“Many non-profit organizations focus on capacity building, leadership development and micro credit for young entrepreneurs, but together, with YouWin and other empowerment schemes it is unlikely all this touches more than 5% of the unemployed population – leaving 63.6M unemployed and unemployable.”
Two successful men in the early years of old age are sitting in a living room discussing what Nigerians usually discuss: politics and money. Drinks and finger food, knee slapping and laughing, they are having a grand time. The gates to the compound swing open, a car drives in, and the driver, a young man in his early 30s comes out of the car and enters the house. Mid stride to his room, he changes direction on hearing the laughter and voices coming from the living room. He enters the living room where his father and a friend are sitting and says loudly into a room that is suddenly quiet, “tell me why I should not kill you?”
There are 67M unemployed young people in Nigeria – and even if we are not sure if the definition of youth is from the PDP school of thought, this number is still alarming; it is 40% of our current population and 100% of our future. The numbers mean that a large number of Nigerians are going through the ‘second childhood’ phase, where young adults who have finished school, including a post graduate degree, are back home to live with their parents. Without jobs, they cannot be independent and without economic independence it is difficult to gain social and political independence – giving rise to increasingly frustrated and volatile young people caged in a political and social system designed to keep them down and out.
According to the Economist, there are over 300M young people in the world who are unemployed. The OECD has even coined a term for this in its study of unemployment in rich countries, ‘NEET’ i.e., not in employment, education or training. It is a global problem which has people and countries of vision thinking hard about the problem and the solutions.
For most of the developed and rapidly developing world, the unemployment problem is a result of the combination of the economic recession, complicated labour laws which make hiring and firing difficult, the effects of technology on business, high minimum wages and the mismatch between skills and employer needs. In Nigeria, the reasons for high unemployment are different. In addition to poor education and the skills gap we have the jobless economic growth, crippled manufacturing sector and successive governments with little will to design and implement the right policies.
While our schools have become bastions of mediocrity and are,pursuing excellence in religious and ethnic bigotry with the same zeal ASEAN countries are chasing supremacy in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the slavish acquisition of worthless degrees/diplomas continues. In place of implementing one of the many white papers and vision 2020 plans which already identify the need for vocational education to groom a battalion of artisans (plumbers, tilers, builders, carpenters, electricians) and other blue collar workers, we have the Dangote led 18-member National Partnership Committee of Government and Private Sector on Technical and Vocational Education and Training set up by President Jonathan last
March. And instead of fixing power, improving transportation and building infrastructure so that the service and manufacturing sectors will create a surge of employment, we have the YouWin program which followed the protests over the increase in the pump price of petrol. At global conferences and in made for media sound bites, YouWin sounds impressive but it barely scratches the surface of the problem. Giving 1,200
aspiring entrepreneurs (0.00179% of unemployed) between 1M -10M Naira each in an environment with unskilled labour, epileptic power and limited transportation options, is not a recipe for employment boom. Three years ago at one of the many conferences on the economy held in Nigeria, a representative of
Freisland (manufacturers and distributors of Peak Milk) told the audience that it was cheaper to ship goods from Holland to Lagos than to transport the same goods from Lagos to Sokoto.
When young people have no jobs, no skills, no prospects and no hope, they turn in frustration to drugs and/or crime and disengage from a society which acts like it does not value them. In Nigeria, disengaged youth also serve the politicians who can mobilise them with less money than our officials spend on their shoes. And they are the same vulnerable group most susceptible to the influence of hate ideology. However, instead of dealing with the cause of the problem, government and those in positions of influence focus on the symptoms. Last week Senator Mark reportedly complained about the involvement of ‘our youth’ in all sorts of crimes ranging from exam malpractice to election rigging and conveniently forgot to mention unemployment. It is time to ask politicians when they talk about youth this way: ‘where did they learn this and who are their mentors?’ Instead of leading by example and encouraging principles which tie dignity with labour, by their actions, our politicians and government officials teach young people that getting rich by doing as little as possible is the Nigerian dream.
As I learnt last week discussing the global problem of youth unemployment with other Eisenhower Fellows, this is not the only narrative. Nigeria has a growing number of young people who have realized that they do not have to rely on government or the private sector; they are creating spaces for themselves as knowledge workers by harnessing technology. Many non-profit organizations focus on capacity building, leadership development and micro credit for young entrepreneurs, but together, with YouWin and other empowerment
schemes (governors giving out motorbikes and sewing machines) it is unlikely all this touches more than 5% of the unemployed population – leaving 63.6M unemployed and unemployable.
When the growth and development of young people is stunted, deliberately or by omission, it is an aberration that has consequences. The second childhood is a burden on parents and a danger to society and serious intervention is required. None of the stakeholders can afford to ignore youth unemployment
anymore and this is why determining who gets into and stays in government is the most important thing all Nigerians should be thinking and talking about.