Confronting the challenges of youth unemployment

Fifty three years after Nigeria gained political and economic independence, issues of youth unemployment among others, have continued to be a recurring decimal. The comatose state of the economy which has more or less run the manufacturing sector aground has aggravated the joblessness in the country. Can there ever be a reprieve?

For successive administrations, job creation has always been a major campaign mantra. While some administrations have actually taken some critical decisions to improve job creation, especially among the teeming youths, others have not done much in that respect.

To every responsible administration, the increasing spate of youth joblessness has continued to be a major source of concern, especially as the upsurge in criminal activities has more often than not been attributed to the situation.

Analysts have often established some correlation between increasing unemployment and crime. Analysts posit that joblessness has increasingly turned most youths to willing tools for criminal tendencies such as kidnapping, militancy, insurgencies, oil theft, bunkering, vandalism, armed robbery and cultism, which have all assumed an alarming dimension in recent times.

Every economy is characterised by both active and inactive populations. While the economically active ones are referred to as the population willing and able to work, and include those actively engaged in the production of goods and services and those who are unemployed, the International Labour Organization (ILO) defi nes the unemployed as numbers of the economically active population who are without work but available for and seeking work, including people who have lost their jobs and those who have voluntarily left work.

Hence, Unemployment, a situation where people who are willing and capable of working are unable to fi nd suitable paid employment has been a very peculiar one in the nation. It is one of the macro-economic problems which every responsible government is expected to monitor and regulate. “The higher the unemployment rate in an economy, the higher would be the poverty level and associated welfare challenges,” an analyst posited last week.

According to analysts, unemployment can either be structural; a situation when there is a change in the structure of an industry or the economic activities of the country. “This may be because people’s tastes have changed or it may be because technology has outmoded and the product or service is no longer in demand. It is mostly to be found in the developing countries of Asia and Africa. It results from a mismatch between the demand for labour, and the ability of the workers,” the analyst said further.

There is also the frictional unemployment, caused by industrial friction in which jobs may exist, yet the workers may be unable to fi ll them either because they do not possess the necessary skill, or because they are not aware of the existence of such jobs.

The seasonal unemployment is due to seasonal variations in the activities of particular industries caused by climatic changes, changes in fashions or by the inherent nature of such industries, while the cyclical unemployment also known as Keynesian unemployment or the demand defi cient unemployment is due to the operation of the business cycle.

This arises at a time when the aggregate effective community demand becomes defi cient in relation to the productive capacity of the country. “Residual unemployment is caused by personal factors such as old age, physical or mental disability, poor work attitudes and inadequate training while technological unemployment is caused by changes in the techniques of production.”

Whatever the type and cause of unemployment, analysts say they all abound in Nigeria. According to National Population Commission’s (NPC), offi cial population of Nigeria as in 2006 put at 140 million, two third of that fi gure are youths.

Statistics show that Nigeria has about 23 per cent unemployed who are predominantly youths, and it tops the chart of countries with highest children out of school, according to United Nations Educational, Scientifi c, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Indeed, there are even those who believe that the offi cial statistics do not refl ect the true reality. With current unemployment rate at 23.9 per cent and unemployed youth population put at 20.3 million, most analysts reason that Nigeria has been living on the edge for the past fi ve years.

A report compiled in December 2008 by the Federal Ministry of Youth Development, stated as at the time that Nigeria generated about 4.5 million new entrants into the labour market annually. The fi gure, it stated, was made up of one million people out of the school system, 2.2 million primary school leavers not proceeding to secondary school, one million secondary school leavers not proceeding to the tertiary level and 300,000 tertiary graduates fi nding no placement anywhere for productivity. This is apart from another survey of the Federal Ministry of Education, which put the yearly graduate turnover at over 600,000.

In 2011, the Ministry of Youth Development reported that 42.2 per cent of Nigeria’s youth population was out of job. Before then, the House of Representatives Committee on Youth and Social Development announced that 23 million of the over 40 million unemployed youths in the country were unemployable, indicating that one in every two unemployed youths in Nigeria is unemployable.

Given Nigeria’s enormous wealth and immense developmental potential she possesses, it is rather disappointing that Nigeria can be grouped along with Mauritania, Cape Verde and Cote d’Ivoire as countries with the most acute unemployment in the world.

The notion that most Nigerian graduates are unemployable due to outdated school curricula and lack of employable skill is a celebrated commentary and sadly, another causes of unemployment. The average Nigeria graduate is not employable and, therefore, does not possess the skills needed by the employers of labour for a formal employment.

However, most graduates will argue that they are employable and ‘exploitable’ during the compulsory one year national service but no longer employable immediately after the service year. The sad truth is that employers do not need people to pay or spend their money on but people that will help their organisation grow and make more profi t. Related to this is the increase in the number of graduates turn out by the higher institutions annually which far exceed the corresponding demand for them in terms of job openings.

Ordinarily, this should not have been a problem, but the reality is that the Nigerian economy is too weak to absorb this large number of graduates because there is no vibrant manufacturing sector which has the capacity to absorb unemployed youths in Nigeria, as there are over 800 collapsed industries in Nigeria and over 37 factories closed shops since 2009. About half of the remaining operating fi rms have been classifi ed as “ailing,” a situation that poses a great threat to the survival of manufacturing in the country in the next few years.

According to a survey by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), as part of its membership operational audit in January 2010, the 837 fi gure represents the cumulative aggregate of fi rms that have shut down their operations in 2009 across the country. The MAN survey usually covers fi ve manufacturing enclaves, into which the country is divided, in terms of manufacturing activities. These include the Lagos, northern, southeast, south-south and southwest areas.

The report of the survey showed that in 2009, a total number of 176 fi rms became terminally sick and collapsed in the northern area, comprising the Kano and Kaduna states manufacturing axis. In the southeast area, which comprised of Anambra, Enugu, Imo, and Abia states; a total number of 178 companies closed shop during the period while in the south-south area, which consisted of Rivers, Cross River, and Akwa Ibom states; 46 companies shut down operations before December 2009.

According to the survey, the southwest area, which is comprised of Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Kogi, and Kwara states, lost 223 companies during the year. It said that the Lagos area, covering Ikeja, Apapa, Ikorodu, and other industrial divisions in the state, followed closely with 214 manufacturing fi rms closing shop before the end of 2009.

Business Courage’s fi ndings have also shown that lack of information or its inadequacies also remains a big challenge in youth employment and empowerment. Most times, many of the youths are unaware of various government policies and activities designed to alleviate the scourge, while many others are ignorant of where their services are required or needed.

Some informed analysts however believed that the challenge is not peculiar to the youths alone. They argued that even government and its agencies as well fall into this category.

Statistics have revealed that most government or agencies of government do fail in accessing funds and grants from World Bank, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other bodies channeled towards youth employment and empowerment. A not too distant example is the $150 million grant of the World Bank in 2012, which almost required plea before some states made effort to access it.

However, some of the key hindrance to solving the recurring issue of unemployment is the attitude of government and the political leaders; most of whom does not believe that government thrives better when it is viewed as a continuum. “It is a tradition among the political class to always discontinue and tarnish programmes and initiative of their predecessors without any scientifi c assessment of the exercise. Many programmes and policies tailored at youth employment and empowerment have been discontinued at the detriment of the teeming youth while new one are introduced to score cheap political point. Many of these new programmes end up not maturing before they are done away with by another government,” said a source who pleaded anonymity.

Nigeria is a country with numerous business and investment potentials due to the abundant, vibrant and dynamic human and natural resources it possesses. As good as the foregoing sounds, Nigeria continues to experience its share of social, economic and political upheavals which have often stunted its growth and development into the regional economic power that it strives to attain. Nigeria has a relative high rate of violent crimes.

The fact is that Nigeria is becoming hostile to investment due especially to lack of steady and sustainable power supply/ energy crisis in spite of the various attempts at reviving this sector. Firms depend on generators to run their operations at high costs attributable to fueling and maintenance.

A recent survey revealed that telecoms fi rms in the country alone spend N16.5 billion on diesel monthly. Besides, high and multiple levies and taxations being paid by these companies, energy crises have combined to make the cost of doing business in Nigeria very exorbitant.

Unfortunately, when the industries and factories close shops or are forced to relocate to a friendlier economic environment, workers are laid off and prospects of recruiting new ones were dashed and thus complicate the already bad unemployment situation in the country.

Corruption, which has permeated the entire social structure of Nigeria, has robbed the country of developing a vibrant economic base. Funds meant for development projects have been misappropriated, diverted, or embezzled and stashed away in foreign banks.

The collaboration of the political elites, local and foreign contractors in the infl ation of contract fees have also robbed Nigeria of the chances of using more than $500 billion estimated revenue from the oil sale in the last 50 years to develop a vibrant economy that would have created jobs for the youths in various sectors of the economy.

The ruling (political) class failed because they replaced the vision, policy, and strategy, which should be the thrust of every leadership with transactions (contract award and other mundane money-related activities), as each successive government took turns to prey on the nation’s wealth, by using public power, resources, good will, utilities, instruments of offi ce for personal gains.

As a result of this, the economy is crippled and engendered and ultimately exacerbates unemployment which creates abject poverty, hunger and frustration; killing the zeal and means for entrepreneurship development in the Nigerian youths.

In the last three decades, different administrations, often in collaboration with the private sector, have embarked on youth employment programmes, leading to the establishment of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), the Small and Medium Enterprises schemes, the poverty alleviation programme, the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN).

However, these employment and empowerment programmes have been largely tokenism because they were tied to political partisanship and emanated from ad hoc reactionary circumstances, rather than deliberate national planning agendas. There are indeed reasons to question the genuineness of these schemes in conception and coverage. The poor (if not clandestine) publicity given to these schemes, the scope of mandate and the modus operandi for participating in them, among others, give rise to suspicion that the proposals were never intended to alleviate the unemployment situation.

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