Jobs: averting the coming anarchy

Jobs are central to the economic development of any nation. Economists have long established a link between the employment rate and economic growth. When citizens are gainfully employed and produce valuable goods and services, both the citizens, the economy and the society prosper and vice versa. And that is the first indices with which leaders are judged in advanced economies is the number of jobs created and how low the unemployment rate is.

As at 2010, the unemployment rate was 5.9 percent. It rose steadily yearly to 8.19 percent in Q2 of 2015 at which point the current government came to power. In Q3 2017, the unemployment rate had more than doubled from to 18.8 percent and peaked at 23.10 percent in the Q3 2018 while unemployment rate and underemployment had also jumped from 26.53 percent in Q2 2015 to 43.3 percent in Q3 2018.

In concrete terms, 20.9 million Nigerians are currently unemployed while 18.2 million are underemployed. This brings the total of unemployed and underemployed to 39.1 million people out of a total labour force of 90.4 million.

The youth (45 per cent of the population is aged below 15) account for the majority of the unemployed and underemployed in Nigeria. While youth unemployment in 2010 was 8.05 percent, it has climbed to 13.41 percent in 2017 and climbed to an all time high of 38 percent in Q2 2018. It however decreased to 36.50 percent in Q3 2018.

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Concretely, there are 44 million youth in the active labour force. Out of these, only 19.73 million, representing just 45 percent of the active labour force, are in full time employment. The other 55 percent are just trying to eke out a living or as we say in Nigerian parlance, hustling with no full time employment.

Sadly, youth unemployment has been growing steadily since 2010. However, it has intensified since 2015, fuelled, no doubt, by a weak economy and huge population growth.

While estimates in 2014 by the NBS show that 1.8 million graduates in the country move into the labour market every year, the Stutern Graduate Report (2016) suggests that 2.5 – 3 million young Nigerians annually enter the labour market without the prospect of jobs. This is not to talk about those who could not go to school (a recent report from UNESCO put out of school children in Nigeria at 13 million), those who only completed primary or secondary school and couldn’t proceed to higher institutions. Actual figures from the NBS show that about 9 million youth have entered the labour market since 2015 and are not able to find employment. This is scary!

The problem is not just about not finding work; it is also about those in employment losing their jobs as a result of the weak economy. While according to available statistics at the NBS, Nigeria created a total of 1.6 million jobs in 2015 and 1.538, 208 jobs in the first three quarters of 2016, a total of 7.956 million Nigerians became unemployed between January 2016 and September 30, 2017. The NBS estimated that the number of unemployed Nigerians rose from 8,036 million in 2015 fourth quarter to 15.998 million in third quarter of 2017. Equally, data from the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria show that about 272 manufacturing plants were shut down across the country in 2016 alone.

The import of this is clear: the economy is not creating opportunities fast enough for its youthful and growing population. A clear sign is that while the country’s population is growing at a healthy 2.6 percent per annum with a youth population of over 60 percent, economic growth has remained well below 2 percent.

A journalist, Robert Kaplan, in 1994, in a provocative piece for The Atlantic wrote, “The Coming Anarchy” suggests that West Africa will in the near future be crisis capital of the world fuelled mainly by the abundance of idle youth. In his words, “West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real “strategic” danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism.”

Certainly, this is becoming true in Nigeria where youth unemployment is fuelling the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, kidnapping and violent crimes in the southeast and other parts of the country. Jobs for Nigeria’s ballooning population appears to be the most pressing national emergency in Nigeria today because as Tunji Adegbesan, Gidomobile, an education learning app, puts it, the problem with Nigeria right now is “not infrastructure but our ability to provide our many children with the tools to survive and thrive.” Stressing on the importance of jobs, he said “If we like, we can fix power [electricity], fix all the roads, but omit to fix [read education and jobs] of the over 80 million children, the Boko Haram insurgency will look like Father Christmas. We will just be providing kids with excellent infrastructure to use to murder us all.”

Are our politicians jostling for offices aware of this existential threat to the peace and continued survival of the country? How do they hope to tackle this problem? Specifically, how can they collectively create 39.1 million jobs for those currently unemployed and underemployed and plan for about 3 million youths joining the labour force each year? What specific policies will make it possible, and what untapped opportunities exist to create jobs and what number of jobs could these yield?

The first realisation must be that governments do not have the capacity and resources needed to create the kinds of jobs needed to absorb Nigeria’s young population and keep them away from mischief. Only a strong collaboration with the private sector and massive private sector investments will create the opportunity for creation of jobs at that scale. But just allowing the private sector to take charge of the economy alone won’t do the magic. There should be a high level government plan on job creation to delineate sectors and their potentials to create massive jobs. With that, the government can then begin a strategic engagement with the private sector and investors to nudge them towards its plan while at the same time removing bottlenecks and obstacles through policies to aid massive investments at the scale required to creating the desired jobs.

Nigerians must engage aspiring political leaders to appreciate the extent of the problem and reveal their detailed plan(s) towards solving the problem.


Chris Akor

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