30 million jobs by 2030 to maintain its current employment rate – and unemployment is already running at 33%, the second worst rate recorded in the world. What’s more?

Nigeria’s unemployment rate has quadrupled since 2015 and every single month 300,000 more young Nigerian’s enter a job market which is simply not creating enough jobs to give them employment.


Things are particularly bad for Nigeria’s young people – with more than half of 15-24-year-olds currently without work.

So what is to be done for Nigeria’s hopeless generation?

The answer lies in our greatest natural resource – our natural innovation. But the recent Global Innovation Index contains yet more bad news for our nation.

Nigeria has recently been ranked 117th out of 131 world economies for our innovation capabilities, performing particularly poorly for political stability (128th place) and political environment (129th place), as well as university-industry collaboration (122th place) and creative exports (122nd).

The researchers conclude: “Nigeria’s performance is below expectations for its level of development”.


We must do better. The voices of some of Nigeria’s young workless, when interviewed by the UK’s Financial Times recently, were as affecting as they are familiar.

“In Nigeria you have to know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone — and you have to pay someone, who pays someone, who pays someone, before you get that job”

“To get work here is very, very hard… unless you know someone”

“You have people who have graduated for 10-15 years who have no jobs, who now resort to menial jobs or even just living hand to mouth, some are driving kekes because you try and try and try and nothing has happened.”

We need government to support innovative industrial sectors capable of creating the jobs our population literally cannot live without.

It is clear from both the above quotes and the assessment of the Global Innovation Index that we cannot do that without taking steps to build trust in our political institutions.  And innovation can support that too.

This government has gone further than any of its predecessors to support both businesses and young workers.

But too often our young people believe that the key to advancement in Nigeria is not what you know but who you know.

The first step in tacking this is to build trust in our political system and democratic representatives.

At the digital democracy campaign that I lead we are using innovative thinking and technology to bridge the gap between electors and elected.

We have developed a free smartphone app called Rate Your Leader, which puts voters and voted in for in direct peer-to-peer contact – helping both sides understand each other’s needs and wants, and helping them collaborate to make their communities better.


Rate Your Leader not only used abuse-proof technology to keep the conversation courteous and civil, it also lets users rate the responses they get from their leaders – signposting to their friends, neighbours and peers that this credible and reliable source of information and support.

There is no way that Nigeria’s youth will even take the first steps in developing the technologies and businesses that will drive Nigeria’s employment market and economy if they believe that the system is rigged against them from the start.

The first step towards addressing that is helping them see that their local leaders have their best interests at heart.

We are already seeing what innovative businesses created by young Nigerian’s are capable of. Just last month, a Nigerian financial technology start-up called Flutterwave made global headlines after reaching a valuation of $1 billion valuation. A few months before, another start-up called Paystack was acquired by a US tech giant for $200 million. To put this into context, Flutterwave is now valued at the same level as some of Nigeria’s largest banks and makes up 0.22% of Nigeria’s GDP by on its own!

As some observers have already said:

“The skills needed to start a technology company—self-organization and challenging obsolete regulations—are the same as those displayed in recent political protests such as the anti-police brutality movement EndSars in Nigeria”.

Our leaders need to ensure that those skills are channelled towards driving a more prosperous nation more at ease with itself. The first step towards that is to engage with those young people in the places where they want to be engaged.

Joel Popoola is a Nigerian tech entrepreneur, digital democracy campaigner and is the creator of the Rate Your Leader app. Follow Joel on Twitter @JOPopoola



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