Nigeria's unemployment scourge

Friday, September 2, 2016.

The level of unemployment in Nigeria today is too alarming and should immediately engage the attention of those in power before its dire consequencies consume the country. Low crude oil and gas output and their prices, sliding foreign reserve of Nigeria, high foreign exchange rate, dwindling revenue accruals to the national treasury, inflation and negative economic growth have all combined to make production impossible and firing of employees, instead of hiring, the new order. Corruption and mismanagement of the nation's resources in the period of boom, of course, played a part. However, the current unprecedentedly high level of unengaged workforce should be properly addressed with appropriate policies and investments by the government.

It is more worrisome because the largest segment of the population caught in this conundrum is the youth whose frustrations and juvenile propensities have often propelled them into unwholesome and criminal social vices like kidnapping, robbery, rape, bigotry and militancy. These are consequent vices Nigeria does not need to add to its already full plate of challenges.

Certainly, the galloping trend of unemployment from one regime to another has indicted governments, agencies, parastatals and ministries in which trust has been reposed over the years.

According to the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics, the country's unemployment rate was 12.1 per cent in the first quarter of 2016, up from 10.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2015, reaching the highest since December 2001. To forestall the necessity of a civil crisis arising from this unprecedented scourge, it is imperative for the government to proclaim a state of emergency and tackle the problem head-on.

Already, nerves are frayed all over the country as a result of poor conditions of living. Poverty is at its most abject. But corruption, even in jobs placement, compound issues. Recently, about 2000 candidates earlier recruited, trained but later dumped by the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS) blocked the main entrance to the presidential villa, Abuja, in protest. Instead of admitting tardiness and unaccountability on the part of his agency, the Comptroller-General of Immigration in reaction to the protest said "the 2000 officers were not officially recruited in the first place. What actually happened was that they were assisted by a presidential committee on recruitment, but the committee did not pass through due process before the issuance of appointment letters". This is a classic case of the corruption that the search for unavailable jobs has bred.

There have also been corrupt practices in recruitment into the Nigeria Police Force, where over 115 applicants are soon to be prosecuted for alteration or forgery of documents. The bitter lesson for the nation from these episodes is that jobs may even exist without the parastatals having the moral standing to administer them fairly and justly, or corruption pollutes the process of fair and just recruitment. The government should therefore look into the administrative maladies confronting employment in all critical sectors of the economy. Even so, how many people can the governments with all the agencies, employ? The solution, therefore, is in a productive entrepreneurial economy.

Confirming the enormity of the unemployment scourge, Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, during the inauguration of a school-to-work training programme for 150 secondary school pupils in Cross River State the other day said that the Federal Government was committed to the reduction of graduate and non-graduate unemployment in the country.

According to him "The Federal Government is not unaware of the high level of unemployment in Nigeria. As part of measures to address it, the government has designed programmes and schemes towards skills acquisition for graduates and non-graduates. This training programme is meant to equip the pupils with employability, skills that would make them self-reliant". Such skills, according to the minister include barbing, phone and computer repairs and so on. This is good and the young ones should embrace new technical skills to enable them fend for themselves. While this campaign is laudable, it would nonetheless be disingenuous to escape into a seeming cosmetic or fleeting measures in place of durable structural fixing of the economy.

There is an overwhelming need for an urgent structural diversification of the economy into agriculture, mining and tourism, an economy in which entrepreneurship and productivity replace cosmetic and phantom employment schemes without value creation.

The governments at all levels should address youth employment by ensuring that agriculture is revived and made profitable. They should ensure that skills acquisition by those willing is well democratised and encouragement is given to entrepreneurial ventures. The problems of energy shortage, poor quality of education, low agricultural output and corruption should also be addressed if the country would ever succeed in putting people to work