Henry Okonkwo & James Ojo Adakole
Concerns have continued to grow over the danger posed by the upsurge in angry unemployed youths across the country as existing businesses fail and new small-to-medium enterprises are not being established.
The reality of the situation was brought to the fore when operatives of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offenses Taskforce intercepted 123 young northerners, conveyed from Jigawa State in a hard-body truck. News of the incident caused a combination of consternation and shock as the implication of the discovery sank in.
They were driven to embark on the long journey from Jigawa in search of greener pasture in Nigeria’s emerging megacity. It is to be noted that the quest for a better life is not peculiar to the unemployed youths from the North. It is also a wake up call to the Federal Government to activate the delivery of the lofty promises it made under the Next Level agenda, which helped it to win the 2019 presidential election.
Economic indices show that the country has not made any meaningful progress on key indicators expected of a vibrant economy. For instance, a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Tuesday revealed that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) recorded a slow growth in the second quarter of 2019 than what obtained in the first quarter. Specifically, the NBS stated that the GDP growth rate fell to 1.94 per cent in Q2 from 2.10 per cent in Q1. These dismal statistics show that the country is nose-diving into economic quagmire.
Nigeria’s surging population has not been met with a corresponding increase in opportunities, especially for the youths who constitute a larger chunk of its population. This has led to rise in crime and various manifestations of criminality such as cultism, kidnapping, banditry, and financial fraud targeted at individuals, banks and other corporate organisations.
In the same vein, the country has continued to witness unchecked rural-urban migration as many people pour into the metropolitan cities. The example of Lagos State is a perfect illustration of the phenomenon. With a population of over 20 million people, the state has continued to witness a surge in its population, which comes with huge security challenges.
Commenting on this disturbing fact, the Police Public Relations Officer, Lagos Police Command, DSP Bala Elkana, told Sunday Sun: “We have influx of people coming to Lagos on daily basis, but have no shelter, because they can’t afford accommodation. So, those who can’t afford accommodation sleep in the open places, some under the bridges, turning them into their houses and you see crime coming out of those areas. This comes with large demand on the part of the security agencies and the Lagos State Police Command is doing its best to address the situation. We have to deal with the challenges of community-based cultism and criminal gangs.
The present situation is the result of long years of bad, insincere political leadership demonstrated by the past and present administrations, experts who spoke with Sunday Sun noted.
Respected Development Economist and Stockbroker, Dr Tayo Bello, opined that the country’s economy would remain in its current pitiable state until President Muhamamdu Buhari rejigs his economic team. “We are where we are today because there is no strong economic policy and direction in place,” Bello told Sunday Sun.
He explained: “There is no economy that can develop where you do not have energy. But that is the situation we have in the country, where there is no stable electricity supply. It is a result of the present government’s poor economic policies. When you don’t have stable power supply, definitely a lot of companies will fold up and that is why manufacturers are leaving Nigeria. If you look at the policies of the government, there is fluctuation and the purchasing power of the people has gone down. The recently approved N30,000 minimum wage by the Federal Government has the same value we had three or four years ago. Can you mention one economic expert within the so-called economic team of President Buhari? The Vice President is no doubt intellectually and morally sound, but he is a lawyer who has no economic background. If you go around the country, how many construction activities are going on? If the economy is booming, you should see people going into private construction – that is individual housing, estate, among others. Aside individuals, what is the government doing? Look at the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, for instance, for how many years has that road been in that shape without any attention? So, there is no economic policy and there is no economic direction under the present government.
“Under President Olusegun Obasanjo, we had Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, among others, but the case is not the same now. Already, there are predictions that Nigeria is likely go into another economic recession and the negative indices are growing against us. States are saying they cannot pay the N30,000 new minimum wage. So, you can see how bad the situation is. Go and check, most of the states have plied up huge debts. The interest on the loans is what they will be able pay alone and not the real debt.
‘The stock market is the barometer of the economy, but imagine how much we are losing every day. Investors are moving their money away on daily basis, that is silent capital flight.”
The dire economic situation is fueling dissent and making youths restive. Like the volcano, there is a rumbling among the youths. There is a clear and present need for concerted efforts by the present government to proffer practical solutions to the problem of youth employment.
Mr Ambrose Igboke, a public affairs analyst, argued that the country has so far shown its unwillingness to learn from the damage restiveness among unemployed and frustrated youths of Tunisia and other nations in North Africa led to the Arab Spring.
He told Sunday Sun: “The situation of the Nigerian youth is that of pity and abject hopelessness. The Nigerian youth has been rendered an invalid both psychologically and mentally. He/she has resigned to a fate of utter desperation and subjugation. The Nigerian youth no longer see a future as they grapple to survive today. They don’t think of artificial intelligence, 5G Technology, going to space because they live at the subsistence survival baseline. They operate as political thugs, bandits, cultists, armed robbers, hecklers, social media predators and Internet scammers. The few who are genuinely innovative are frustrated and then find every opportunity to leave Nigeria, go to other countries where they excel.”
Stressing the need for one to tread with caution, Igboke stated that under-employed youths such as we have in Nigeria constitute a ticking human bomb.
“We must be careful because the youth are like time bombs. A country that has a high rate of youth unemployment and under employment should be very worried. There is an army of unemployed and frustrated youths everywhere in Nigeria, who are willing tools in the hands of mischief-makers. The Arab Spring was ignited by a frustrated Tunisian youth who immolated himself in front of a government ministry because he couldn’t get a job,” he pointed out.
Suggesting ways of addressing the situation, Igboke, who is also a public relations consultant said: “Going forward, the Nigerian government should declare a state of emergency on all aspects of youth development: education, technology, technical skills, job creation (not the N-Power type), sustainable employment, development of SMEs, agricultural empowerment and other sustainable engagements for our teeming youths. We have learnt too much from history to want to repeat negative footprints.”
Registering his dissatisfaction with the present state of things in the country, a social critic and media expert, Mr. Agi Victor, observed that the nation’s woes have largely been its dearth of good leadership. He, however, warned of the dangers of failing to address the situation, observing that similar situation of youths in other countries led to deadly uprisings that rocked their various nations.
His words: “Nigeria, like many other African countries, has its peculiar challenges, and many have wondered how a nation, so endowed with natural and human resources is nowhere as an oil rich nation. It’s always easy to say what the problem with Nigeria is, but unfortunately, knowing our problem has not meant any step to solving them, and that’s why the Nigeria problem is peculiar.
“The leadership’s failure to address the challenges ravaging the nation gave birth to the dismal situation we have today: insurgency, kidnapping, banditry, cybercrimes, among others are simply the resultant effects of our government’s inactions.
“On whether the government is ready to fix the system, well, we have never had issue with policies, we have had some of the most beautiful policies you can find anywhere, but the problem is implementation and the right political will to ensure the people benefit from those policies. Our government is good with transferring policies and thinking that they will work in our own system. One of the ways forward, therefore, is for the government to adequately appraise the peculiarities of the Nigerian system and her people, so it can develop programmes that will deal with the many challenges facing the people, especially those at the grassroots. What you have in most cases are people who sit in Abuja and decide what should be done without recourse to what exactly the people want. That’s why the local government system should be made more viable, because it’s the closest government to the people.”
A youth activist, Eze Phillips, told Sunday Sun: “Permit me to start by saying that Nigeria has no economic policies. Nigeria has no system. What we have had for long and still do is a group of opportunists whose purpose of gathering is to share the national resources and revenues among themselves. Nigeria is a country that has no sincere and honest plan for its nationals. Think of any of the sectors and tell me which one that works.
“I see a Nigeria where the people will reject tribe and religion, betray party affiliations and pick up placards in protest against bad leadership. The other day, a group of angry Nigerians beat up of Senator Ike Ekweremadu. One expected Nigerians to decry the ‘courtesy visit’ on Ekweremadu in Germany, but the majority poured praises on the perpetrators of the assault. Why? The reason is that Nigerians are tired. Nigerians all over the world are angry. Nigeria is not just sitting on a ticking time bomb of youth violence, the Arab Spring is over-rated compared to what I see coming to Nigeria. Nigerians are watching. I maintain that I don’t know who will make it happen or how it will happen, but I see dark red, pregnant cloud hurrying with wild wind to be delivered of. I see the poor masses, the police, the army, the clergy, kidnappers, yahoo-yahoo, businessmen and women, the activists, lawyers, doctors, the students, the teachers/lecturers, Boko Haram, the Fulani herdsmen and others forming a united front against our common enemy – the government.”
It is globally acknowledged that micro, small and medium-scale enterprises are the engine of employment generation in any stable and growing economy. In the face of the troubling unemployment situation that has beset the country, operators in Nigeria’s Micro Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (MSME) sector have opined that the only way to deal with the unemployment burden among the teeming population of youths is to train on viable skills and be empowered to venture into businesses and employ others. According to the stakeholders, although the Nigerian government has seemingly woken up to the reality of high unemployment, they are yet get it right to address the situation of youths in the country.
“We are sitting on a keg of gun powder with the unemployment situation in our country. There is fire on the mountain, but sadly nobody seems to be running. Our youths, the future of the country, are rotting away. The unemployment situation is fast turning them into gamblers, cultists and drug addicts because their potentials are not being harnessed,” said Savior Iche, national president of the Association of Micro-Entrepreneurs of Nigeria (AMEN).
“Government needs to be more serious and practical in stimulating growth in the Micro Small and Medium-scale Enterprises (MSME) sector because that’s one sector that has all the solutions to the problem of unemployment. But sadly our government has only been paying lip service to the need to improve various sectors of the economy. Government agencies like the Central Bank of Nigeria are always quick to announce the release of grants to boost businesses and create jobs, but these loans end up going to ghost entrepreneurs and unknown youths,” he said.
According to Iche, young entrepreneurs are becoming hopeless and closing down their businesses to relocate abroad because of our very tough environment for MSMEs to grow. “Here in our Lagos chapter, over 10 of our members closed down their companies because of unfavourable economic policies of the government. Those companies would have still been in business if the government had really made these funds accessible. The disbursement of funds for the MSMEs is only implemented on the pages of newspapers and on the airwaves of the electronic media; we don’t see them demonstrate it, ” Iche lamented.
On the way forward to defuse the ticking bomb of youth angst, driven by unemployment, a farmer and National Coordinator, African Youths and Women in Agriculture Industrialization Network (AYEWAIN), Mrs. Shola Usman, advised the government to put in place a robust intervention programme focused on training and skill acquisition for youths.
“This government is trying its best. But the truth is that they are doing the right thing in a very wrong way. One of the things they did that I’m very happy with is the removal of the former minister of agriculture. Then I suggest that government ministries like Agriculture, Youths, Labour and Employment should all work together in synergy and be close to one another. If we really must tackle unemployment in this country, then these ministries must all work together as a team. Government has always told youths to tap into the agricultural sector, yet they don’t even seem to know how to make that sector beneficial. Many youths that have heeded that call are now in dilemma on how or where to sell their agricultural produce.”
Mrs. Usman, the owner of Abebi Farm Fresh Plus, and a ConnectNigeria ‘Top 100 Entrepreneurs in Nigeria’ awardee called on the federal government to stop wasting funds on providing loans for MSMEs, and seek a way to provide needed guidance and infrastructure to help them. “One of the problems with the Bank of Industry (BOI) and highly respected microfinance banks is their inability to relate and connect with youths. Some of their conditions are simply outrageous. They ask for business plans from untrained youths and illiterate farmers. How do you expect small-scale farmers to draft a business proposal for a loan? It requires common sense! Can a farmer who hasn’t handled a pen before write a proposal? Of course not! So they should come down and relate to these farmers at their level. Let them just stop doing the right things in a wrong way, ” she said.
In the same vein, another MSME operator and national leader of the Association of Small Business Operators of Nigeria (ASBON), Dr. Femi Egbesola, suggested that non-inclusion of MSME stakeholders and operators during policy deliberations on youth unemployment is one of the mistakes the government keep making. “Government needs to sit down with the key stakeholders in the industry. It is not just about formulating policies for youths. The government needs to sit down and brainstorm with the entrepreneurs on how they can support and improve the lot of MSMEs in Nigeria. We are the ones that understand the challenges, and we know how to advise the government rightly. Most times what we have are technocrats – who have never done business in their entire lives, formulating policies for MSME operators. The MSMEs and agricultural sector can go a long way in solving the problem of youth unemployment if only our government takes it seriously.”