There is no doubt that the #Endsars protests although it was hijacked by hoodlums was more than police brutality. The protests was also about unemployed youths who are willing and able to be gainfully engaged but without a job, expressing their displeasure about their condition.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate as at the second quarter of the year 2020 stood at 27.1 percent and under-employment at 28.6 percent; prompting fears from experts and the Federal Government that the unemployment rate in the country may soar to 33.5 percent before 2020 is over. The statistics given by the NBS also shows that every Nigerian State has the percentage of its unemployment rate in double digits. No State can claim to be immuned from this challenge which is ominous to our existence as a nation if not addressed.
The effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the #Endsars protests have not helped matters as these two events through the lockdown, lootings and demolition of properties have complicated an already bad case.
So many realities on ground point to the fact that forecasts on rising rate of unemployment may likely come to pass if urgent steps are not taken. Not withstanding the Manufacturers Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) which recorded some recovery after a 6 months’ contraction at 50.2 index points for the manufacturing sector, the country is technically in a recession after the NBS reported a negative contraction of the economy for the sixth time, inflation is at 14.23 percent, food prices defying a downward pull, demand for the country’s oil has dropped to the extent that buyers are begged to buy, the commodity’s price is also not encouraging, the naira has been depreciating in value with minimal level of appreciation whenever it does and then forex scarcity which is also having its negative effect on manufacturing and employment opportunities. Infact, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had to quickly amend the diasporan remittance law in an attempt to address the ugly trend of forex scarcity.
All these are indications that surmounting our challenges especially our rising unemployment population requires a more deliberate, urgent and pragmatic approach.
And that is why alternatives particularly non-oil alternatives need to be well tapped to the advantage of the country with each state looking inward on ways of addressing its unemployment challenges and reviving the economy.
In seeking alternatives to oil, agriculture usually gets a quick mention whenever stakeholders attempt to proffer solutions to the challenge of unemployment and they can not be blamed considering the vast untapped arable land that the country has including a youthful energetic population. But addressing that challenge also require tapping into other non-oil sectors . States must begin to identify those areas of advantage available in their geographical setting within the non-oil sector to complement their efforts in the agricultural sector.
Ogun State has empowered thousands of unemployed youths through the Anchor Borrowers Program out of the over 70,000 youths who have so far registered for the program.
The State has also been wooing industries in the State to use the State’s job portal thereby cashing-in on its status as the State with the highest number of industries in Nigeria. Some of the industries have bought into the idea but there is the hope that many more would also partner the government in that area.
Beyond agriculture and the job portal which Ogun State is currently utilising in addressing unemployment, the decision of the Prince Dapo Abiodun-led administration to promote the use of Adire textile materials among public school children as part of their school uniforms with effect from the next academic term is a welcome development which is capable of unlocking potentials in that line of business and helping to gainfully engage thousands of unemployed youths.
Known as a garment mainly manufactured and sold at the Itoku market, in Abeokuta, Adire is not just a culture; it is a business which puts food on the tables of many, ensuring they earn a living. With the new policy, more youths are likely going to find it alot lucrative.
The policy is an interesting policy as it addresses the demand challenge which has limited the growth of that sector and restricted the business, to a large extent, an Itoku or Abeokuta affair.
Commendably, the past administration in the gateway State under the leadership of Senator Ibikunle Amosun had constructed the Itoku Strip Mall and even initiated a policy that requires civil servants wear Adire on Fridays but that has not proved sufficient. With the Dapo Abiodun administration taking this bold step on Adire, appropriate implementation of the policy, will create more demand as the population of over 870,000 students in the State public primary and secondary schools alone is highly likely going to create a boom in that sector.
Beyond that, it is also a policy that is capable of making the product a truly Ogun State product instead of the limited scope of Itoku Market, in Abeokuta. The new policy will also create an avenue for youths across all the three senatorial districts in the State to stay in their domain and become gainfully employed through the business, thereby addressing the challenge of migration due to job search.
To further align with the government’s move, the State Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is already planning a Garment Institute that would help increase the production of garments in the State including the Adire garment.
Commissioner for Industry, Trade and Investment, Mrs. Kikelomo Longe during the State Treasury Board Meeting on the 2020-2023 revealed that the Garment Institute which would be in partnership with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) as well as the private sector would go beyond increasing the production to enabling more entrepreneurs tap into the benefit of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) to export products duty-free. And with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) just a few weeks away from its kick-off, Ogun State will have alot to benefit.
Infact, if the projection that the Federal government is considering opening the Nigerian land borders is right, this is also likely going to be a blessing especially for garment businesses in the State that are also determined to export their products to other West African countries.
The Adire policy however requires concerted effort from all stakeholders and with the Government strengthening its stance on Public Private Partnership especially now that the coronavirus pandemic has had its negative impact on income from the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) and Internally Generated Revenue ( IGR) and the State’s wage bill has gone up due to the implementation of the new minimum wage, the private sector remains critical to the success of the new boost which Adire business is about to experience.
Funding or facilitation of access to capital is important. The State under the present administration is still rolling out the OGSG-BOI loan at 7 percent interest rate. That Scheme according to information given by the State’s Deputy Governor, Engr. Noimot Salako Oyedele at a recent function has created more than 25,000 direct and indirect jobs since it was floated in 2012 while the revival of the Ogun State Agricultural and Multipurpose Credit Agency (OSAMCA) after a nine-year hiatus through the constitution of the Abayomi Hunye-led board is another array of hope for MSMEs including those in Adire business to take advantage of.
But more funding will certainly be needed especially from the private sector placing some responsibilities on businesses that may be in need of such. Those working within the Adire value chain without registration must understand that formalising their business is no more a matter that can be further delayed. The Federal Government’s N75bn MSMEs Survival Fund exposed many entrepreneurs who run informal businesses as many have missed out on the intervention because of their failure to formalise their businesses. It will be appropriate for entrepreneurs especially those in the Adire business to get their business registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and ensure proper documentation is practiced in order to be qualified to access more capital from government and other sources.
It is also great that some commercial banks in the country defied the negative effect of the pandemic as they have posted profits after tax. They should also assist qualified entrepreneurs within the Adire value chain access capital especially at single digit interest rate.
•Wale Osunbiyi writes-in from Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, Ogun State. [email protected] 07037238254