Nigeria’s dire employment crisis was brought to the fore again, recently, when the Statistician-General of the Federation, Dr. Temi Kale, put the number of jobless Nigerians at 20.3 million. Although Kale explained that unemployment rate in the country has reduced over the years, it is still unacceptable that such a large number of Nigerians are jobless and unable to provide their own living.
The confirmation by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) that the larger percentage of the employed in Nigeria are youths is also worrisome. It is unfortunate that Nigeria has been unable to resolve the employment debacle that has been undermining the well-being of many Nigerians for a number of years now. More depressing, still, is the fact that many youths have remained stranded outside the vortex of the nation’s economy. This situation portends disaster for any nation. No country can expect peace and progress when its youths are kept idle, angry and unfulfilled. It is a recipe for social unrest and disaster.
This is even more so as we believe that the figures released by the Statistician-General are grossly understated. The percentage of unemployed Nigerians is likely much higher than we have been told, and the number of youths that are unable to find jobs has already reached dangerous heights. Apart from the unemployed, Nigeria also has a high percentage of the underemployed – that is, those whose income are so low that they cannot afford the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter.
It is bad that the employment crisis in the nation persists in spite of government’s much-vaunted efforts to address it. The Federal Government, in recent years, has come up with different programmes such as the Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES) and Youth Enterprises with Innovation (YOU-WIN), to create jobs for the people. These initiatives have only scratched the surface of the employment problem, they have not significantly improved the situation.
The lesson from this is that the Federal Government, alone, cannot provide employment for the people. Beyond throwing the doors of the civil service open to absorb the army of unemployed Nigerians, which is practically impossible, the best way government can create jobs is to provide enabling environment for the private sector to thrive. Flourishing private sector initiatives will provide the much-needed employment opportunities. They will do the job better than public initiatives such as YOU-WIN that can only accommodate limited number of people, and are oftentimes bedeviled with nepotism and other patronage. These schemes are also often not properly managed, and they are largely unsustainable.
They, therefore, cannot achieve appreciable reduction in the number of the unemployed. Youth employment, in particular, has become a time-bomb for Nigeria. Every year, thousands of graduates of tertiary institutions enter the employment market that is already largely saturated. They fail to get jobs and frustrations set in as they cannot meet their basic needs. The NDE, that should provide training and employment creation opportunities for youths, has not been as vibrant as it was in the early years of its operation.
The number of unemployed persons it is able to accommodate under its scheme is too insignificant to make appreciable impact. In addition, Nigerians who should benefit from the services of the organisation are hardly aware of its existence, how much more how to profit from its services. The agency needs to be invigorated and empowered to perform its statutory responsibilities better. The government also needs to design larger programmes for job creation to complement private sector efforts. In this regard, we have not seen much commitment to the effort to reduce unemployment by the Ministry of Labour. Ordinarily, this ministry ought to be brimming with initiatives to address this problem.
It should not limit its responsibilities to resolving problems with labour unions that were instigated by the government, in the first place. Instead, it should be in the forefront of the efforts to keep Nigerians productively engaged. In addition, all persons and institutions charged with implementation of employment and poverty reduction programmes should be properly monitored to ensure that they remain faithful to the stated objectives. In this 21st century, certain key sectors have been noted to have capacity to absorb job seekers.
These include agriculture, industry and technology, especially Information Communication Technology (ICT). Many of our youths who now employ ICT for criminal purposes can be re-oriented towards employment or job creation in that sector. The Federal Government has proposed to create 320,000 jobs beginning from next year. Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the proposal has already been built into the 2013 Appropriation. Although this figure is a far cry from the one million jobs promised annually by the government earlier, we urge that everything necessary should be done to make the fresh promise a reality.