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Revisiting youth unemployment

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[FILES] Unemployment

In today’s Nigeria, where the rate of unemployment has reached high heavens, getting a job is an uphill task. Millions of youths are facing daunting challenges in their lives. Unconfirmed reports say each year, about six hundred thousand youths graduate from the country’s tertiary institutions, out of which a meager two hundred thousand manage to get a job, while the remaining four hundred thousand roam about the streets.

The 33.3 per cent unemployment figure released the other day by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that there is no respite. According to the NBS, 23.2 million of 69.7 million Nigerians in the labour market were jobless in the second quarter of 2020.

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Going by the report, it means that since 2000, about 12 million youths have graduated from the country’s tertiary institutions, out of which a meagre 33 per cent got one form of employment or the other, while the remaining 67 per cent are unemployed. It is not uncommon to see young people who graduated for upwards of five years staying without a job. The situation is so alarming.

At this juncture, it needs to be stated that the major cause of mass unemployment is the unending insecurity in the country. The crises of militancy, Boko Haram, banditry, and general insecurity have made the country for any worthwhile economic venture. Government should appreciate the gravity of this problem and do something about it.

Self-employment may be the way out. There are thousands of youths out there who are genuinely interested in self-employment but could not start something due to a lack of startup capital. A carefully planned programme empowering the youths financially will go a long way to reduce the crisis in the over-crowded job market.

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For the purpose of this discourse, I shall be concerned with those in the active labor force; that is, those who are able-bodied and are looking for work. The crux of the matter is that millions of youths are out there on the street chasing too few jobs in a shrinking economy. The situation gets worse daily as the few remaining banks that had taken a large chunk of the youths to keep retrenching staff. Reports say about 1.8 million retrenched people have recently joined the labor market.

Some, especially, in official quarters may argue that the economy is not shrinking given the huge budget outlay proposed annually. But what else can one say of an economy that is recording negative indices in virtually every sector, with the exception of perhaps, crude oil output and its accruing revenue? Leading developed nations like the United States and the United Kingdom have acknowledged that their economies are shrinking, especially, since the 2008 global recession. My aim is not to dabble into the analysis of Nigeria’s economic misfortunes. My concern is to take a closer look at youth unemployment and how to tackle it.

Faced with a worrisome unemployment crisis, what will the youths do? Are they going to sit back and keep hoping that the situation will change? Changing the situation depends on how serious governments at all levels take the matter. If change will eventually come, how soon will that be? These are some of the issues that should bother anyone interested in this matter.

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Unfortunately, Nigeria doesn’t have a leadership that could champion such a cause to its logical conclusion without something happening somewhere along the line to thwart it. Even if the leadership is committed, corrupt government officials who are out to supplant government programs will frustrate it. Funds made available for such purpose would be stolen.

In view of the foregoing, will it not be better for one to brave all odds and seek a personal solution to the unemployment problem? Bearing in mind that what pushed the country into the present economic woe is planlessness, compounded by virulent corruption, dealing with the unemployment situation would take some time. Everybody seems to be looking at the Federal Government to solve the problem while the states and local councils do nothing.

The lack of vision in the management of the economy means that the mistakes that brought us to this point are not being addressed. The leadership still appears unwilling to take drastic measures that would redress the mounting problems. The half-hearted youth employment programmes being applied here and there could hardly make any difference.

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What would the youths do in the face of a crushing unemployment situation? A number of youths who graduated from university, for instance, could consider going back to school for further studies. There is a job for those with higher qualifications. The over 107 universities in the country need doctorate degree holders. The more educated one is the better for job prospects. There is no need to stay at the base where the masses belong hoping to excel from there. It is difficult now. You need to climb to a higher level on the ladder.

Virtually all the youths I have counseled in this manner reacted with dismay. How can I go back to school when there is no money they asked? They cited poverty, lack of money, and family expectations that they should get job on graduation and help train their younger siblings. I agree with that position but with a caveat; to get a job on graduation was what obtained in the past when the economy was buoyant. But we are in an abnormal situation. Things have changed. The economy is sick, very sick, which means, people should adjust their choices and expectations.

Poverty is a common problem in our traditional families. There are few families that are able to meet their basic needs. Any family that is able to train a person in the university would be able to support that person for another year to obtain a master’s degree, which in turn would provide a higher pedestal for a doctorate degree. Most Nigerian universities accept new lecturers who hold master’s degrees with a doctorate in view. This is one way out.

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But anyone who sticks to the old thinking that once you graduate, you get a job and start helping the family, could stay for years jobless. Any youth or family still holding such straight thinking would be making a grievous mistakes. I think it would serve many families better to henceforth, plan for post-graduate studies for their children in order not to be disappointed with the prevailing ugly situation.

The only problem is that going to university in Nigeria nowadays is no longer a straight course because of incessant strikes. The culture of strikes has truncated the academic calendar of the public institutions and also lengthened the time it takes for one to graduate. It takes up to five to six years to complete a normal four-year degree programme in most public universities in Nigeria due to incessant strikes. Therefore, it would be naïve for anyone to think that once he or she gets into the university, he would graduate at the expected time. The graduation time has become open-ended. That, unfortunately, is the reality.

Also, it would be naïve for any youth to be expecting to get paid job after graduation. The wise thing to do is to start early to think of what to do on your own. If one is not going back for higher degrees, the person should prepare the mind in advance to create a job for oneself and others. Government should have a policy to empower this category of youths financially to stand on their own. Failure to do that would lead to youth restiveness, militancy, armed robbery, kidnapping, and a host of other anti-social behaviors that scare away investors.

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