Jobs, not ‘Chinese Rice’,By Dele Agekameh

agekameh 600The avoidable deaths of Saturday, March 15, 2014, when more than 18 unemployed persons were trampled upon and lost their lives at the kangaroo Nigeria Immigration recruitment exercise, have, once again, brought to the fore the dismal statistics of and the raging debates on the state of unemployment in Nigeria. However, amidst the calls for resignation, suspension, dismissal, the tragedy should not be a platform to vent pent-up anti-establishment feelings or try to score cheap political points. I think what went wrong should be something that will sensitise the government and the generality of the citizenry, towards finding a lasting solution to unemployment in the country. This issue has remained unaddressed in view of the wanton job preference that is usually displayed by the teeming number of employable youth when openings are either advertised or announced.
The unfortunate incident should form the fulcrum on which a solid programme of employment generation – at both the public and private domains – should revolve, not one that should be subjected to the application of fleeting palliatives. A system that allows impoverished job seekers to pay money to obtain job application forms, which, in the main, does not even guarantee them a job, is sheer robbery by the privileged. According to the International Labour Organisation, ILO, unemployment statistics for 2012, there are 197 million persons currently out of work worldwide, which accounts for 6 percent of the total world workforce without a job. In the Nigerian context, the issue of unemployment is traceable to many factors that include the soaring population figure; proliferation of educational and vocational institutions; structural and frictional unemployment; and the one that has flourished for over four decades -the preference by many graduates (and non-graduates alike) for socially-elevating and wealth-creating positions in the banking and allied industry, mobile telecommunications; Customs, Immigration, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and other Para-military formations; foreign service etc which provides leverages for immediate financial and job fulfilment.
Perhaps, more than any other thing, the tragedy of this craze for “preferential unemployment” is that a large percentage of those unemployed persons seeking placement in these “life-changing” working environments are least trained or suited for such positions. Therefore, one issue that is incidental to finding a lasting abatement to the issue of chronic unemployment is that of self-employment through job creation. Though not an end-all panacea for full employment, being one’s own employer provides self-fulfilment and the platform to manage available time and also create employment avenues for others. This is the ideal situation, and this is where entrepreneurship readily comes in.
Sometimes, when the various governments – federal, states or local governments – talk about creating jobs, I wonder about the magic wand they intend to employ to create these jobs when, in actual fact, what is on ground does not show any genuine commitment to either grow or support entrepreneurship in the country. Entrepreneurship or investing, in the Nigerian context, runs like a torture process, especially where basic and strategic infrastructures that will foster the holistic setting-up and growth of commerce and industry are lacking, grossly inadequate or outmoded.
Many unemployed persons who have attempted the self-employment solution have been constrained by bad roads; lack of constant and adequate power supply; non-provision of potable and regular water supply; stress-filled allocation process for suitable and adequate land in rural and urban areas, including the procurement of certificates of occupancy; the non-liberalisation of regulations, procedures and approvals for the formation of new commercial enterprises and industries; the dearth of professional advice with back-up services by the relevant government agencies. Above all, any prospective entrepreneur, especially those coming from the unemployment queue, are confronted with the most debilitating and excruciating hurdle: financial capital to actualise the dream of self-employment.
If these critical draw-back factors are surmounted by the willingness and resolve of governments at the various levels to provide the enabling environment for commerce and entrepreneurship to thrive, then the magnitude of the unemployment statistics will be greatly reduced. In tackling the ever-present ogre of unemployment with its attendant social problems, Nigerians have been greatly fixated on the Keynesian model that emphasises a preference for government’s intervention in the economy to reduce the spiraling cases of unemployment in all the strata of the production chain and those of service providers.
‘It would be a good thing if the delegates at the ongoing National Conference can do away with getting enmeshed in discussing such inanities as ‘Chinese rice’ and what they need to fill their stomachs, their craze for high-decibel but meaningless titles and all that’
In reverse, there are certain government’s economic policies, programmes, actions and inactions, that tend to trigger recurrent shocks and disequilibrium that sometimes reduce the aggregate demand for goods and services, which, in turn, reduces the demand for workers. In essence, government intervention has more or less amounted to mere tokenism. They include job creation in the public service, financial stimuli to employers of labour in form of waivers, tax holidays, low interest rates, protective import restrictions etc.
Available statistics point to the inexorable fact that rather than creating long-lasting job opportunities for the teeming unemployed persons, the various levels of government tend to provide glorified “soup kitchen” alternatives that only address those issues that expire or lapse with the tenure of such governments. These include street-cleaning; traffic and crowd-control; communal farming; revenue collection; business clusters and cooperatives and even thuggery or bodyguard gangs.
When viewed from the prism of the failure of various governments in their primary responsibility profile to cater to the welfare of its people, it is pertinent to say that the fear of the unknown and lack of focus in career choice for self-employment, contribute in no small measure to the frightening population of unemployed persons in Nigeria. Therefore, what should engage the attention of all Nigerians at the moment, is providing a holistic solution to what could have propelled 522,650 jobless youth to apply for, pay the sum of N1,000 each and be shortlisted for 4,556 actual vacant positions in the Nigeria Immigration Service.
When we place undue emphasis on issues of reparation and restitution as atonement for the unfortunate death of the applicants, which are merely cosmetic and tangential, we only scratch the surface of the ingrained problem of acute unemployment rather than provide a satisfying and holistic solution. The nagging question has always been: why is a large proportion of our employable populace unemployed? The sore point of the unemployment bottleneck is that the unemployed, including those that lost their lives struggling to fill non-existent places and extricate themselves from the millions-strong unemployed queue, are victims of the weak leadership modems at federal, state and local levels that lack the political will to create or enable platforms to reduce the frightening unemployment statistics which have overshot the irreducible indices of the ILO.
It is glaring that we have lost the battle to provide decent jobs for our teeming population of employable youth, especially graduates of various disciplines who are roaming the streets after many years of graduation. In retrospect, the tragic occurrences of Saturday, March 15, 2014 were avoidable if proactive actions and due diligence were applied in the fateful recruitment exercise, rather than the commercialization of a process that would assuage the unemployment status of the 522,650 applicants.
The delegates at the ongoing national confab should focus attention on the prime issue of unemployment in Nigeria, which should be given as much prominence as those tagged as contentious or important to the survival and continued cohesion of the Nigerian nation. It would be a good thing if the delegates can do away with getting enmeshed in discussing such inanities as ‘Chinese rice’ and what they need to fill their stomachs, their craze for high-decibel but meaningless titles and all that. Instead, they should concentrate more on the nagging issues of chronic unemployment among both the skilled and unskilled cadre of persons in the country, as well as, insecurity, especially the perpetually rising cases of ethno-religious conflicts all over the place. These should be part of the highpoint topics that should be in the same realm as that of fiscal responsibility and revenue allocation, devolution of powers, creation of local governments, elections and so on. In fact, unemployment in the country is a tinderbox waiting for a stray spark!

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