Concluding his address to the youth of the diocese of Abruzzo and Molise, Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows, Castelpetroso, Italy on July 5, 2014, Pope Francis said, “I would not like to finish without saying a few words on a problem that affects you as you experience it in your current life: unemployment. … We cannot resign ourselves to losing a generation of young people who do not have the dignity of work! … A generation without work is a future defeat for the country and for humanity. … We must fight against this, and help each other to find a solution, through help and solidarity. … Solidarity is a Christian word, which means forging ahead alongside one’s brother to help and to overcome problems. Be courageous, with hope and solidarity.”
Pope Francis spoke eloquently for the youth around the world, who have perennially suffered the indignity of unemployment and the aura of hopelessness and ridicule within a system that is designed to protect them. Expressing the dire need to create employment for these people, he said, “We cannot resign ourselves to losing a generation of young people who do not have the dignity of work!” As he warned, “A generation without work is a future defeat for the country and for humanity.” Pope Francis spoke to the youth of the diocese of Abruzzo and Molise as if he was addressing the Nigerian youth and their predicament in their beloved country.
Sadly, with the economic crisis in Nigeria, a country long plagued by bifurcated economy, unemployment among all ages, particularly the youth unemployment has reached an alarming rate. Pope Francis’ address fittingly applies to today’s predicament of the country’s chronically unemployed, the youth and those holding degrees in various fields who are desperately seeking for a job to eke out a living.
Most young people in Nigeria are chronically unemployed, meaning that they have been out of work or they have never found a job after graduation for several years. Still, some are grossly underemployed, meaning that they are working in an environment that requires less skills and are severely underpaid. For the purpose of this piece, Joblessness or unemployment is the dearth of employment for the young people who have acquired the necessary skills and capacity to perform the job.
Besides facing chronic unemployment, as well as severe underemployment, Nigerian youth are facing a phenomenon in Nigeria that has dangerously become the norm. This norm has permeated the society is shamelessly practiced in both private and public sectors. This is what I would call forced labor or modernized slave labor, which does not require a policy or security guards to force people to work just like in the labor camps in the past. But the modern day forced labor seems to achieve precisely what was achieved in the labor camps, free labor. In this modernized situation, people voluntarily go to work and work for several months without paychecks. The expectations of receiving arrears in a foreseeable future and the apparent lack of alternatives, forced the employees to stay with employers that owing them several months of salary. This could be likened to the modern day slavery, as well.
Similarly, this is a disguised slavery called employment—a situation where employers owe their employees several months without payment. The employees would not have any recourse; they are caught in a catch-22—a situation where they cannot leave their present employer for fear of not getting another job and they fret over suing their employers for job security. The fear is understandable in a society with an abysmal job outlook. These employees are hamstrung as they are caught between a rock and hard place—hopelessness.
Young people salivate for any job regardless of being paid every month or not. They want the pride and joy of holding a job, but that illusion is far from reality. The joblessness is pervasive in the country. On my way to Nigeria a month ago, I met a guy whose daughter finished her education in London some time ago and came back to Nigeria. Up till now his daughter has not found a job. His story is not an exception; it is a recurring one. In every family, the sad tale is being told daily with intense frustrations. My nieces and nephews are still unemployed after graduating some years past. Some of them have gone back to pursue master’s degrees. On completion, the jobs are still scarce to find.
Unfortunately, unemployment, especially youth unemployment has not only been linked with poverty, life dissatisfaction, crime, but also with suicide, violence, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and other psychological disorders. Plethora of studies show that unemployment and underemployment contribute to intense psychological problems to individuals and families out of labor market. In a meta-analysis study entitled, “Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses,” published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 74, Issue 3, Pages 264-282, Karsten I. Paul and Klaus Moser found that unemployed individuals experience significantly more psychological problems than their employed counterparts. Their study showed that among other psychological problems, unemployment was significantly associated with poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and anxiety.
Without jobs, it is greatly challenging for the Nigerian youth to face vicissitudes of life with success. The absence of hope and opportunity for upward mobility for these youths leaves unpredicted future for them and for the country. Therefore, the future of these young adults is being mortgaged by those in the government who could not come up with policies that would address the endemic unemployment problems in the country. Thus, the government has chosen to truncate the future of the Nigerian youth and by extension the future of the country is placed in jeopardy.