Nigeria’s rising unemployment rate -world’s worst impending implosion
By Adeolu C. Alupogun-Iran
Rising from my daily task which has proven more strenuous than I earlier thought, I picked my mobile phone to chat up a buddy. I said to him, what’s on your mind now? He responded, “I need a job, in other words unemployment is tormenting me.” Apparently, there was a sudden detour for me; I spent the entire break ruminating over the bleak report in that short conversation.
Unemployment is just too real in Nigeria; it’s no longer a phenomenon. It’s not limited to Nigeria alone and no country can boast of its absence within its domain; but its pervasive and ever worsening trend in Nigeria makes it more worrisome. In a country where graduates once breasted the tape of their academic finish-line with automatic employments and many enticing emoluments, today the story is tragically different. One is forced to ask, what went wrong?
Job creation in Nigeria remains politicised as it is always ‘created’ in the pipe-line or eventually on the pages of national dailies. No one is even tasking the government to provide statistics of their job creation programme. At the end of the day, everybody -both the deceived and the deceiver- loses, as our country gets more into the pit of despair, even terrorism amidst eternal mirage of employments for our youth.
Recent survey from the National Bureau on Statistics [NBS] revealed that unemployment rate in Nigeria hit 23.9 per cent in 2011; this was a huge increase compared to 19.7 per cent and 21.1 per cent in 2009 and 2010 respectively. This survey further revealed that the rate is higher in rural setting [25.6 per cent] than urban [17.1] area. The statistics on unemployment in the eyes of many analysts is far below the reality. “Fifty per cent of Nigerian graduates every year are unemployed. The rate is above 50 per cent as far as I’m concerned,” John Okezie, told SPUR magazine. The National Gross Domestic Product [GDP] was rated 7.8 per cent last year. This situation is unacceptable, not from a country with abundant resources! Not from a nation that aspires to join the league of 20 most industrialised countries come 2020!
Facts from the Institute of Chartered of Accountants of Nigeria recently suggested 15 per cent GDP growth annually as a major prerequisite to attain the 20-2020 targets. With so much unemployment and poverty in the land, where are we? Despite the economic retrogression, some individuals and corporate bodies still have the audacity to stash billions of dollars and trillions of naira in foreign bank accounts from our common purse. Nigeria remains an incurable jester in the comity of nations as government’s response to monumental fraud abets, rather than deters corruption, which is the fundamental bane of our national development.
A country whose teeming population of youth remains unemployed is gravitating closer to doom. The danger is well spelt out on our national psyche. Every year graduates are being churned out from various higher institutions in the country without corresponding jobs. You find competent graduates armed with good grades roaming the streets of Lagos and major Nigeria cities in near absolute hopelessness. You find graduates earning N10,000 monthly; no thanks to O’YES and Graduate Volunteer programmes of Osun and Ondo state governments. Nigerian graduates sell airtime by the roadsides; sometimes, I wonder if our leaders have an inkling of what it takes to acquire a degree in this country? You toil your way through school only to be embraced by a more devastating peril. A handful of youth that take to varying forms of crime, robbery, cyber scam, kidnapping, frauds even terrorism today do so not because they are bad, but because they are idle, frustrated and must survive. The millions of graduates roaming the streets for jobs that do not exist pose a dark spot on national economic landscape; if this ugly trend is allowed to continue, the dark spot might expand to eclipse the light at the end of the tunnel. That is an absolute state of hopelessness and something unprecedented may spring here – something more than the Arab Spring. May be the Black (or African) Spring. At this time, Boko Haram may have brothers all over the country against mainly the corrupt ruling class.
It is no longer a secret that Nigeria has the highest rate of human capital redundancy. If the kind of human capital wastage in this country is available to countries like Ghana and South Africa, they will be competing in a more forceful manner economically compared to their present status. The implication of this impudent waste is that it adds up to lower economic output which apparently increases poverty and hunger in the country.
Potential is no wealth until it is prudently tapped. Our endowment as a nation amounts to partially nothing because of our leaders’ inability to exploit them for optimal use and national development. We cannot begin to list our endowments here. Take, for instance, tourism, in Nigeria, it is a gold mine if truly invested on by the government. With varying forms of tourist destinations across the country, graduates and non-graduates with requisite skills and knowledge in this regard, can be gainfully engaged. Dubai is an amazing tourism destination and is now probably the most coveted choice for holiday makers around the world. From a report sometimes ago, Dubai is said to have attracted 2.7 million visitors spending $2 billion as vacationers. This is what tourism brought the way of United Arab Emirate kingdom via tourism. Nigeria can take a cue from that. You can imagine how the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will fare with $2 billion just from a sector of the economy!
I know some of our leaders would rather hide under the word of JF Kennedy, “think of what you can do for your country and not what your country can do for you,” but I usually ask what has my country done for us? We provide our water and generate our power, among other things, which are the basic necessities a responsible government should provide for its citizens. So tell me what moral right has the government to demand a sacrifice when it had not conceded any. I am not ignorant of the fact Small Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) contribute about 75 per cent of a country’s GDP and are the ones who provide more jobs for people. Apparently, SMEs have been crippled in this country by epileptic power supply which has been responsible for the mass exodus of high profile organizations with small ones folding up, thereby littering the street with staff formerly on their pay roll, leaving the nation more stunted economically. Government’s disposition towards SMEs must be that of providing enabling environment for them to thrive. No government can single-handedly provide enough jobs for it citizens; governments these days have no business creating jobs in the world, but they create enabling environments through right policies and budgetary allocations. In many places around the world, SMEs thrive because of good tax regimes, adequate power supply, internal security, good road network, efficient rail system, among others.
A while ago I called the attention of the public and government [in one of the recent SPUR magazines] to the need for an effective rail service and how it could help in creating more jobs in the country. It is on record that Nigerian Railway Corporation [NRC] between 1954 up till 1975 employed about 45,000 staff but currently have 6,516 personnel are on its payroll. The question on my mind is, why didn’t Obasanjo’s administration privatize Nigerian Railway Corporation the same way he did to some government parastatals to create more for jobs for the Nigerian people? Efficient rail system is not only a job creating venture; it is also a veritable infrastructure for enhancing job creation in many other productive sectors, thereby rubbing off on national economy immensely. It is therefore a cogent area any government of the day, poised at making genuine impact, should consider urgently. And this will also make Nigeria a place for foreign investors to put their money. Europe and America grew their economies fundamentally out indispensable and reliable rail systems, even China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and other Asian countries are maximizing the benefits of rail systems to their national economies.
Things had never been this bad for Nigeria. Unemployment had not been bad; it is now headed towards world’s worst explosion. Economic activities in the country were faring well during the post-independence period, perhaps, up till Obasanjo’s first coming when he introduced belt-tightening because, the nascent oil boom was beginning to destroy our potential in other economic activities while tastes for foreign goods (imports) were depleting our foreign reserve. Government of Gowon has its own share of the blame too. Gowon did not lay a foundation for a strong industrial nation; he simply focused on spending or wasting cheap oil revenue generated by foreign labour of transnational oil companies. Spending on imports does not create job and that is still our problem till this moment.
Second Republic also tried to reduce spending with austerity measure. Spending on food imports was getting astronomical and lip-service was merely paid on ‘Green Revolution’ which was another name for Obasanjo’s ‘Operation Feed the Nation.’ Prior to this time textile industries were producing at about 100 per cent with staff capacity of 150,000 which made the sector second largest employer of labour after government. But the government appeared too busy to have noticed that the textile industry was already in a quagmire. The government seemingly looked the other way while a lot of factors against the industry were left unchecked. The closure of some of these textile companies aggravated unemployment crisis in the country. Government needs be sincere about the implementation of the numerous policies targeted at revamping textile industry in the country. Revamping the economy should be done the right way. Do you give a house whose foundation is shaky a face lift and expect it to stand firm? No, until the root cause of the problem is addressed all energies dissipated at face lifting amount to wastage.
Most textile companies depended on cotton production and cotton is needed worldwide; what has government done to revamp cotton production? Before the textile industry can be fully revamped, government must also address the energy issue; high cost of production occasioned by inefficient and inadequate power supply is the bane of Nigeria’s industrialization. Every government seems unprepared or unable to address the problem; corruption, a cankerworm, also remains the root of all evils afflicting our economy and lack of patriotism still stares us in the face.
The problem of unemployment is caused by omissions or commissions of the government, but to start aright in tackling the problem, fighting corruption and eliminating it remains number one. The second problem militating against our industrial development is the one Ghana solved more than 10 years ago –uninterrupted electricity supply. I do not want to go indefinitely to 7-point agenda or even more, but please, permit me to mention the third one: Security! Without it no investor within or without Nigeria, can think of heavy investment. The investor is already scared stiff!
No country of the world can boast of attaining a particular height without the support of its citizenry; the people must be mobilized or re-orientated –not mere jingles or adverts in papers and on billboards, but Nigerians should be carried along by sincere, selfless and patriotic leaders. I only wish Nigerian government realizes this before it is too late to detonate the impending implosion.
Perhaps, only responsible government steered by patriotic leaders with humane character find that convenient. The only thing that comes to mind now is the word of the Nobel laureate, our own Wole Soyinka, who strongly opined that all Nigerian leaders be taken for psychiatric test before assumption of office. The reason for our current under-development in the mist of plenty is now clearer. Anything shameful in itself is bad, but it is better than shamelessness, a shameless person makes a show of shame and our leaders relish ceaselessly in show of shame