By Peter Osalor
Despite achieving an inspiring growth rate of 7% per annum since 2001, Nigeria remains crippled with massive unemployment levels that continue to exact a considerable toll on its socio-economic prospects. Credible data on this count is lacking for most of sub-Saharan Africa, but Abuja concedes that 70% of the population was jobless as recently as 2007.
The federal government has since revised the figure to just below 29% in accordance with new World Bank findings. Although the percentage drop seems incredible, it still translates to more than 40 million jobless in a country of 148 million. The implications have been especially harsh for Nigerian youths, an estimated 95% of whom are without a source of livelihood.
These figures only reconfirm the perception that high growth rates have failed to improve Nigeriaâ€™s entrenched macro-economic deficiencies, born out of decades of failed governance, mismanagement and conflict. The downstream effects of youth unemployment are fuelling rapid alienation and social unrest across the Nigerian landscape, the immediate symptoms of which are evident in the palpable rise in organised crime, armed insurgency, vandalism and drug trafficking.
Human development indices for Africaâ€™s second largest economy continue to be appalling despite the countryâ€™s bountiful resources, escalating oil fortunes and a vigorous reforms programme initiated after the return of democracy in 1999. A 2007 UNDP survey on poverty and extreme deprivation of 108 countries ranked Nigeria at the 80th position, giving it a Human Poverty Index of 37.3 â€“ among the lowest for the entire continent.Â For a country that earns an estimated $2.2 million in daily petrodollar revenue, these figures reflect an impudent malaise that has invaded every aspect of Nigerian life.
The scariest undertone of Nigeriaâ€™s socio-economic underachievement, by far, is the steady rise in youth crime, nurtured in a climate of increasing national income and the simultaneous failure of employment-generation and poverty alleviation programmes. Armed insurgencies ravaging the oil-rich and volatile Niger Delta region are now competing for space in international headlines with a proliferation of Islamic terrorist offshoots.
The season of discontent has especial ramifications for a nation with unemployed millions, and the net effect has been a tragic precipitation of violent crimes: assault, burglary, extortion and kidnapping. Further, decades of social and political turmoil helped turn this strategically located African nation into an established junction for international drug smugglers. Other highlights of Nigeriaâ€™s prolific crime syndicates are economic fraud â€“ usually in the form of innovative Internet schemes; money laundering and racketeering.
What holds true for Nigeria and most other nations of equivalent human development indicators is the fact that crime is often a means of survival. The idea is corroborated by the preponderance of property offenses across Nigeria â€“ burglary, robbery, fraud etc. So much so that shriveling opportunities for sustainable employment and the resulting surge in crime are two of the biggest hurdles in the way of accelerated economic development.
The key challenge for Nigeria in the context of its long-term growth prospects, remains the mobilisation of its substantive youth population to lead an entrepreneurial revolution. It is of critical economic as well as social importance on which rests the countryâ€™s ambitions for sustainable and inclusive growth.
The bewildering array of problems hindering the countryâ€™s successful evolution from third-word stature calls for creative solutions based on a holistic outlook. The following aspects are crucial to any worthwhile government effort aimed at reducing youth crime as part of economic development policy:
Â·Â Â Â Preserving political stability and effectiveness of democratic institutions to effectively pursue youth and employment revival programmes.
Â·Â Â Â Improving human development indices, especially per capita income and standard of living, through perseverant policy redirections.
Â·Â Â Â Enforcing creative poverty alleviation schemes that promote rapid enterprise development in both urban and rural areas.
Â·Â Â Â Extensively revamping the education system to coincide with local imperatives, especially with regards to vocational training and skill development.
Â·Â Â Â Fighting institutional corruption and bureaucratic decadence in government agencies for effective policy implementation.
Â·Â Â Â Rehabilitating criminal elements by equipping them with practical skills and returning them to mainstream activities.
The problem of youth crime in Nigeria is inextricably linked to the state of its economy. High growth figures alone have more than sufficiently proved unequal to tackling inherent imbalances plaguing this nation of untold potential and chronic underachievement. The coming-of-age of Nigeriaâ€™s economy rests primarily on its ability to harness its substantial youth population and leverage its economic potential for durable, long-term growth.