Population explosion: Separating asset from liability – Part 2
More importantly, a large youth population presupposes a maximum number in the workforce, with dynamic and innovative qualities that Nigerians have routinely exemplified globally. Where it is well-harnessed, that generally implies a productive population that is the hallmark of the industrialised world. It means a lower dependent population and better standard of living. With more taxes from a large population that is productively engaged, enough revenue can be sourced to improve benefits for those in the dependent age group, thus creating a happier society.
Similarly, a healthy and productive population increases a country’s international prestige when looked at in terms of available manpower. It is a guarantee of a respectable voice in the international community and could improve a nation’s standing in shaping global opinion. A large population, when properly harnessed or built as productive capital, is sure to be a source of security against external aggression.
On the comparative scale, the argument favours a large productive population of which Nigeria and other African countries should ordinarily be proud. It forecloses using the European and Western countries’ low fertility model as a measuring rod or model for demographic policies in Africa. However, what is missing continent-wide is turning both human and natural resources into assets of sustainable development. And Nigeria has both resources aplenty.
With a yearly population growth of 2.5 per cent and a stockpile of plentiful energy resources in crude oil and gas, Nigeria should be the envy of the world. The country has the largest population of young people globally, with a median age of 18.1 years. About 70 per cent of the population are under 30, and 42 per cent are under the age of 15.3. This demonstrates that her willpower into a prosperous future will come from her teeming, vibrant youths. None of the 10 most populous countries in the world have such a vibrant energy level!
Already, Nigerian youths are innovative and resilient even where they are not given a chance. And if presented with opportunities, they will excel in all fields of enterprise on the planet earth. Against all odds, young people are starting small and micro-businesses, with many of these providing small to medium-sized solutions. According to the Ministry of Trade and Investment, Nigeria’s over 37.07 million MSMEs account for more than 84 per cent of the jobs in the country. They also account for about 48.5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as about 7.27 per cent of goods and services exported out of the country. This shows that irrespective of their circumstances, young Nigerians are willing to work and create something to lift themselves out of poverty. In entertainment and sports, they are shattering the glass ceiling and challenging the age-long narrative of being leaders of tomorrow. Instead, they are demonstrating that they are capable of becoming leaders in the here and now. In that regard, the Nigerian population is not the problem and there is nothing wrong with the youth, but the quality of leadership that has steadily misplaced national priorities.
It goes without saying that one of the hurdles that await the next administration is the task of evolving a globally competitive population ahead of 2030. The outgoing administration, like others before it, has paid lip service to the plight of Nigerian youths and national development. The next administration, to be impactful, should draw lessons from the likes of Israel and Singapore that have proven that a large population is indeed an asset, not a liability! As such, Nigeria should embark on recalibrating her population as an asset to create wealth and change the narrative.
It begins with firm commitment to national development. Good leadership, in a distressed country like Nigeria, should be rallying all forces towards one objective of rescuing the State from implosion. And the public office holders must be at the forefront and a moral exemplar for all. Such won’t get by with the principle of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Next is the dedication to general well-being, with focus on contemporary relevant education for the mammoth of young ones to knowledgably fit into yawning gaps in value creation. Besides those currently out of school, particular attention should also be paid to those leaving school with zero or poor qualifications. While more skills alone will not necessarily solve the unemployment challenge, there must be opportunity-specific skills certification and re-certification for everyone to find a place in the scheme of things. Even those leaving with top grades should be trained to fit into the labour market, hands-on entrepreneurship and community service education should not be an afterthought.
Nigeria should re-organise technical and non-academic learning. As such, school curricula must be revised for technical and entrepreneurial skills; and technical schools’ subjects should be taught by teachers with the right qualifications, instead of just posting teachers from any high school to teach in technical schools. This is necessary for the graduates to get the necessary skills for jobs and self-employment in the 21st century.
The National Universities Commission (NUC), Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Nigerian Employers Consultative Association (NECA), regulatory bodies in various professions, and the Federal Ministry of Employment, Labour and Productivity should embark on critical review of different skills or knowledge being acquired in Nigeria’s schools at all levels to make them industry- focused such that graduates would be packaged to respond to the needs of employers. Furthermore, the Central Industrial Liaison and Job Placement Unit (CILPU) in various universities in-charge of Student’s Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) should be strengthened for the effective coordination, operation and management of the nation’s future labour force.
In addition, there should be a credible census and issuance of National Identity cards to all Nigerians, to determine the actual population that will form the basis of economic plans. Collectively, developing and managing Nigerian human resources will help advance humanity’s cause and reduce the number of people that live in excruciating poverty in our country and continent-wide.