The growing unemployment in Nigeria hit the peak in 2010 following the global economic crisis which caused a shrinking of the global economy. In 2011 unemployment rate in the general population was nearly 24 percent, with youth unemployment reaching nearly 50 percent. But as at today overall unemployment has declined to less than 20 percent (actually about 15 percent in the first half of 2014, according to National Bureau of Statistics) and youth unemployment has gone down to less than 38 percent.
Though these changes may not look as dramatic as we would wish, they have occurred by a two-pronged approach pursued by Jonathan – supporting a revival of the agricultural, industrial, entertainment, and several other sectors of the economy to provide opportunities for absorbing the youth from the private sector angle and the various efforts being made to create jobs in the public sector, especially through the various safety-net projects of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
From the Community, Social Women and Youth Employment (CSWYE) programme, over 180,000 youth and women have been employed; over 10,000 health workers (midwives, nurses and community health workers) have been employed; over 5,000 youths have been trained through the technical vocational educational training in different skills and vocations and deployed to several industries; 15,000 have been employed by FERMA in road repairs and vegetation control, while nearly 50,000 hitherto unemployed graduates have been given jobs through the Graduate Internship Scheme (GIS) across the nation.
The YOUWIN programme has enabled several young Nigerians (especially women) to receive grant from the Federal Ministry of Finance to set up new businesses through which they have employed other youths. The determined implementation of the local content law in the oil and gas and elsewhere in the economy has created more jobs and more wealth for Nigerians. If these efforts to create jobs directly and indirectly that have led to measurable improvement in the unemployment rate over the last four years do not amount to good economic management, then tell me what is.
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Jonathan’s government has introduced several policies and programmes that are supportive of businesses, especially local production. The pro-agric policies and programmes are well advertised, making it possible for a new generation of agric entrepreneurs (Nagropreneurs) to obtain loans at 9 percent, in addition to unprecedented support to agriculture with a focus on developing the agriculture value chain. I already referred to the higher level of local food production which has helped to moderate inflation. There is a new industrial revolution policy which is focusing on supporting local industrial output. We have seen unprecedented expansion in the cement industry which is taking the country to the level of self-sufficiency in cement production with possibility of exporting the excess in the near future.
Have we soon forgotten the cement armada spectacle where our ports were clogged with cement import from all over the world? Like it or not, the local auto industry is coming back to life with the new National Auto Policy which seeks to discourage unbridled importation of all kinds of automobiles from all over the world. Many of the world auto companies have started to invest in local production plants. This industrial revival and upgrade is happening in many industries, including mine – the pharmaceutical where the Federal Government has supported a number of local manufacturers to obtain the WHO GMP certification in the last one year, which hitherto had been practically impossible. Now these companies can compete with international and multinational companies for global supplies.
The privatization and deregulation policy which Jonathan has been ‘forcefully’ implementing has virtually transferred electric power to the private sector. Though the level of expected improvement has not been attained, we have brought the 15-year story of unbundling NEPA to a closure with reasonable expectation that new investment will flow to truly sort out our electric power needs, especially if government finally sells the transmission infrastructure. I believe the deregulation of the downstream petroleum sector will be completed soon and the multiplier effect on the economy will be unleashed. For me, the fight against corruption will get strong fillip when we remove the power of discretion and patronage from these sectors through privatisation and deregulation. Since we deregulated telecommunications, corruption in that sector has died and been buried.
That is more effective than sending 10 managing directors of NITEL to Kirikiri. Not that I am opposed to punishing the guilty. Corruption in power is in ‘coma’ now and that in oil and gas will soon be gasping for breath when we fully deregulate the sector. When we bury the ‘big’ corruption in these sectors by these policies that take the power of discretion from public servants, we can easily deal with ‘smaller’ corruption in government bureaucracy and the private sector. The level of policy inconsistency and flip-flops we used to see in the economy in the past has significantly declined, creating more confidence and attracting more investments into the country, with Nigeria receiving the highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Africa in the last two years or so despite slowing down in oil and gas, and the security scare notwithstanding.
I could go on and on. I have said nothing about the massive investment in rehabilitating major highways and rail lines in the country. Last December, I travelled to Kwale from Lagos in five and a half hours and travelled by rail from Port Harcourt to Imo River. The last time I did that was in 1992. The trains are running again and the long-delayed major road projects like the East-West Road, the Abuja-Lokoja, Benin-Sagamu, Onitsha-Enugu-PH, Kano-Maiduguri and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway are all nearing completion with significant portions now open to traffic. Have I said anything about the miracle of remodelling 18 Nigerian airports in one season, with most of them fully completed?
The impacts of good roads and other modes of transportation to any economy are too obvious for any further elaboration. Some people who are reading this and who may have joined the bandwagon of those who say nothing is happening in the economy or that Jonathan is clueless may be angry at me and may think that I am campaigning. But these are facts which are verifiable. Yes, these may not be the best possible but we must acknowledge what is the correct situation. Jonathan may have questions to answer concerning security or other issues, but on the economy, my verdict is that he has done well, though could do better. My bible says, “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil…that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” May God have mercy!
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa