The recent restriction placed on motorcycle riders (Okada) and tricycle operators (Keke Marwa) in Lagos State has once again brought to the fore the problem of unemployment in Nigeria.
While government has given numerous reasons, including public safety, to justify its actions, opponents of the ban, including the riders themselves, have argued that the ban would only increase unemployment as most of them had resorted to their trade due to difficulties encountered in securing paid employment.
One particular female rider became the face of this argument when during protests against the ban, she revealed that she possessed a National Diploma but had to take to riding a bike to fend for herself as she could not secure a job.
This development makes it imperative that government pays urgent attention to the rising spate of unemployment among the youth of 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.
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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 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.
In Nigeria, the unemployment rate is reported by the National Bureau of Statistics. From 2006 to 2011, the unemployment rate averaged 14.6 percent. It recorded a record low percent of 5.6 in December 2006. In 2011, it recorded an all-time high of 23.9 percent.
At a time, figures released from the National Bureau of Statistics stated that 5.3 million youths were 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 third quarter of 2017, the unemployment rate in Nigeria, according to africacheck.org, stood at 18.8 percent, while the total percentage of unemployed and underemployed stood at 40 percent. The body stated as follows:
“Nigeria’s latest unemployment data is for July to September 2017. A total of 51.1 million people were 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 percent, 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.”
Jigawa, Rivers, Kaduna, Yobe and Akwa Ibom states had the highest levels with 62.4 percent, 61.4 percent, 58.6 percent, 58.1 percent, and 54.8 percent respectively. Ondo which had the lowest rate recorded 34.5 percent
Ills of unemployment
Unemployment anywhere in the world is a major problem that cannot be ignored. It is linked to several societal ills such as crime, drug abuse, societal decadence, etc. The ongoing insurgency in the North East has its root in unemployment and attendant poverty as 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 his spouse and children but comprising also 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 as are currently being addressed by the national conference.
Whatever may be the motivation of insurgents who have in recent times stepped up their campaign of calumny in 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 elements 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.
The local governments which are designed to be the closest to the people and therefore positioned to best affect their lives positively should be further repositioned to boost economic activities at the grass-root level, instead of being starved of funds needed to carry out their duty.
The current situation in which salaries and emoluments of local government chairmen and political appointees account for a large percentage of the expenditure of most local governments should be reviewed.
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.
All these can only achieved by means of the promulgation of a true peoples Constitution that takes care of local realities. Constitutional changes must be made to the structure of the country to permit social and economic development across all tiers of government. The time to act is now.