By John Mayaki
In the final month of 2019, as many shifted focus to the festivities and expected celebrations, Senator Ike Ekweremadu delivered an impassioned, data-driven and a well-researched address that has become his trademark as one of Nigeria’s foremost lawmakers in the hallowed chambers of the Senate on the urgency of Nigeria’s unemployment figures.
Sponsoring a motion titled “Escalating Rate of Employment in the Country”, Senator Ekweremadu representing Enugu-West Constituency highlighted a report from the National Bureau of Statistics that pegged Nigeria’s unemployment rate at a staggering figure of 23.1% in the third quarter of 2019, and on course to hitting 33.5% this year if urgent measures are not taken to address the challenge.
“Any nation with such number of unemployed but employable youths is only sitting on a keg of gun powder,” he said before bemoaning the fact that potential talents in the country “lying idle and wasting away are usually misdirected toward many unprofitable and harmful ventures and lifestyles”, a stance backed by many study outcomes linking youth unemployment and scarce opportunities to rising interest and participation in crime and harmful societal behavior.
According to the International Labor Organization, Nigeria’s unemployment is attributed to the interrelated problems of jobless growth, a freeze in employment in many public and private sector institutions and the increased number of school graduates without matching job opportunities, a challenge Senator Ekweremadu is familiar with given his years of investment in Nigeria’s education system through provision of modern facilities and skill acquisition programs.
In the area of infrastructure provision and the delivery of brick and mortar projects, there is hardly any rival for Senator Ekweremadu in his years of public service as a Senator. Across his constituency, there are countless interventions, from roads easing passage and boosting local economy, to erosion control projects protecting farm produce and preventing loss of lives and properties, conceived and executed by Senator Ekweremadu.
However, as his own personal journey has taught him, wherein his rise was helped by quality education received at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and subsequently The University of Abuja where he obtained a doctorate degree in Law, Senator Ekweremadu has always been guided by the realization that Nigeria’s greatest resource is her people and the key to development is in educating and equipping them with the right skills for innovation and creative answers to country’s endemic problems, especially the youths.
This informed his innumerable interventions and contributions, sometimes at personal expense, including the construction and equipping of classrooms in several local governments in Enugu state, the institution of the Ikeoha Scholarship Scheme designed to subsidize the cost of quality education for talented students, and the Ikeoha Adult Literacy Programme with 30 centers spread across 5 LGAs in the state and enrollment figure of 1,620 after having produced over 12,000 beneficiaries.
It is on the back of this that Nigeria’s festering problem of no opportunities for her educated youths, particularly in the private sector, has become a major point of concern for Senator Ekweremadu.
“A situation where every school graduate has to queue up for a job only in government offices is an indication of the breakdown of the private sector which is the major driver of world economies,” he lamented.
Spurred by the motion of Senator Ekweremadu, the Senate moved to declare a state of emergency on unemployment in the country, charging government at all levels to prioritize efforts geared towards sustainable jobs creation and capacity building for young people.
It is no longer secret that Senator Ekweremadu, a fifth-term Senator with great achievements to show, will be bowing out of the upper chamber upon the completion of this term. Like other great men, he recognizes when the time is right to exit the stage for a bigger one and provide others the opportunity to serve. But even more importantly, and to his credit, in his personal recognition of the gradual passage of his generation, he is driven by larger concerns for Nigeria’s youths and its future.
He knows that we must train our youths and put them to work, and he has committed his life to making this a reality. Whether or not we will achieve this or when will depend on the action of others but history will record that Senator Ike Ekweremadu answered the call of duty and looked further ahead when plenty of others jostled for the fleeting and crumbling present.
Mayaki, an Oxford and Cambridge University-trained entrepreneurship, leadership and sustainability expert, resides in England.