Unemployment and a nation’s 40 per cent of hopelessness
It is no longer in doubt that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government has become reputed for clarifying problems without proffering solution, What is however worrying is that their (FG) persistent inabilities to promptly respond to the socioeconomic need of Nigerians has adversely turned public affair commentators, development professional and public policy watchers’ to a bunch that keep repeating one topic.
This fact recently played out at a lecture in Lagos delivered by the President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina. Speaking in the lecture, titled: “Nigeria – A Country of Many Nations: A Quest for National Integration”, Dr. Adesina lamented the high rate of joblessness among Nigerians, saying about 40 per cent of youths were unemployed. While noting that the youths were discouraged, angry and restless, as they look at a future that does not give them hope, he, however, said all hope was not lost as youths have a vital role to play, if the country should arrive at its destined destination.
Indeed, Adesina’s insight remains credible and should be encouraged. He spoke the minds of Nigerians. His words and argument are admirable and most importantly, it remains the most dynamic and cohesive action expected of a leader of his class to earn a higher height of respect. However, despite the validity of the above claim, Adesina’s comment is non-newsy. The truth is that in the past six to year years ago, Nigerians have not only become used to such facts and statistics. Rather, unemployment commentaries in the country have become a regular music hall act.
Take as an illustration, in the first quarter of 2021, a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on its website noted that Nigeria’s Unemployment Rate has risen from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter of 2020, to 33 per cent. Aside from making it the second Highest on Global List, the NBS report, going by analysis, shows that ‘more than 60 per cent of Nigeria’s working-age population is younger than 34. Unemployment for people aged 15 to 24 stood at 53.4 per cent in the fourth quarter and at 37.2 per cent for people aged 25 to 34. The jobless rate for women was 35.2 per cent compared with 31.8 per cent for men. The recovery of the economy with 200 million people will be slow, with growth seen at 1.5 per cent this year, after last year’s 1.9 per cent contraction, according to the International Monetary Fund. Output will only recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2022, the lender said. The number of people looking for jobs will keep rising as population growth continues to outpace output expansion.
Nigeria is expected to be the world’s third-most-populous country by 2050, with over 300 million people, according to the United Nations. Unquestionably, while this quadrupling over the last five years, which has attracted varying reactions from well-meaning Nigerians, remains a sad commentary by all ramifications as it is both worrying and scary, the present development demands two separate but similar actions. First is the urgent shift from lamentation and rhetoric to finding solutions via asking solution-oriented questions. The second has to do with the implementation of experts’ advice/solutions to unemployment in Nigeria. This is indeed time to commit to mind the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt, former President of the United State of America that “extraordinary conditions call for extraordinary remedies.”
Beginning with questions, it has become important to ask what could be responsible for the ever-increasing unemployment rate in Nigeria. Is it leadership or the nation’s educational system? If it is faulty education sector-driven, what is the government (both state and federal) doing to rework the policies since education is in the concurrent list of the nation’s 1999 constitution (as amended)? Are the leaders embodied with leadership virtues that the global community can respect? Or moral and ethical principles the people can applaud with enthusiasm?
Experts have pointed out that to arrest the drifting unemployment situation in the country, four sectors of ‘interest’ to watch are: education, science and technology, agriculture and infrastructures. On the educational system in the country, analysts are of the view that the education policies of the 6-3-3-4 system are excellent in the policy statement, but the inability of the financiers to provide the teaching tools for its success has truncated its intended goal and objectives. However, to arrest the unemployment challenge, they added, entrepreneurial programmes should be integrated into the educational system from primary schools to universities. Creativity, courage and endurance are skills that should be taught by psychologists to students at all classes of our educational system.
Nigeria, they explained, has to increase drastically the number of her current Polytechnics, Colleges of Technology and Technical Colleges in relation to the in-explicable very large number of Universities and related Academies in Nigeria’s economy in order to clearly address the training and development of professional and technical skills for Technologies and Industrial goods production in Nigeria’s Economy.
It is important, in my view, that any country like Nigeria desirous of achieving sustainable development, must throw its weight behind agriculture by creating an enabling environment that will encourage youths to take to farming. First, separate from the worrying report that by 2050, global consumption of food and energy is expected to double as the world’s population and incomes grow, while climate change is expected to have an adverse effect on both crop yields and the number of arable acres, we are in dire need of solution to this problem because unemployment has diverse implications. Security-wise, a large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation that does not have job creation at its main objective will not take us anywhere and the agricultural sector has that capacity to absorb the teeming unemployed youth in the country.
The second reason is that globally, there are dramatic shifts from agriculture in preference for a white-collar jobs-a trend that urgently needs to be reversed. In the United States of America, there exists a shift in the locations and occupations of urban consumers. In 1900, about 40 per cent of the total population was employed on the farm, and 60 per cent lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about one per cent and 20 per cent. Over the past half-century, the number of farms has fallen by a factor of three. As a result, the ratio of urban eaters to rural farmers has markedly risen, giving the food consumer a more prominent role in shaping the food and farming system. The changing dynamic has also played a role in public calls to reform federal policy to focus more on the consumer implications of the food supply chain.
Separate from job creation, averting malnutrition which constitutes a serious setback to the socio-economic development of any nation is another reason why Nigeria must embrace agriculture – a vehicle for food security and sustainable socio-economic sector. Agriculture production should receive heightened attention. In Nigeria, an estimated 2.5 million children under five suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM) annually, exposing nearly 420,000 children within that age bracket to early death from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and malaria. Government must provide the needed support by funding, providing technical know-how and other specialised training.
Finally, like Adesina observed at the event: “For Nigeria to be all that it can be, the youth of Nigeria must be all they can be.” The future of Nigeria depends on what it does today with its dynamic youth population. This demographic advantage must be turned into a first-rate and well-trained workforce, for Nigeria, for the region, and for the world. “We should prioritise investments in the youth: in upskilling them for the jobs of the future, not the jobs of the past; by moving away from so-called youth empowerment to youth investment; to opening up the social and political space to the youth to air their views and become a positive force for national development; and for ensuring that we create youth-based wealth.”
Utomi is the programme coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA).
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