In 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari claimed that Nigeria’s youth want to “sit and do nothing, and get housing, healthcare, education free”, sparking an outcry on social media under the banner #LazyNigerianYouths.
Less than six days to the end of his reign, findings have shown millions of youths are yet to secure employment despite promises to create jobs.
President Buhari was asked a question after a keynote speech at a Commonwealth event in London, six years ago.
“We have a very young population. More than 60 percent of the population is below the age of 30. A lot of them haven’t been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria has been an oil-producing country, therefore they should sit and do nothing and get housing, healthcare, and education free,” he answered.
Many Nigerians inferred from the comments that he was branding the nation’s youth as lazy.
Using the hashtag #LazyNigerianYouth on social media, Nigerians expressed their anger with the comments, which many said did not reflect the entrepreneurial drive of young people in the country.
Young people in Nigeria face chronic unemployment and underemployment, so the president’s remarks hit raw nerves in a country where many are struggling in a tough economic climate.
Some said Buhari, missed an opportunity during the panel to sell the potential of Nigeria’s human capital and largely young demography to an overseas audience.
“It was a pure undiluted gaffe especially with a foreign audience you are telling to come and invest in your country,” Uche Enechi said in a Facebook comment. “Normally, a president will say, ‘come and invest here because we have a youthful, skilled and hardworking labor force that you need, plus a secure and business friendly environment.’ He just said the opposite.”
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) show that the unemployment rate quadrupled to 33.3 percent as of the fourth quarter of 2020 from 8.2 percent in Q2 2015.
This means that the number of people without jobs rose by 280.3 percent to 23.2 million from 6.1 million, throwing millions of people into poverty.
Moses Ojo, a Lagos-based economic analyst, said the increased number of unemployed persons indicates low individual productivity, which has led to an increase in poverty and also in criminal activities.
“One of the major factors that have worsened the unemployment rate is insecurity, which has affected the agriculture sector. And that has an impact on job creation,” Muda Yusuf, chief executive officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise (CPPE), said.
“Secondly, the pandemic created a lot of disruption in the economy which collapsed many businesses. Even up till now, most of those businesses have not returned to business,” he said.
The NBS data also show that the labour force population between the ages of 15 and 64 reduced to 69.9 million in Q4 2020 from 74 million in Q2 2015.
The unemployment numbers for 2021 and 2022 are yet to be released, with the Presidential Economic Advisory Committee projecting 40 percent for 2021 while KPMG Nigeria forecast 37.7 percent for 2022.
The Nigerian Association of Small and Medium Enterprises said the number of micro, small and medium enterprises have reduced to 35 million in 2022 from 41 million in 2017.
Agora Policy, a Nigerian think tank and non-profit organisation, recommends that the country needs to create at least 3.6 million net new jobs annually to get unemployment down to five percent by 2033.
“Nigeria can solve its rising unemployment challenges by resolving broader macroeconomic challenges that limit growth across the board. This includes resolving the dysfunction of multiple rates in the foreign exchange market, and refocusing the Central Bank of Nigeria on its mandate of keeping inflation at optimal levels,” it said.
Agora Policy said targeted infrastructure spending in particular areas that increase the competitiveness of Nigeria’s exports can tame rising unemployment. “This would include electricity, transport, and telecommunications investments in export processing zones.”