Uche Usim, Abuja
Despite having a relatively young population, unemployment has remained a major blight plaguing Nigeria and stunting its growth.
Experts have repeatedly advised government and the private sector to collaborate and leverage on the strength of the youth to build a very strong country rather than neglect them to rot away in criminality as currently being witnessed nationwide.
Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics showed that about 20.9 million Nigerians were unemployed as of the third quarter of 2019.
Aside from this staggering figure, about four million men and women enter the workforce, with only a small fraction of them being able to find formal and gainful employment.
With the above summation, economic analysts have listed youth unemployment as a national scourge with its attendant products like widespread poverty, terrorism, instability and austerity.
Economic watchers have identified a perennial neglect of technical and vocational education as a contributory factor in the unemployment crisis and experts are of the view that the growing unemployment figure is a confirmation that growth in the economy is still weak and not inclusive.
They argued that the chief driver of the economy, which is the oil sector, is not employment elastic, adding that there is the need to stimulate growth in sectors that have strong linkages to job creation such as manufacturing, construction, information and communication technology and agriculture.
This, according to them, would entail massive investments in infrastructure and putting in place measures to ensure that these sectors are able to access credits at single digit interest rate.
In view of the frightening number of youths that are emptied into the labour market yearly, analysts insist that the government focuses strongly on creating the right environment, including investing in entrepreneurial education and skills acquisition in order to reduce the current high unemployment rate of about 23 per cent
Within the last two years, over 450,000 Nigerians have been trained in various skills acquisition programmes by the Industrial Training Fund.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, gave the figure at the closing ceremony of the National Industrial Skills Development Programme (NISDP), where the ITF equipped more than 11,000 youths with start-up packs.
The NISDP is one of the numerous skills acquisition programmes being implemented by the ITF, to reduce unemployment through acquisition of skills.
Mustapha said that the Federal Government would do all that was necessary to ensure that the entrepreneurial capacities of Nigerian youths are developed and fully utilised in a manner that would grow the economy to a path of sustainable development.
He said while the Federal Government was implementing various social investment programmes such as the N-Power, and TraderMoni, among others, time had come to harness the potential of the very youthful population for them to contribute meaningfully to the growth of the national economy as entrepreneurs.
In tackling youth unemployment, he said the government is building mechanisms and institutionalised processes, especially in the informal sector.
This, he noted, would give the Nigerian youth assurances that their energy and dynamism could be invested in making Nigeria a very productive nation.
To ensure that the youths could be provided support to translate the acquired skills to poverty-reducing and job-creating opportunities, he said the government, through the Central Bank of Nigeria, is providing funding to key sectors of the economy.
He said: “To effectively tackle poverty and unemployment, we need people to be equipped with requisite skills for increased production and delivery of goods and services.
“Of course, a direct effect of a skilled population, especially among the youths, would translate to a drastic reduction in social vices such as drug abuse, kidnapping and banditry, amongst others.”
Since the commencement of the National Industrial Skills Development Programme, over 200,000 Nigerians have been trained in various trade areas by the Industrial Training Fund.
The Director-General, ITF, Joseph Ari, said through the NISDP programme, the ITF had been able to train young Nigerians in about nine trade areas.
The trade areas are leather works (shoe and bag making), welding and fabrication, catering and event management, tiling, production and laying of interlock tiles.
Others are furniture making, domestic electrical wiring and installation, solar energy installation, plumbing and pipefitting, and autogelle and beauty care.
But the ITF boss said given the intensity and the very practical nature of the training, which was 80 per cent practical and 20 per cent theory, participants were equipped with the necessary skills and attitude for them to thrive as entrepreneurs.
He said when tied with the trades, which according to him were chosen after careful and in-depth need analysis of their locales, the management of ITF has no doubt that they would thrive.
This, he stated, was based on the conviction that the trades the participants have learned will always be needed.
He said: “Our commitment to skills acquisition is premised on the fact that it remains the most viable and sustainable solution to rising unemployment and poverty that have continued to defy the best efforts of governmental and non-governmental approaches.
“There are countless reasons for us to worry as a government, and as institutions vested with the arduous task of equipping Nigerians with the life skills for employability and entrepreneurship.
“There is no doubt that unemployment has wrought a terrible damage on all facets of our national life.
“No reasonable analysis will divorce unemployment from the needless incidents of violence that have claimed thousands of lives across the nation.”
Ari said it would be difficult to separate rising criminality and harmful social vices that are being perpetrated by Nigerians because of unemployment and the attendant poverty.
“Consequently, our population that ordinarily should be a resource, may become an albatross if we cannot provide a greater proportion of our population with a source of livelihood,” he added.
He said despite the current economic challenges, the Buhari administration has made tremendous effort to create jobs.
He said there was visible evidence of the Federal Government’s efforts to get Nigerians engaged in meaningful economic ventures.
This, according to him, is being achieved through various social investment programmes and the numerous skills acquisition programmes being implemented by the ITF and other organisations with similar mandates.
“What the Federal Government is doing is clearly not enough in view of the magnitude of the unemployment confronting us.
“I will therefore seize this opportunity to appeal to state governments, the organised private sector, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations, politicians and other stakeholders to collaborate with the ITF in our efforts to train Nigerians,” he added.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Industry, Sikiru Osinowo, warned beneficiaries of the programme not to trade away their start-up kits for quick cash but use them effectively to create jobs for themselves and for others.
He said the National Assembly, through the joint Senate and House Committee on Industry would soon undertake an oversight inspection of some of ITF critical projects and programmes.
This, he noted, would help the National Assembly to provide the much needed support for the agency to achieve its mandate of reducing unemployment through skills acquisition programmes.
He added that solving the unemployment challenge has direct bearing on addressing the socio-economic challenges of Nigeria.