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Youth unemployment: Nigeria’s ticking time bomb

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is currently grappling with an unemployment crisis. The most recent unemployment statistical figures from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveal that nearly 25 percent of the Nigerian labour force is unemployed. That is, 21 million Nigerians willing and able to work were out of jobs as at the end of 2018.

This however is not the full story. The distribution of unemployment across age groups is even more alarming. Unemployment in Nigeria is highest for the youth population i.e. job seekers in the 15 – 34 age group. In fact, it is estimated that 55 percent of Nigerians in this category are either unemployed or underemployed, more than twice the rate for the general labour force.

Overall, the figures are grim, and by any stretch, represent a severe problem, not only in terms of social cohesion but also as a matter of national security. Simply put, youth unemployment in Nigeria is a ticking time bomb which deserves the highest level of priority and attention.

There are multitudes of factors responsible for the high level of youth unemployment in Nigeria. Chief of them is a faltering economy which has struggled to create jobs for a fast-growing population. The Nigerian economy has faltered badly in recent years and is still struggling to recover from its 2016 recession which worsened an already dire unemployment problem. The nation’s population growth on the other hand has shown no sign of slowing down.

Since 1960, Nigeria’s population has grown at an average of 2.6 percent per annum since 1960, almost double the global average. The link between the nation’s accelerated population growth and the nation’s unemployment problem is clear. When population growth rate outpaces economic growth rate over an extended period, it is inevitable that the supply of labour will eventually outstrip the capacity of the economy to create jobs and absorb job seekers. This is the quagmire Nigeria currently finds itself.

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In addition, the rise of automation means that many jobs, including low-skilled manufacturing and services jobs which hitherto were available to Nigerians are fast disappearing. Technological advances mean that more efficient machines and software have begun replacing low-skilled labour in the value creation process, thus further reducing the already insufficient job pool.

All of these have been further compounded by an inefficient system of education which fails to prepare people for success in the modern economy. The abysmal state of the Nigerian educational system means that majority of Nigerian youths are unfit for the modern workplace as the technical and soft skills essential for success as job creators or job seekers in an ever-evolving world are not trained in the Nigerian educational system.

The current state of youth unemployment in the country should elicit concerns from policymakers, especially given the nation’s already worrisome status as the world’s poverty capital. A double whammy of unemployment and poverty will inevitably result in a rise in criminality. Already, the impacts of youth unemployment can be seen in the rising crime rate in Nigeria’s urban centres. The recent uptick in gang activities in Lagos bears testament to this.

Furthermore, as millions of unemployed youths lay idle, they will invariably become foot soldiers for criminal and terrorist organisations. In fact, it is not farfetched to draw a link between the increasing spate of violence and kidnappings across the country to rising youth unemployment.

To address the overall unemployment problem and in particular youth unemployment in Nigeria, there must be a concerted effort to grow the nation’s economy. A weak and unproductive economy will be unable to foster job creation. Therefore, there is a need for sustained growth of the Nigerian economy. To achieve this, all levels of government must incentivize and encourage private sector participation in various sectors of the economy. Given the current population growth and unemployment rates, the economy will need to grow 6-8 percent annually to reduce youth unemployment. Therefore, the government must address the structural issues inherent in the economy in order to ensure that such growth rates are attained.

The current state of youth unemployment in the country should elicit concerns from policymakers, especially given the nation’s already worrisome status as the world’s poverty capital. A double whammy of unemployment and poverty will inevitably result in a rise in criminality

Sustained economic growth must also be accompanied by significant investments in education. Investments in education, particularly STEM education, are critical in order to prepare the young generations for the jobs of the future. Thus, there is a need for sustained investment in educating Nigerian youths and children. Furthermore, nation’s academic curricula must be redesigned with a focus on ensuring that future generations possess the necessary technical and soft skills to succeed in an evolving world.

Population control is also essential. The nation’s current population growth rate is unsustainable, vis a vis the nation’s limited resource. Therefore, there is a need to address the nation’s uncontrolled population growth. A failure to do so will render any other initiative aimed at long-term development ineffective.

Overall, Nigeria’s youth unemployment problem is a ticking time bomb which could ensure that predictions of a bleak future for Nigeria become reality. It therefore behoves us to react quickly and confront what is fast becoming a threat to national security.

The future started yesterday, and we are already late. The time to work is now.


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