The problem of youth unemployment is palpably evident in Nigeria. Every year, thousands of graduates are turned out from institutions of higher learning, with no jobs to engage them. They are littered among hawkers and Okada (commercial motorcycle) riders in the society. Ordinarily, this army of unemployed graduates would have gotten jobs in some enterprises or would have demonstrated their skills and resourcefulness if there are enabling environments and reliable management structures on ground. Instead, they have shifted their attention to Cybercrime popularly known as ‘419’.
Some scholars and commentators have argued that as far as the formal sector is concerned, the average Nigerian graduate is not employable and, therefore, does not possess the skills needed by the employers of labour for a formal employment.
Often, this is attributed to the Nigerian education system, with its liberal bias. The course contents of most tertiary institutions in Nigeria lack entrepreneurial subjects that would have enabled graduates to become job creators rather than job seekers. Access to entrepreneurial training such as tailoring, computer, and incubation is being constrained by access to capital to establish their own businesses after the training.
Unless the relevant authorities do something critical and urgent about the astronomical rise in unemployment levels, particularly among the youths, Nigeria may be sitting on a time bomb waiting to explode.
Figures available point a dire situation of millions of Nigerian youth roaming the streets looking for work but finding none. The situation is compounded by the economic recession that necessitated the sacking, by many private enterprises, of their staff in the name of rationalisation.
The Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its latest report confirmed a consistent pattern of worsening unemployment in the country, rising from 9.9% in 2015 to 19.70% in the last quarters of 2016. That 19.70% of the nation’s labour force is idle is bad enough but worse and extremely dangerous is the fact that 50% of that army of idles citizens is peopled by those between the ages of 15 and 35. When broken down, the NBS figures reveal quite clearly that out of a total youth labour force of 38.2 million, representing 48.7% of the total labour force, 78.48 million in Nigeria, some 15.2 million of them were either unemployed or underemployed in the first quarter of 2016. This represents a youth unemployment rate of 42.24%.
The most disturbing part is that the figures revealed a clear pattern of failure of government policies aimed at dealing with the challenge. Meanwhile, there is no evidence yet as the country’s economy approaches depression that the unemployment situation will improve. Worse still is that there is no evidence to suggest that the authorities in Abuja and the 36 states appreciate the gravity of the situation nor are there plans to deal with it.
The clear and present danger of such high level of idleness among young persons is already manifest in the rate of strife and crimes in virtually every corner of the country. Whereas the multitude of violent outbursts might have religious and ethnic colorations and undertones, it is a notorious fact that most of the people in the fields and trenches of war are the youth who if otherwise meaningfully engaged would have been unavailable for those worthless anti-social endeavours.
However, it is noteworthy that youth unemployment is a worldwide challenge. For instance, India with one of the largest populations of young people in the world has 75 million unemployed youths. It is our candid opinion that the Nigerian government, particularly the Muhammadu Buhari administration that came to power on the back of an electioneering promise to create jobs for the unemployed, must find a creative way of tackling this challenge before it becomes unmanageable.
No doubt, the unemployment challenge is directly linked with the ill health of the economy. We believe that government economic recovery plan can prioritise youth employment and formulate policies to reduce it to the barest minimum. In the past, the federal government had economic empowerment programmes specifically targeted at young persons, including YouWin, Graduate Internship, etc. Whatever undermined those programmes should be reviewed and appropriate measures taken to improve and make them more efficient to achieve their objectives.
Of more fundamental imperative, however, is the urgent need to realign the nation’s educational curriculum with the needs of the economy. It has been said with some measure of justification that many school leavers are actually unemployable with regard to their training and skills. It has become necessary therefore that our educational training curriculum at all levels must incorporate skills acquisition and entrepreneurial development so that graduates leave school with the capacity to create wealth and jobs rather than seeking jobs.
Also, the situation whereby only a few privileged persons in position of authority benefit from government largesse at the expense of the impoverished masses portends a grave danger that may incur the wrath of the unemployed youth in Nigeria if not addressed urgently. Nigerian leaders should strive to promote good governance in other to engender youth empowerment, employment and socio-economic development.