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ACUTE UNEMPLOYMENT AS W.N.D.

By Less Leba
‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ or ‘the devil finds work for idle hands’ are popular aphorisms which have equivalence in several languages and cultures. 

The import of the message is, however, clear; the devil in universal social consciousness, portends that which is not only plain bad, but decidedly evil; i.e. destructive, pain inflicting, triumphantly sadistic and socially divisive, etc, etc.

It is deduced from the foregoing that nothing good or enduringly pleasant or harmonious comes out of anything evil.  Now, the devil on the other hand is the progenitor of evil and his requisite factory or workspace, we are told, is idleness, which loosely defined, means lack or absence of productive engagement for a person or persons in a community.

Thus, the above idioms are often used to counsel youths, in particular, of the dangers of idleness, with the expectation that social stability, cohesiveness, productivity and security would be the rewards of an actively engaged person or employed population.

In recognition of this fact, all economically successful nations have invariably accepted the responsibility to create an enabling environment for job creation and sustenance.

The governments of focused economies would regard it as a potential disaster if their rate of unemployment (for people capable of work) exceeds 5%, notwithstanding the social safety net of unemployment benefits, which are paid to those of their citizens without jobs.

Such successful economies also realize that increasing levels of unemployed above 5% would also create a serious burden on the ability of government to sustain the payment of dole if the unemployment rate continues to rise unabated.

We note the recognition of these governments of the fragility of the unemployed in the social chain of community security and cohesion.

Secondly, we should also note that these successful and socially minded economies have even gone a step further to ensure that their ‘unfortunate’ army of unemployed do not resort to desperate endeavours to obtain cash to meet their basic needs of house rent, food and transport, by paying unemployment allowances to those without jobs!

Now, how does the Nigerian experience compare with the above?  Well, to start with, the government readily admits without any apologies or urgency to redress the abysmal unemployment level that over 70 million able bodied Nigerians (including over 40 million youths) are currently unemployed out of our total estimated population of over 140 million Nigerians.

Worse still, less than 10% of school leavers find jobs every year!  In case we, the people, do not know this truth already, only really true friends of Nigeria will be honest enough to tell us that such scenario is a recipe for disaster!

The Nigerian government on the other hand, continues to strut the stage and extol the virtues of government policies and budgets which depict unbelievably humongous expenditures with little or no impact on social infrastructure and welfare.

In spite of the admission of recession in better managed economies, our own economic teams continue to indicate growth rate in excess of 5% in spite of worsening unemployment rate over the last four years.

Indeed, the IMF in a recent statement pointed at this anomaly of increasingly healthy growth in gross domestic product statistics existing side_by_side with very poor and still worsening rate of unemployment.  Put bluntly, the IMF maybe implying that the statistics of our economic indicators may have been well and truly cooked!

Well, even if our government is publicly in denial of the truth about employment and our economy, they cannot fail to recognize the rising wave of insecurity in the land; the octopus tentacles of fraud have enveloped all facets of our economy, from the banking sector to the money markets and all sectors of public and private administration.

Armed robbery, the weapon of choice for the hopeless and dispossessed has now become embellished with the finer art of bargaining associated with kidnapping.

The government has in turn reacted to the prevalence of these socially threatening crimes with increased budget allocations to the army, police and other security agencies; however, in spite of the 2008 budget of about N440bn for maintenance of security, particularly in the Niger Delta, militant activity rose in tempo and the government inevitably incurred more spending on a fresh amnesty programme that may already be floundering as at December 2009.

The ‘ex militants’ seem to have a clearer view of the problem; they have cried out for jobs or some form of social engagement that would take the place of career militancy!

The increasing spread of the new fad of kidnapping to other parts of the country outside the Niger Delta is ominous of the reality of the failure of the war against criminal rascality.

Not surprisingly, the perpetrators of these crimes became initiated, usually, after an endless search for jobs they could never find!

So, the answer to the issue of national and social security will not be won even if our whole annual budget is dedicated to providing tools and equipment for the security agencies; the likelihood is that their best efforts will be over whelmed by the rising army of unemployed and the social miscreants who are derived therefrom, would inadvertently become ‘Weapons of National Destruction’ or W.N.D.!

From the foregoing, it seems that the million dollar question is “how can the army of unemployed be rapidly reduced before they consume our nation?”

Even some enlightened Nigerians believe that it is the responsibility of government to provide jobs!  In this regard, such analysts will often call for increased government spending on one preferred sector or the other in the economy.

The truth, however, is that hundreds of billions of naira have been allocated in each year’s budget for various sectors and yet the quality of infrastructure continues to decay and unemployment has continued to rise over the last decade!  So, the argument that bigger sectoral allocations is the answer may not be quite correct.

Indeed, government spending is generally a small fraction of what is required for infrastructural enhancement and employment generation; for example, the government plans to spend about N4 trillion ($25 billion) in 2010; the reality is that the impact of this volume of spending on employment will be quite minimal.

The paucity in government spending vis_à_vis the requirement, for example, of over $100bn for power adequacy of over 40,000MW becomes very glaring.

The truth, of course, is that, in focused and successful genuine economies, expectation is never that the size of government spending alone will make the difference in the job market because of the recognition that government has very limited funds.  However, the government is required to provide the right enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.

The Small & Medium Enterprise (SMEs) Subsector is the main job driver in most economies.  This subsector traditionally provides more jobs than government or even multinational companies can ever make available.

In an environment like ours, most SMEs have collapsed, and the surviving ones continue to be besieged by government’s contradictory and inconsistent monetary and fiscal policies.

Again, even enlightened critics would blame the feeble state of the SME subsector on infrastructural inadequacy; such critics would advocate for more government spending on infrastructure; but, but as we have shown above, government can never have unlimited funds to bridge our infrastructural requirement gap.

The perspective of this column, however, is that our infrastructural deficit should be seen as an area of great investment opportunity and not a curse!  If there is an enabling and secure environment, venture capital will be attracted in droves to fund our refineries, power requirement, rail roads and other transportation infrastructure with the attendant increasing employment in all areas.

Japan, we are told, has over 40 refineries, and possibly none of them is public owned!

In other words, private sector led growth is the most realistic and plausible way of addressing our infrastructural deficit.  In recognition of the above, what, we may ask, is holding back such positive development in our economy?

The answer to this is really very simple.  You can still have growth in an economy with bad fiscal policies, but with a better structured monetary policy; but nothing can save an economy with good fiscal policies, but dysfunctional monetary framework!!

Indeed, the structure of a monetary framework which throws up inflation rates above 10% and double digit commercial/industrial lending rates often times above 20% is the albatross on the growth of the Nigerian economy, and the instigator of the rising level of unemployment.

Our current monetary policy framework is configured to make us poorer whenever we earn increasing dollar reserves!

A veritable contradiction, but the point is graphically amplified with the ‘exponential’ level of our reserves in the last 2 – 3 years, during which time Nigeria dropped to the class of the poorest nations in the world!

Nigeria economy will never grow and our level of employment will remain dismal so long as we are unable to operate a monetary policy framework that would make single digit lending rates an abiding part of our economic and business culture with minimal level of inflation.

I have ceaselessly advocated in this column that the payment of dollar derived revenue with dollar certificates rather than CBN’s substitution of bloated and increasingly worthless naira as monthly allocations to constitutional beneficiaries of the federation pool will bring down interest rates to between 6 – 8% within six months, and create an enabling environment for private sector led infrastructural enhancement and rapid improvement in the level of employment in a climate of stable prices and incomes!  SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!


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