Youth unemployment bomb ticks louder

Youth unemployment bomb ticks louder

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NIGERIA’S youth unemployment time bomb is back in focus and ticking louder. The Executive Secretary of the National Board for Technical Education, Muhammed Bugaje, has revived the subject by reminding policymakers of the dangers of having millions of unemployed youths in the country and the need for remedial action. For the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), and the 36 state governors, the large number of graduates of tertiary institutions among the jobless makes the task of job creation even more urgent.

Youth unemployment, says Mercy Corps, an international NGO, has a negative impact on a community’s economic growth and development. “If left unchecked,” it warns, “youth unemployment can have serious social repercussions because unemployed youth tend to feel left out, leading to social exclusion, anxiety and a lack of hope for the future.” This is already playing out in Nigeria.

Highlighting the problem when he addressed the annual general meeting of the Science and Technology Forum in Kaduna, Bugaje gave alarming figures of millions of unemployed persons in the country, in addition to millions of out-of-school children. More worrisome is that among these unemployed are many graduates with university degrees and others with post-secondary education diplomas and certificates. The National Bureau of Statistics put the number of jobless in the country at 23.18 million and youth unemployment at 53.4 per cent as of December 2020. The country’s aggregate unemployment rate of 33.3 per cent is the third highest worldwide.

According to projections by the United Nations for 2020, about 43 per cent of Nigeria’s population comprised children of 14 years and below; 19 per cent aged 15 to 24 years; about 62 per cent are below the age of 25 years.

By contrast, less than five per cent is aged 60 years and above. This makes Nigeria a youthful population with a median age of about 18 years. This is lower than African and world averages of 20 and 29 respectively.

Sadly though, the youth unemployment rate of 53.4 per cent by 2020 was an all-time high. This means as of 2020, about 13.9 million youths were unemployed. Many in the most vibrant segment of the population are thus locked out of the productive economy. This inhibits the country’s productivity and entrenches poverty.

The headwinds arising from the global economic crisis have hit Nigeria hard. The productive sectors are having a rough ride. Agriculture, mining and manufacturing are typically high job-creating sectors but suffer from the prevailing adverse operating environment. There is also the energy crisis, featuring high diesel, power and lubricant costs.

Bugaje also highlighted the high number of children out of school, which some estimates put at over 13 million. Kano State alone has over 3.4 million out-of-school children, the state governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, once revealed.

These numbers are frightening. Urgently, the federal and state governments need to create a favourable environment for businesses to thrive and for job creation. The key is to stimulate agriculture, mining and manufacturing. SMEs hold the key to massive job creation, innovation and exports. Securing the country is essential. The insecurity in the country that has disrupted farming, transportation and commerce has to be stamped out.

Without power, all efforts to revive the economy will falter or at best achieve minimal results.

Experts acknowledge that a large army of unemployed youths is dangerous to any society. The United States Bureau of Labour Statistics says high unemployment degrades the economy by depressing demand for goods and services and thereby reducing productive output.

Besides, idle, angry youths can take to crime or explode in violent protests. For instance, said Bugaje, “There is a group of unemployed youths springing up in Kano. They are called the ‘anarchists.’ They say they have been abandoned by the government and therefore they would be destroying all government installations they come across. It is a small group for now, but we need to take action now before the group grows and becomes another serious security threat to the country.” There may be more such angry youth groups across the country.

According to a report by the International Growth Centre, various governments elsewhere devise strategies to tackle the challenges of youth unemployment. The Cambodian government involved key stakeholders, including civil society and youth organisations, to develop a National Policy on Youth Development, which focuses on the specific areas of need of the youth such as education, health care and skill training.

Several countries in the Pacific region operate a multi-sector approach with emphasis on skills and training, volunteering and the development of sustainable livelihoods in the traditional sectors of agriculture and entrepreneurship. Similarly, Kenya has prioritised information technology-enabled services as a strategy for youth empowerment and economic development. Nigeria should take a cue from these.

The game changer is to transform the economy into a vibrant, technology-led productive one with the private sector taking the lead. The government should pull out from all commercial ventures and embark on a programme of transparent, corruption-free privatisation. It should adopt and faithfully implement liberalising policies that would favour start-ups, SMEs, and the productive sectors. There should be efficient policies to attract foreign direct investment and domestic investors to all sectors, including infrastructure provision.

The states need to concentrate on rural infrastructure, agriculture and small enterprises to arrest the drift to urban centres in search of elusive jobs.

An emergency national programme is required to solve the power quagmire; the economy cannot fulfil its potential or reverse joblessness without adequate and affordable power supply.

The three tiers of government must invest massively in education and youth empowerment, health, ICT, sport and entertainment, hospitality and agriculture.

Government should provide access to affordable credit facilities, remove the institutional and regulatory constraints and other factors that are stifling the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit in the youth. There should be better management of the foreign exchange market.

With hardship and insecurity biting deeper, the government should act to defuse the unemployment time bomb with sound policies and alacrity.

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