Something very unusual in Abuja happened on Monday June 19th 2017.
This incident has to do with a young man in his early thirties who was so well dressed that he successfully mingled with other business executives and government officials at a particular five star hotel in the central business district of Abuja.
But the clean dress of this smiling young man was only a facade because right inside this man was a groundswell of worries and poverty- induced anxiety.
He sat very close to us during the tea break but apparently wasn’t allowed to partake in it because he couldn’t produce his official invitation.
This young man looked at us and gestured to us that he hadn’t eaten since the last twenty four hours.
But we told him that we have just few cash to buy fuel for the car but that if he wouldn’t mind eating the remainder of the food of one of us but he gladly jumped at our offer and before you could say Jack, this guy had swallowed all the meals we passed on to him from one of us.
This scenario is a testament to the crude reality of the effects of economic recession and unemployment. On daily basis in our official function as human rights defenders, we come in contact with a variety of young person searching for sustainable means of livelihoods.
At the last count, our Non-governmental organization has built a data base of curriculum vitae of hundreds of young persons who drop them off every day in our office looking for openings of any kind for them to be gainfully employed. Few years back, we were compelled to write to the then Labour and Employment minister Chief Emeka Wogu to ask that he set up a functional data bank of genuinely unemployed youth in Nigeria and he assured us that his office will actualize this aspiration. But as we write this joint article we can report that no such project is in place even when it was once a component of one of the annual budgetary projections. A data bank of jobless youth is critical because scientific statistics helps in proper placement of job seekers in their appropriate places when vacancies exists in both the public and private sectors. Then entered the economic recession which means that unemployment has ballooned out of control.
Youth unemployment in Nigeria is indeed a time bomb that is ticking and threatening to explode with devastating consequences if no deliberate but workable actions are adopted by all and sundry to reverse the trend.
But is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Is there the faintest possibility that officials of government that run the economy can confidently overcome these challenges?
Well, the statistician general of Nigeria Dr. Yemi Kale and the finance minister Mrs. Kemi Adeosun seems to be singing contradictory tunes on the question of when exactly the current economic recession will end.
The end of economic recession could significantly signpost the beginning of good development for millions of our unemployed youth because once the productive sector becomes vibrant it means that more hands would be constructively engaged. But we don’t seem to know when this blistering monster of economic recession would end.
Whilst the director General of the National Bureau of Statistics Dr. Kale is of the view that recession would abate by next year, the minister of finance Mrs. Adeosun appears to be more interested in the political angle of the response to the question by optimistically saying it will end soon.
Optimism alone doesn’t solve economic recession or depression. Be that as it may, it seems the Finance minister is anchoring her optimism on the year 2017 budgetary projections.
Incidentally, the major government agencies that are expected to stimulate youth employment have just been allocated appreciable quantum of capital budget but the problem is with the implementation going by the often known tradition whereby capital budget of most ministries often witness a little less than fifteen percent implementation profile yearly.
The minister of budget and National planning Senator Udoma Udo Udoma of the current government recently published a citizen budget guideline for the just signed 2017 budget which we received directly from his office.
From this booklet, the following cheering news are contained: the Niger Delta development commission would receive N64 billion from the statutory transfer, the universal basic education gets N95.18billion,Science/Tech-N41
.7b;Youth/Sports-N5.44;Defense ;N139.29b;Education-N151.92b; Health -N55.61; Interior-N63.76b; Social Intervention-N150b; Agriculture-N103.79b; Water Resources-N104.24;MITI-N81.73b ;Transport-N241.71b;Works,Powe r/Housing-N553.71b. We will return to these specifics shortly.
First, we make haste to emphatically state that unfortunately, the Federal government plans to proceed with the privatization of such publicly owned assets such as the liquefied Natural gas (LNG) and the Nigerian national petroleum Corporation. LNG is unarguably Nigeria’s best run public enterprise.
This move may create unemployment and may end up in the transfer of our national assets to few privileged individuals with connections to the powers-that-be.
We say this because in the citizens’ guidelines to the current budget given to us, an information shows that already government has earmarked N35 billion as revenue expected from sales of government property and privatization proceeds.
You may then wonder how cheap these refineries and other national assets are about to be sold away. This is sad and pathetic, if you ask us.
There is however nothing to show what government intends to do to re-invest this paltry proceeds into other productive ventures that could create job opportunities for our large army of jobless youth.
This is because in the same 2017 budget this government is going cap in hands to foreign lenders to borrow. A total of N1.66 trillion is budgeted for debt servicing.
We know that this debt servicing and selling off of national assets are two items that would benefit the cronies of government officials and contractors who usually sponsor candidates for elections.
We say so because if you read through a particular item in the book on economics edited by Simon Cox, it will become clearer that selling off national assets at the long run may not necessarily create employment opportunities for those who need these lifesaving openings amongst the vibrant young population.
In the book titled: “Economics: making sense of the modern economic”, the writer argued thus: “A fashionable strand of skepticism argues that governments have surrendered their power to capitalism- that the world’s biggest companies are nowadays more powerful than many of the world’s government.”
“Democracy is a sham. Profits rule, not people. These claims are patent nonsense. On the other hand, there is no question that companies would run the world for profit if they could. What stop them is not governments, powerful as they may be, but markets”, they submitted.
“Governments have the power, all right, but they not always exercise it wisely. They are unreliable servants of the public interest. Sometimes, out of conviction, politicians decide to help companies reshape the world for private profit. Sometime, anti-market thinking may lead them to help big business by accident. And now and then, when companies just set out to buy the policies they want, they find in government a willing seller. On all this, presumably, the sceptics would agree”.
The writer also argued in this powerful book that: “But they miss the next crucial step: limited government is not worth buying. Markets keep the spoils of corruption small. Government that intervenes left and right, prohibiting this licensing that, creating surpluses and shortages-now that kind of government is worth a bit. That is why, especially in developing countries with weak legal systems, taming capitalization by regulation or trade protection often proves such a hazardous endeavor”.
“If NGOS succeeded in disabling markets, as many of them they would like to, the political consequences would be as dire as the economic ones. It is because the sceptics are right about some things that they are so wrong about the main thing,” so the writer of the aforementioned book averred.
A deeper reading of the year 2017 budget does not bring out the practical steps that this government intends to adopt to create the much needed jobs for the teeming Nigerian youth searching frantically for jobs.
Does government actually understand that youth unemployment is a major threat to national security?
Those who support government based only on their political affiliation would argue that the chunk of money allocated to such critical sectors such as Agriculture, Science and technology amongst a few others represents the resolve of the Buhari’s administration to tackle the hydra headed monster of unemployment.
But come to think of it, we have established the fact that successive governments including the current one have bad history of implementation of capital components of the budgets.
How does government intends to make sure that the young graduates who have chosen to embrace professional agriculture can access the credits from the Bank of Agriculture or bank of industry to take off smoothly? It is true that government said it has begun the recapitalization of these lending institutions but it is still factual to state that these two critical funding bodies hardly make any significant impacts in the drive to create employment opportunities in the informal sector such as professional agricultural practices such as running farms and such others like fish and animal farms for profitability.
A peep into the latest statistical data of unemployment should tell the government officials that there is fire on the mountain.
In Quarter two (Q2) of year 2016, the Labour force population (i.e. those within the working age population willing, able and actively looking for work) increased to 79.9 million from 78.5 million in Quarter one (Q1) of 2016, representing an increase of 1.78% in the Labour force during the quarter.
This means 1.39 million persons from the economically active population entered the Labour force that is individuals that were able, willing and actively looking for work.
This magnitude of this increase between Q1 and Q2 2016 is smaller when compared to Q4 2015 and Q12016, which was an increase of 1.59m in the Labour force population.
Within the reference period, the total number of person in full time employment (did any form of work for at least 40hours) decreased by 351,350 or 0.65% when compared to the previous quarter, and also decreased by 749,414 or 1.38% when compared to Q2 of 2015.
The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics like most countries in the world now uses a variant of the ILO definition such that the unemployment is the proportion of those in the Labour force (not in the entire economic active population, nor the entire Nigerian population) who were actively looking for work but could not find work for at least 20 hours during the reference period to the total currently active (Labour force) population. Accordingly you are unemployed if you did absolutely nothing at all or did something but not for up to 20 hours in a week. Underemployment however occurs if you work less than full time which is 40 hours but work at least 20 hours on average a week and /or if you work full time but are engaged in an activity that underutilizes your skills, time and educational qualifications.
These are critical information gleaned from the official website of the Bureau of National statistics of Nigeria.
We think government should concentrate part of this national budget to engage in the massive capacity building of the youth population because trained manpower is the driving force of most of the well to do economies like China and Japan.
Government should invest more in information technology and work on strategic engagement of young persons to do technology transfer from friendly advanced economies such as China or Japan.
It is better to teach the youth how to fish than to spoon-feed them with fish. Another sector to be tapped into is Sports Development because sports are now big time foreign exchange earners for such big nations like Brazil.
Nigerian young talents must be looked for and developed for exports because by so doing the revenues accruable from their extremely impressive salaries and sign on fees can contribute a lot towards national development.
*Emmanuel Onwubiko & Queen Onwughalu wrote in from Human rights writers Association of Nigeria (Abuja Nigeria). We can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.