The recent revelation by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) that the nation’s unemployment rate rose to 12.1 percent in the first quarter of 2016 is disturbing. The NBS Unemployment Watch said the population of unemployed Nigerians  increased by 518,000 to over 1.45 million between December 2015 and March 31, 2016.

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It, however, noted a marginal increase in the number of economically active or working age population, from 105.02 million in the fourth quarter of 2015 to 106 million at the end of March 2016. Also, the actual population of people willing, able and actively looking for work increased by 1.99 percent, from 76.9 million to 78.4, within the same period. The report further said that the failure of government to meet its target of creating a minimum of 1.5 million jobs during the period to keep the unemployment rate constant at 10.4 percent before the end of December 2015 worsened the unemployment situation.
The agency based its computations on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition, which described unemployment as the population of persons aged 15-64 who, during the reference period, were available for work, actively seeking for work, but were unable to find work.
The report, however, shows that an additional 1.53 million economically active persons joined the labour force between January 1 and March 31, 2016. Another positive aspect of the findings is that the number of Nigerians in the economically active population, who chose not to actively look for work, declined from 28.06 million in December 2015 to 27.5 million by the end of March 2016. The number of underemployed persons, or those compelled by circumstances to do largely menial jobs that are not commensurate with their qualifications, or not fully engaged for at least 20 hours during the period, increased by 607, 613.
Underemployment rate was said to have increased by 18.7 percent   (to 14.41 million) in the last quarter of 2015 to 19.1 percent (amounting to 15.02 million) in the first quarter of 2016.
In all, the report said that women were more affected by unemployment and underemployment than men. Comparatively, while 14 percent of women in the labour force age bracket were unemployed in the first quarter of 2016, another 22.2 percent were underemployed during the same period under review. The most worrisome aspect of the report is that youth unemployment grew from 14.46 percent in the last quarter of 2015 to 16.39 percent in the first quarter of 2016.
These scary unemployment figures are hardly surprising. The current cash crunch occasioned by the crash of crude oil price in the international market, the poor exchange rate of the naira to other convertible currencies and the country’s worsening electricity crisis are recipes for a contraction of the job market.
The inability of many manufacturing companies to obtain foreign exchange to procure the equipment and raw materials that they need for production can also lead to retrenchment of workers, and not engagement of more hands. The delay in the passage of the 2016 budget has equally not helped matters.
With the latest NBS report, the government cannot continue to treat unemployment   with a wave of the hand. The problem is real and can lead to serious social discontent, unrest and even criminality. It is time for the three tiers of government to work in concert in confronting the employment crisis.
They should not pretend that the problem does not exist. We say this bearing in mind that unemployment has become a time bomb that can be ignited at any moment with dire consequences for the country. The job crisis has been with us for some years now and we must do something to stem it.
Let the government begin the full implementation of its job creation programmes. The schemes should be multi-sectoral and handled with all sense of seriousness. We believe that agriculture, in particular, offers the best hope for massive job creation because it is labour-intensive. But, it must be mechanized and fully supported by the government to make it more productive and attractive to youths.