Etche, a local government area in Rivers State is in ruins. The better part of the local government area, which prides itself as the food basket of Rivers State, has been destroyed by its own sons. Its various villages used to be a beehive of activities, bubbling from dawn to dusk with farmers working almost round the clock as they streamed to the farms before the cock would crow and came back home much later in the day to process their bountiful agricultural harvests. Not any more. The villages are now like ghost towns. They have been deserted.
It is now strange to see goats bleating away and roaming the villages; they have all been killed and consumed by boys whose conducts equate to those of lord of manor. Villagers who were used to being woken in the morning by cock crows that resonate in every cranny of the villages in the area no longer have a way of knowing when it is dawn because the cocks have all vanished; the boys have made minced meat of all of them. Despite the havoc they are wrecking in the villages, they are referred to as umu oma (good boys). That is the name they want to be called. Woe unto you if they hear you call them bad boys – which they ought to be called given their atrocious activities. They steal, maim, kill, and commit arson and other atrocities.
Forget their boisterousness in words and in action; they are all poor. They are unemployed. They are idle. They are a very good proof that “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop”. Theirs is a clear case of the proverbial madness that has progressed from murmuring to violent actions. Otherwise, it is not isolated. Most villages and cities in the country now have something close to their replica – youths who have been driven insane by sub-human living conditions, occasioned mainly by unemployment and its twin brother, idleness. Make no mistake about it; they are like a time bomb waiting to go off.
Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria had warned some time last year that the high rate of graduate unemployment in the country could spark a revolution someday. At almost 25 per cent in 2013, Nigeria’s unemployment rate was obviously one of the highest in the world. But the high unemployment rate is neither a creation of the Jonathan administration nor a phenomenon that reared its ugly head just yesterday. It had been there – it predates even the Obasanjo administration – and it has been rising exponentially because not much had been done to tackle it. From 12.7 per cent in 2007, unemployment rate rose to 14.9 per cent in 2008, 19.7 per cent in 2009, 21.4 per cent in 2010, 23.9 per cent in 2011, and 27.4 per cent in 2012. It declined to 24.7 per cent in 2013, according to National Bureau of Statistics. But many Nigerians would not buy this statistics even if it sold to them for a kobo. They would rather believe that unemployment has gone from bad to worse. And they may not be wrong, because there is hardly any family in this country that does not have at least one unemployed person.
While Obasanjo was warning of an impending revolution that would be ignited by high level of unemployment, he probably did not know that there were already in existence umbrella bodies of unemployed graduates in the country, which were a prerequisite for the revolution he saw coming. Certainly, he never knew that at the time he was speaking, an umbrella body of unemployed graduates in Bayelsa State was perfecting its town-storming plans. For, soon after his prediction, about 150 youths under the aegis of Unemployed Graduates Forum of Bayelsa State stormed Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, protesting over their joblessness. The jobless graduates had accused the Bayelsa State government of insensitivity to their predicament. This is an indication of what is to come. If Bayelsa State which does not have a very high unemployment rate can have its relatively few unemployed graduates protesting against government’s insensitivity to their predicament, we do not need a soothsayer to tell us that anything can happen in states with very high unemployment rate if nothing is done very soon to address the situation.
Lamido Sanusi Lamido, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria who is now the Emir of Kano, was once quoted as saying that unemployment is a major contributory factor to the Boko Haram insurgency. He said that Yobe State’s unemployment rate was 60.60 per cent while Kano State’s was 67 per cent. He saw this as the main reason for the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East when he stated that “the current security upheaval and internal insurrection all over the country were as a result of severe poverty and rising unemployment, especially in the north”. This postulation surely holds some water, and it corroborates Obasanjo’s postulation “that an idle man is the devils workshop and a hopeless idle man is a tinderbox”.
Recently, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) released new unemployment figures which put the country’s unemployment rate at 6.4 per cent. The new unemployment rate, according to NBS, was arrived at when the revised Concepts and Methodology for Computing Labour Statistics in the country was applied. Expectedly, the NBS has come under serious criticism for putting the nation’s unemployment rate at just 6.4 per cent. According to the Country Director, PLAN International, Hussaini Abdu, the 6.4 per cent unemployment rate is far from realistic. He said 34 per cent would be close to the true figure.
He stated that: “Changing figures on paper does not reduce the number of the unemployed in the job market. This is a very unserious way to deal with a national problem. If we say unemployment is 6.4 per cent in Nigeria, are we saying we are better off than France, UK and U.S. with higher unemployment figures?”
The figures may have declined, but the incidence of unemployment has not really abated. Unemployment is biting very hard in the country and it constitutes clear and present danger to our society. Therefore, as Muhammadu Buhari takes charge as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he must immediately roll out policies, programmes and projects that will hit very hard at the heart of unemployment in the country.
One good example of government policy that generated lots of jobs was the deregulation of the telecommunications sector. The core objective of that policy was to deliver quality and affordable telecommunications services to Nigerians. That has been achieved to a large extent. Perhaps more important is that that policy which resulted in the sale of GSM licences to private firms, has created millions of jobs directly and indirectly. And the telecommunications sector which obviously was contributing next to nothing to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), now accounts for a good part of the country’s GDP. According to the Nigerian Telecommunications Commission (NCC), the contribution of the telecommunications sector to Nigeria’s GDP rose from a mere 0.62 per cent in 2001 to 5.67 per cent in 2011.
The power sector can re-enact what happened in the telecommunications sector. By formulating and pursuing the right policies for this all-important sector, electricity supply can improve tremendously and this can lead to a boom in economic and social activities across the country. Of course, millions of jobs will be created in the process. The Jonathan administration has succeeded in doing the difficult job of deregulating the sector. This must not be reversed. Instead, the necessary conducive environment must be provided for the new operators in the power sector to operate and take power supply to the next level.
From all indications, the All Progressives Congress (APC), understands and appreciates the enormity of the problem called unemployment, and has in its manifesto stated clearly how it will tackle the problem. No doubt, the party’s road map for jobs looks good. To create jobs, the party plans to do the following:
Invest in large-scale public works projects, beginning in the first quarter of the administration, including a modern national railway system and interstate roads, to energize the economy and create new businesses and jobs throughout Nigeria.
Implement a social housing policy of one million low-cost housing units in the first four years, which will create housing and increase skilled and unskilled employment.
Establish Technology/Industrial Estates fully equipped with ICT, power and other support across the country to attract and encourage small-scale technology businesses and other entrepreneurs.
Establish plants for the assembly and ultimately the manufacture of phones, tablets, computers and other devices.
Promote technology transfer, including investing in new and less expensive technologies (as in the building of affordable homes) to create more jobs.
Make Nigeria a global hub for Internet and telecommunications services, including outsourcing and cloud computing, to create millions of new jobs.
The APC is also looking at growing SMEs to create jobs. Specifically, the party said that it will adopt the following strategies to grow the SMEs sector so that it can create the needed jobs:
- Pay a guaranteed indexed-linked price to farmers to ensure that there is always a ready market for their produce, which will create more jobs, agricultural related employment and sustain existing jobs.
- Create a scheme that provides matching funds for businesses that have already been validated and secured funding elsewhere, including by borrowing, if such business will create a minimum number of skilled jobs.
- Support training centres created for skills acquisition or vocational training by providing infrastructure for such institutions and matching grants where necessary, and organize job fair and recruitment exercises at such institutions.
- Embark on vocational retraining and skills acquisition for unemployed graduates, school leavers and drop-outs emphasizing technology and construction such as plumbers, electricians and tilers, which will feed the public works and social housing schemes among others.
- Dramatically increase the number of small and medium-sized enterprises that produce new jobs, with industrial hubs focused on their creation and growth in all regions of the country.
- Increase investments in research and development, particularly in the areas of science and technology, to create jobs in high-demand fields.
- Improve the entrepreneurial, vocational and technical skills of youth in areas such as technology, agriculture, manufacturing and other important fields, to prepare them for the jobs of the future.
- Before now, it was all talk and more talk. But time has come for the APC to walk the talk, and this rests squarely on the shoulders of President Muhammadu Buhari. Unfortunately, he does not have all the time in the world to do this because the problem has got out of hand and, therefore, needs to be addressed immediately.
Buhari will surely record some quick wins with regard to tackling unemployment if he moves fast in the direction of boosting Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs). As APC rightly cited, in China, an estimated 50 million Small-medium enterprise (SMEs) created about 500 million jobs between 1980 and 2012. According to the party, faced with a huge population, the country embarked on an aggressive empowerment of SMEs and the creation of enabling micro-credit structure that led to this renaissance. Today, SMEs contribute to 60 per cent of China’s industrial output and 80 per cent of the country’s jobs. This feat can be replicated in Nigeria with the right policies.
According to an intergovernmental organization, Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion, formal SMEs account for 45% of total employment in emerging economies. This figure, it said, is even higher when informal businesses are counted. Again, SMEs tend to create jobs at a faster pace than larger companies, and in emerging markets they help to accelerate the transition from agricultural to industrial economies, the organization noted.
In Nigeria, SMEs face many impediments which make it difficult for them to thrive and grow and create jobs. These include government regulation, lack of needed infrastructure and access to funds. Efforts must be made by the Buhari Presidency to remove these obstacles so that SMEs can flourish and create wealth and jobs. We can ill-afford delay… the time to is now!