By Aare Afe Babalola
“The Arab spring which some years ago swept away many leaders across the Arab world was motivated largely by the high rate of unemployment and poverty. Before then and hundreds of years earlier, the French revolution occurred when the poor could no longer afford the price of a loaf of bread”.
Last week, I identified education as one of those matters which require urgent attention in the run up to the 2019 general elections. I stated how the fortunes of the country’s educational institutions had declined steadily leading to a situation in which graduates of Nigerian Universities find it difficult to secure jobs even from Nigerian business concerns. This development without doubt has brought about a high unemployment rate, poverty and slowed the pace of the country’s economic development. This surely cannot aide or foster national unity.
Post Independence Nigeria
Prior to independence, unemployment and poverty were not the problems that they now pose to the country. Jobs were available for the few educated Nigerians. Even those who were not deemed educated by western standards did not suffer a shortage of jobs. This was perhaps due to the low population of the country. In 1955, the population of Lagos numbered at 312,000. By 1980, due to rural urban migration, it has risen to about 3000000 (three million). In the immediate period after independence, unemployment was still not a problem. Most graduates already had job offers even before leaving school. This was partly due to the fact that the country was structured along the regional basis allowing for growth of the regions on the basis of resources available to it. As I have stated earlier, whilst the Western Region was noted for cocoa production, the Eastern and Northern Regions had palm oil and groundnut respectively. With prudent management, the resources which accrued from agriculture were utilized in several sectors of the economy leading to a creation of jobs for the population.
However, with the coming of the military and the discovery of oil in commercial quantity, things took a turn. Agriculture which hitherto had been the mainstay of the economy was abandoned as Nigerians reveled in the sudden abundance of wealth provided by oil exploration. Successive government paid little attention to economic and infrastructural development. Critical sectors such as power without which there can hardly be industrial development were totally ignored. Consequent upon this, many manufacturing concerns went under and even small businesses were unable to stay afloat. Yet at this most critical point, Nigeria was still producing graduates from the numerous universities across the country. Furthermore, to add to the problem, the universities were themselves grappling with numerous crises such as strikes, dilapidated infrastructure, brain drain, etc. which were not totally unrelated to the poor state of the economy. Therefore, Nigeria was suddenly faced with a situation in which the economy could not absorb graduates being produced by the universities while at the same time; the universities were themselves producing unemployable graduates.
Ills of unemployment
Unemployment anywhere in the world is a major problem which cannot be ignored. It is linked to several societal ills such as crime, drug abuse, societal decadence, etc. In Nigeria unemployment rate is reported by the National Bureau of Statistics. From 2006 to 2011, the unemployment rate averaged 14.6%. It recorded a record low percent of 5.6 in December 2006. In 2011, it recorded an all-time high of 23.9%. At a time, figures released from the National Bureau of Statistics stated that 5.3 million youths are jobless in Nigeria while 1.8 million graduates enter the labour market every year. The problem has been on for some time due to the inability of authorities to track the numbers of persons entering the labour market every year. As at the 3rd quarter of 2017, the unemployment rate in Nigeria , according to africacheck.org stood at 18.8% while the total percentage of unemployed and underemployed stood at 40%. The body stated as follows:
“Nigeria’s latest unemployment data is for July to September 2017. A total of 51.1 million people was estimated to be in full-time employment during this period, or working at least 40 hours a week.The country’s unemployment rate stood at 18.8%, as Spectator Index had tweeted. It was the twelfth consecutive rise since the last quarter of 2014. (Note: Nigeria experienced a slowdown in economic growth from 2014 and entered into a recession in 2016, only exiting it in the second quarter of 2017.)In absolute numbers, the number of people who were unemployed had increased to an estimated 15.9 million, while the underemployed were at about 18 million (21.2%).Combined, 40% of the country’s labour force were therefore either underemployed or had no job.”
Highest levels of unemployment
Jigawa, Rivers, Kaduna, Yobe and Akwa Ibom states had the highest levels with 62.4%, 61.4%, 58.6%, 58.1% and 54.8% respectively. Ondo which had the lowest rate recorded 34.5%
Where there is unemployment there is bound to be poverty. If young Nigerians after acquiring educational or vocational training are unable to find jobs, there is bound to be an effect on the rate of poverty in the country. Ours is a society which places emphasis on the nuclear structure of the family with the effect that a salary earner in most cases is responsible for the upkeep not only of his immediate family comprising of his spouse and children but comprising also of a retinue of relatives. Thus the unemployment of one individual in our society is bound to affect the abilities of several others to maintain a meaningful or reasonable level of economic existence.
Unemployment and poverty are not a good mix to have in any political structure particularly where that structure such as is the case in Nigeria suffers from other deficiencies such as a lack of unity amongst its various ethnic identities. Whatever may be the motivation of terrorists who have again stepped up their campaign of calumny in some parts of Borno State, it cannot be denied that poverty and unemployment provide fertile ground for breeding destructive ideas. A person who is poor and perhaps without any hope of gainful employment will be an easy target for criminal element intent on persuading him to join their ranks.
It is therefore necessary for governments at the federal, state and local government levels to urgently address issues of unemployment and poverty. A situation in which the Federal Government takes the largest chunk of revenue accruing to the country is one that should be urgently addressed and reversed. At the moment, the local governments which are designed to be the closest to the people and therefore positioned to best affect their lives positively are starved of the funds needed to carry out their duty. To make matters worse, a large percentage of revenue which does come in is used to service political structures. Salaries and emoluments of local government chairmen and political appointees account for a large percentage of the expenditure of most local governments. This situation is replicated across the state and federal levels where the salaries and emoluments of commissioners, special assistants, senior special assistants and others take up a huge percentage of revenue. When this is added to the cost of running a bicameral legislature at the federal level and the houses of assembly of each state, it is not difficult to see why meaningful policies to address unemployment and poverty are seemingly not of primary importance or concern.
The time to act
As politicians criss-cross Nigeria and the globe to secure their political futures and fortunes, they should factor in matters which are of uppermost interest and concern to those they seek to serve. They should realise that the ever widening gap between the rich and poor and increasing poverty levels have never served any society well. If left unchecked, these are developments that will forever ensure that true unity is elusive in Nigeria. The Arab spring which some years ago swept away many leaders across the Arab world was motivated largely by the high rate of unemployment and poverty. Before then and hundreds of years earlier, the French revolution occurred when the poor could no longer afford the price of a loaf of bread. It is said in some quarters, that unless something urgently is done to address poverty, that the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich.
To be continued…