| By Vincent Nzemeke |
MICHEAL Odunlami’s story provokes pity. Two years after graduating with a second class upper degree in Mathematics from the University of Lagos, he is yet to get a ‘decent job’. As he continues to wait for a job that is commensurate with his qualification, Odunlami has taken up a teaching job in a secondary in his neighborhood in order to survive. “I had to take this teaching job to make ends meet. I have been searching for a job since I completed my NYSC in 2011. I have attended many interviews but they all end in disappointment. They promised to get back to me but they never did so.”
In a similar fate, Regina Othowo has been hunting for a job for almost half a decade. She graduated with a second class upper degree in statistics in 2009 and has not been able to secure a job in any organisation. Now married with two children, Othowo runs a beauty salon to take off idleness. Recounting her experience in the labour market, Othowo said it was one of the most traumatic periods in her life. “It was a frustrating experience and I don’t like to remember it. I attended more than 50 interviews in Lagos, and other parts of this country and none came through. When I eventually got some offers, it was below what I expected to be paid as a graduate. I got married without a job and it remained so until I had my first child. Since I knew how to make hair, my husband suggested that I open a salon in order to support the family”.
As Nigerians at home and abroad celebrate the country’s 53rd independence anniversary, there is little or nothing for Odunlami, Othowo and thousands of other unemployed youths in the country to celebrate. For many of them, the inability to get a job even after attaining various levels of education is a constant reminder that unemployment has become a major socio-economic problem in the country.
When the present administration under President Goodluck Jonathan came on board in 2011, tackling youth unemployment was one of its objectives. Jonathan promised to harness country’s natural resources and create an enabling environment for small and medium scale businesses to thrive. “We are ready to take off on the path of sustained growth and economic development. In our economic strategy, there will be appropriate policy support to the real sector of the economy, so that Small and Medium Enterprises may thrive. Nigeria is blessed with enormous natural wealth, and my administration will continue to encourage locally owned enterprises to take advantage of our resources in growing the domestic economy. A robust private sector is vital to providing jobs for our rapidly expanding population”
But almost three years down the line, the situation seems to be deteriorating as many youths are still roaming the streets in search of jobs. The situation has forced many of them to take up menial jobs in order to survive. Although the present administration has initiated certain policies aimed at tackling the unemployment problem, the number of the unemployed in the country continues to soar.
Records released by the World Bank shows that unemployment in Nigeria presently stands at 56 per cent. The bank’s finding corresponds with the data released by Temi Kale, statistician-general of the federation, which reveals that there are about 20.3 million unemployed Nigerians. Kale added that “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.”
Aside from the baffling statistics from various organisations within and outside the country, individuals and stakeholders have also expressed worry about the rise of unemployment in the Nigeria. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo recently declared that the unemployment situation in Nigeria had reached an alarming level which can trigger off a revolution in the country. Obasanjo, who was a guest speaker at a conference aimed at encouraging youths to embrace farming in Ilorin, warned that the country “is sitting on a keg of gun-powder” due to the inability of the Jonathan administration to come up with a comprehensive policy to 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”.
In a similar development Olusegun Oshinowo, director-general of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association, NECA, also described unemployment as Nigeria’s biggest challenge. Oshinowo said the unemployment rate in Nigeria is more than the 56 percent figure quoted by the World Bank. “The 56 percent statistics of unemployed youths 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”.
Like Obasanjo, Oshinowo reiterated that the country would be in a more precarious situation in years to come if the unemployment crisis is not addressed. “We are in a dire strait because unemployment has diverse implications. Security wise, a large unemployed youth population is a threat to 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”.
Various factors have been identified for the growing rate of unemployment in the country. While some attribute it to the failure of industries to cater for the burgeoning number of graduates in the country, a few opine that the graduates produced by Nigerian institutions are not employable because their skills are not tailored towards the needs of the industrial sector. Anne Onyekwere runs a consultancy firm that recruits graduates for some organisations. She said some employers deliberately ignore graduates from Nigerian schools because they lack the required expertise for the job.
“I have had some funny experiences on this job. I have met graduates with good qualifications who cannot defend their certificates. Some of our clients gave orders that we should recruit only graduates from schools outside Nigeria because the few ones they have worked with performed woefully”.
While many are of the opinion that students of this age are lazy and encumbered with frivolities such as fashion, music and so on, some members of the academia blame the malady on the ‘paper craze’ culture of the Nigerian society. Patience Ogbeyi, a lecturer at Rivers State University of Science and Technology, stated that the ‘paper craze’ culture of the Nigerian society plays a significant role in the performance of Nigerian graduates and students. “Ours is a certificate crazy country. People just want to get the certificate and hit the labour market; nobody is concerned whether you learnt anything in school. The students are so sure that they can get a job as long as the certificate bears their names, so they don’t pursue knowledge but grades.”
There are also those who believe that the unemployment situation is worsened because of disregard for technical jobs by many young people of today. To them, the fact that many young people are no longer interested in learning trades or becoming artisans is one of the reasons why there are so many unemployed youths in the country.
Ibrahim Olajide, who runs a fashion designing outfit, said there are fewer artisans in the country because young people want quick money and consider jobs like tailoring and barbing odd. “Young people are no longer interested in learning businesses like barbing and tailoring. Everybody wants something that will bring money fast so the youths consider learning a trade odd.”
It is not as if the government is not making efforts to address the unemployment situation in the country. But considering the number of unemployed youths, these efforts appear insignificant and short of what is required to cater for all. Last year, the president and his economic team led by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, minister of finance, initiated YouWin, a youth empowerment programme aimed at reducing unemployment by creating entrepreneurs.
YOUwin, which stands for Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria, was initiated to generate jobs by encouraging and supporting aspiring entrepreneurial youths in Nigeria to develop and execute business ideas that will lead to job creation. The programme provides aspiring youths with a platform to show case their business acumen, skills and aspirations to become business leaders, investors and mentors in Nigeria.
When YOUwin was launched, it was designed to generate between 80,000 to 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 ceremony held in February this year, 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.
Another effort at reducing unemployment was made by the federal government in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, UNIDO, recently with the inauguration of 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.
Noble as these initiatives appear, it is still a far cry from what is required to exorcise the ghost of unemployment in Nigeria. The 1,200 entrepreneurs empowered by YOUwin and other initiatives represent less than half percent of Nigeria’s unemployed youths. Stakeholders like Oshinowo opine that Nigeria’s unemployment problem will not be solved with the creation of more agencies that can only empower a few people. Oshinowo said: “Creation of government agencies cannot manufacture jobs. It is the manufacturing sector that provides jobs. There is need for good governance that will put in place a sound micro economic framework that will encourage people to start their own business.” Above all, Nigeria must redirect its education towards the path whereby products of the system can be job creators rather than job seekers.
— Oct. 7, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT