The Unemployment Time Bomb

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The March 15, 2014 tragedy in which about 19 youths died at various recruitment venues struggling for immigration jobs has raised fears that the ballooning army of unemployed Nigerians may soon become a serious security problem for the country

By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Mar. 31, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

JONAH Agada Kure cut the image of a runaway soldier on Saturday March 15, 2014, when he returned from the national stadium, Abuja. The stadium was one of the venues of the nationwide aptitude test organised by the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, for applicants seeking to join its workforce. As he wobbled into his apartment in Nyanya that afternoon, neighbours who had not heard about the stampede which broke out at the test venue stared at him in disbelief.

Like a puppy thrown into a dam of water, he was soaked in his own sweat. His white shirt and short glistened with dirt and the envelope with which he carried his credentials was badly torn. Encircled by no less than eight people, Kure began to narrate his misadventure at the national stadium. “I don’t know how many people actually applied but I have never seen such a large crowd in my life. Not even at a church programme. We were just too much and there was only one entrance to get into the stadium. People started pushing one another and some people fell in the process and others trampled upon them.

Parradang
Parradang

“I saw old people; pregnant women who were running in different directions as the security people chased us. I and some other people went in through some bush paths behind the stadium. We were led by an immigration officer whose younger brother also came to write the exam,” he said.

Kure was still telling his story to the attentive audience when the news filtered in that some seven or so job seekers who reported for the NIS aptitude test had been killed in a stampede that broke out at the national stadium. As the news continued to spread, it became obvious that Abuja was not the only venue where there was crisis. Due to the large number of applicants who turned up, there had been stampede in virtually all the venues of the aptitude test leading to the death of no less than 19 applicants nationwide.

At the Abuja centre where about 69,000 applicants converged, eight people were reported dead while trying to gain entrance into the stadium. It was a similar situation at the Libration Stadium in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where five out of the about 23,000 applicants died and several others injured. In Minna, Niger State, three applicants died while another three also lost their lives at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium, Benin, Edo State, where the test held.

Hundreds of other applicants fainted and several of them received serious injuries at the various centres where the test was conducted in the country. In Abuja, for instance, some of the applicants who sustained injuries during the stampede were said to be receiving treatment at the national hospital, while government hospital in Kano also received some of those who received various degrees  of injuries.

As expected, the NIS recruitment disaster has generated reactions from various sections of the country. On Monday, March 17, President Goodluck Jonathan queried Abba Moro, the minister of interior and David Parradang, comptroller-general, NIS, on the incident. The two government officials, who also had a private meeting  with the president,did not make public what transpired between  them president. But President Jonathan has vowed to get to the roots of the matter. Reacting to calls that he should resign or be sacked, Moro said leaving the ministry at the moment would amount to walking away from the crisis. He said he had set up a panel to investigate the cause of the problem. Chukwuemeka Obua, public relations officer, NIS, said the recruitment was handled by the contractor appointed by the board and not by the service.

Maku
Maku

On Tuesday March 18, 2014, the Senate expressed grave concern over the escalating unemployment rate in Nigeria as manifested in the Saturday’s recruitment tragedy, observing that lack of job opportunities could provoke a re-enactment of the French Revolution or even the more recent Arab Spring, which led to violent change of governments in the Middle East and North Africa. The Senate thus, ordered a public hearing into the incident. At a similar plenary in the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, speaker, mandated the committees on interior, labour, public service matters and justice to probe the tragic incident. The House also appealed to the federal government to liaise with states and local governments to evolve a job creation scheme that would be less cumbersome and friendly to the Nigerian youths.

From the pronouncements in both houses, the unemployment situation in the country appears to have gradually crept into the conscience of the legislators. Apart from expressing their sympathy and condoling with the families of those concerned, the Senate, in trying to diagnose what prompted the whole crisis, was briefed by Atiku Bagudu, chairman,  Senate committee on interior. Bagudu said that in the recruitment exercise, no fewer than 15 lives were officially reported lost  while many others were injured. He traced the exercise to the approval granted by a former head of service of the federation in 2011 for the recruitment of 4,556 personnel into various cadres of NIS. According to him, a total of 1,343 graduates were to be employed as assistant superintendents I and II; 1,680 holders of Ordinary National Diplomas, OND, and National Certificates in Education, NCE, were to be employed as assistant inspectors I; and 1,531 others with Senior School Certificate Examination, SSCE, qualification were to be employed as immigration assistants III. According to Bagudu, following the federal government’s approval for the recruitment, attempts by Rose Uzoma, immediate past comptroller-general of the NIS, to effect the decision failed because of some irregularities which trailed the process. This, he said, led to the engagement of Drexel Technical Global to handle the recruitment with N1,000 charged each applicant who applied through an online platform. According to the senator, as many as 700,772 applied for the jobs, of which 70,000 of them were registered and scheduled to write the aptitude test in  Abuja Stadium.

Okonjo-Iweala
Okonjo-Iweala

Speaking in support of Bagudu’s motion that the Senate  should investigate the tragic incident, Smart Adeyemi from Kogi State, who described the tragedy as disheartening and painful, lamented that things had become so bad in Nigeria that the average citizen no longer believed that he could apply for a job and get it without the intervention of an influential person. He said it was the mindset that had led to the desperation exhibited by applicants during the Saturday March 15 recruitment exercise because of people’s belief that they must struggle for the job.  Besides, Adeyemi said the unfortunate experience had shown that the nation was in the grip of an acute employment crisis. Olubunmi Adetumbi, a senator from Ekiti North, agreed and warned that unless the unemployment situation was quickly brought under control, Nigeria risked its own version of the French revolution which, he said, altered the entire course of the country’s history. “The issue before us is leadership. If you juxtapose the claims of economic growth with what happened on Saturday, we don’t need anybody to tell us that there is policy failure. Our economy is not working. We are not creating jobs. That is why 700,000 people are chasing 4,000 jobs. The federal government must take responsibility for failure of policies,” Adetumbi said.

In his contribution, Abdul Ningi, a senator from Bauchi Central, suggested that the National Assembly must set aside between 15 and 25 percent of the nation’s total budget to address unemployment. In a similar contribution, Ita Enang, a senator from Akwa Ibom North-East, said emphatically: “Revolution is staring Nigeria in the face.” He therefore, urged the Senate to devote two special days to the issue of unemployment, while also warning that the rate of unemployment in the country was worse than the battle of insurgency currently being fought by Nigeria.

Indeed, the rate of unemployment in the country should be worrisome. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the rate of unemployment in Nigeria stood at 23.9 percent in 2011, and in 2012 it maintained that 54 percent of youths were unemployed. Recent records released by the World Bank have shown that unemployment in Nigeria currently stands at 56 percent. The Word Bank’s revelation tallies with the data released by Temi Kale, statistician-general of the federation in 2012, which revealed that there were about 20.3 million unemployed Nigerians. In his report, Kale said: “Nigeria’s unemployment rate is spiraling upwards, growing at 16 per cent per year. The youths of the nation are the most impacted, with a youth unemployment rate of over 50 percent.” According to statistics from the Manpower Board and the Federal Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria has a youth population of 80 million, representing 60 percent of the total population of the country. Sixty-four million of the youth are unemployed, while 1.6 million are under-employed. Coupled with that is the poverty level which  ranks Nigeria 148th out of 173 countries on Human Development Index. In other words, over 70 percent of the people live on less than $1 a day which is below the income poverty line

Candidates struggking to enter Abuja Stadium
Candidates struggling to enter Abuja Stadium

Besides, the startling statistics, some prominent Nigerians have also raised the alarm on the rising rate of unemployment, especially among the youths in Nigeria. At an event last year, former president Olusegun Obasanjo warned of an impending disaster because unemployment had reached an alarming level in the country. According to him, it was capable of triggering off a revolution. Obasanjo, who was a guest speaker at a conference aimed at encouraging youths to embrace farming in Ilorin, Kwara State, warned that the country was sitting on “a keg of gun-powder” due to the inability of government to come up with a comprehensive policy that would address the challenges of youth unemployment.

“We are sitting on a keg of gun-powder in this country due to the problems of unemployment of our youths. We have almost 150 universities now in the country turning out these young Nigerians but without job opportunities for them,” Obasanjo said. His  views are shared by Olusegun Oshinowo, director-general of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, who also described unemployment as Nigeria’s biggest challenge. At an economic summit where he spoke, Oshinowo shocked the audience when he revealed that the unemployment rate in Nigeria was more than the 56 percent figure quoted by the World Bank. “The 56 percent statistics of unemployed youth is disturbing. To me, it’s even more than 56 percent. It is between 60 and 65 percent. Unemployment is the biggest, most worrying socio-economic incidence for this country today,” he said.

Like Obasanjo, Oshinowo reiterated that the country would be in a more precarious situation in years to come if the unemployment crisis was not addressed promptly. “We are in dire strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, a large unemployed youth population is a threat to the security of the few that are employed. Any transformation agenda that does not have job creation at the centre of its programme will not take us anywhere,” he warned.

Some private business owners have also expressed concern over the soaring rate of unemployment in the country. At a recent training for the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members in Abuja recently, Regina Adigwe, an official of an Abuja- based recruitment agency, was worried that there were millions of young Nigerians roaming the streets everyday in search of employment. She told the corps members:“When you pass out, you will have to compete with the millions of job seekers in various parts of the country seeking for jobs. The reality of the situation is that they are too many people chasing the few available jobs, so you must prepare yourself for the challenge ahead.”

Candidates writing exams
Candidates writing exams

In the face of these stark realities, the Nigerian government claimed it has created and is still creating jobs for millions of unemployed Nigerians. In December 2013, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance and the coordinating minister of the economy, said the federal government had created 1.6 million jobs between January and December 2013. Speaking at an interactive session with some private sector investors in Abuja, Okonjo-Iweala said: “We have created 1.6 million jobs in the past 12 months; 431,021 jobs were created in the first quarter of 2013, showing an upward trend in job creation and an increase of 11.69 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2012.”

According to the minister, the focus of the government programme  on direct job creation is the community service scheme, which aims to engage 320,000 youths in labour- intensive work such as construction and rehabilitation of social and economic infrastructure. She said about 120,000 people had been employed so far under the scheme, which is being anchored by the Subsidy Re-Investment Programme, SURE-P. She also listed the Graduate Internship Scheme, which aims to attach 50,000 graduates to competent firms to enhance skills development towards employability. She noted that 4,000 graduates had emerged so far under the scheme.

The minister said the Gross Domestic Product, GDP, growth stood at 6.75 percent at the end of 2013, up from 6.61 percent in 2012. She recalled that the GDP growth in the first three quarters of 2013 stood at 6.56 percent, 6.18 percent and 6.81 percent respectively. However, she said that the economic growth during the year had continued to be driven by the non-oil sector.

Aside from this, the Jonathan administration has also made some efforts to tackle the issue of unemployment, but considering the number of unemployed Nigerians, the impact of such efforts have not been seriously felt. For instance, in 2012, the Jonathan administration initiated the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria, YouWin, a youth empowerment programme aimed at reducing unemployment by creating entrepreneurs. The YouWin programme is also to generate jobs by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youth in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas that would lead to job creation. The programme provides aspiring youths with a platform to show case their business acumen, skills and aspirations to be business leaders, investors and mentors in Nigeria.

When the YouWin was launched, it was designed to generate between 80, 000 and 110, 000 new jobs for unemployed Nigerian youths. So far, the scheme has produced 1,200 winners from various parts of the country. At the first presentation of winners which held in February 2012, organisers of the scheme revealed that the winners were selected from a pool of more than 24,000 participants because their ideas and business proposals were adjudged the best in terms of innovation, job creation potential, and relevance to the nation’s economic needs.

In another effort, the federal government, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, recently inaugurated an inter-ministerial committee on job fair, to address all the identified barriers to job creation and sustainable livelihood in the country. The committee’s task includes producing an action plan for the job fair with cost and timelines and arranging venues, date, time, programme, invitees, training session, target industries, companies, schools and youths. The committee is also expected to build and launch a web platform for entrepreneurship and job fair where employers can put online job openings and job seekers can directly register online. It is equally mandated to build a database for the teeming unemployed youths and showcase successful entrepreneurs.

Waiting for the execise to start
Waiting for the execise to start

The government is also in support of the Youths Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture, a non-government organisation, which has local, state, national and international recognition, as an agricultural knowledge-based group. It is a forum for agricultural professionals and other youths interested in agriculture, promoting sustainable agriculture and providing knowledge and sourcing funds for those who are interested in producing agricultural products to make a living. It also helps in refocusing resources on youths’ development needs through agriculture. Adewunmi Adesina, minister of agriculture, has also emphasised the need for youths and unemployed adults to embrace agriculture as a means of being self-employed. Adesina said the agricultural programme would help take agricultural graduates from job-hunting, provide food and employment opportunities while alleviating poverty and ensuring development in the country.

But impressive as all the government initiatives appear, the ghost of unemployment is far from being exorcised in Nigeria. The figures of growing GDP reeled out by Okonjo-Iweala makes no meaning to the millions of desperate Nigerians hunting for jobs every day. Every time the minister speaks about creating jobs, the re-occurring question on the lips of many Nigerians is:  “Where are the jobs and who are the beneficiaries?” Tope Fasua, an economic analyst in Abuja, said that because the unemployment rate was so high, government’s efforts at eradicating it appears  insignificant. “You cannot say they are not doing anything. They are initiating some very nice programmes but you cannot feel the impact because there are so many unemployed people in the country,” Fasua said.

An official at the Abuja office of SURE-P, who declined to mention his name because he was not authorised to speak on behalf of the organization, said it would take a while before Nigerians would start to see the impact of the federal government’s job creation efforts. “It is very easy to sit somewhere and say the government is not doing anything about unemployment. But if you go out and look at some of the things we have been able to achieve at SURE-P, you will commend the present government. Besides the graduate internship programme which everyone knows, we have some other programmes in various parts of this country with which we have been able to create many jobs,” he said.

Writing on the NIS incident, Olatunji Dare, a professor of mass communications, drew readers’ attention to  the incident of April 19, 2008, in which a number of applicants died in the same NIS recruitment exercise. “Looking for work has become one of the most dangerous occupations in Nigeria – a risky venture that is likely to cause harm or injury, even death,” Dare said in a piece he wrote on August 19, 2008. It was a reaction to reports in the July 14, 2008, editions of the national newspapers that dozens had died the previous weekend at various centres across Nigeria in recruitment exercises being conducted by the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Prisons Department. According to the reports, the applicants had been required to complete a 2.5 kilometre race in 18 minutes (men) and 20 minutes (women). “For 43 of the 195, 000 applicants jostling for 3,000 vacancies, the race proved a fatal regimen, a journey of no return. A good many of them were trampled underfoot in the frenzied rush to gain a vantage position at the start; others died from sheer exhaustion. Hundreds sought hospital treatment for the injuries they suffered during the race,” Dare said. The event of March 15, was evidently a re-enactment of that sorry incident for which the professor wrote in another article dated March 18, 2014: “President Goodluck Jonathan must seize this moment to break the cycle of impunity that has been the hallmark of a good many of his administration’s officials by dismissing Abba Moro and the head of the Immigration Service forthwith. Far too many Nigerians who have every right to the protection of the state have died needless deaths on account of the incompetence, negligence and fecklessness of officials who have learned no lessons because no lessons were taught.

Ambulance taking victims of the stampede to the hospital
Ambulance taking victims of the stampede to the hospital

“It is also time for the administration to move beyond empty slogans to address unemployment forthrightly. It is nothing if not scandalous that an administration which has made job creation a top priority for the past few years has not even made a dent on employment. Government officials don’t even have the true measure of the problem. Their estimates range between 35 and 50 percent of persons qualified, able and willing to work.”

Indeed, for many unemployed people, there is need for the government to intensify its job creation efforts. Mohammed Yekini, brother to one of the NIS applicants who died in Abuja, called on the government to show more consideration to the plight of unemployed youths in the country. Another applicant, Suzan Kuhali said the crowd at the stadium should serve as a wakeup call to the government to do something about the unemployment situation in the country. “After seeing the turnout on that day, I am convinced that we are, indeed, sitting on a time bomb. The government must do something about unemployment before the situations gets out of control completely.”

In the meantime, the federal government has offered automatic employment to three members each of families of the dead victims. The government also granted automatic employments to applicants who got injured during the exercise. Labaran Maku, minister of information, made the announcement at the end of the weekly meeting of the Executive Council of the Federation, FEC, which was presided over by President Jonathan on Wednesday, March 19. Maku also said the government had cancelled the recruitment exercise by the NIS and other similar ongoing one by all government ministries, departments and agencies, except that of the Nigeria Police and the military. A special committee chaired by Joan Ayo, chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, was set up to conduct a new recruitment exercise to fill existing vacancies in the NIS. Be that as it may, the issue of employment, for now remains a time bomb that, if not carefully handled, may blow in the face of everyone.

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