While the echo of hosting the entire world last week, with over 300 youths from across the globe as well as the officials of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) converging on Abuja for the three-day Global Youth Employment Forum is getting rested, what ought to remain topical is the immense benefits and lessons emerging from the gathering. However, the issues appear to be passing unnoticed for reasons that connect to the abstract nature of labour administration. If everyday citizens often ask what ILO is about, its functions and relevance in their lives, even other levels of more knowledgeable citizenry could as well wonder the import of labour-related fora such as the one that forms the subject of this discourse. When, for example, one reads terms like the “world of work,” “tripartism,” “social dialogue,” “social partners,” “working poor,” “structural transformation,” “productivity measurement,” “labour intensity” and such other terminologies that explain realities in the world of work, how easily do they tie to comprehension? It becomes understandable, therefore, why the vast gains of labour institutions and their largely seamless accomplishments could be under-assessed.
Now, while the world gathered in Abuja to discuss “Today and Tomorrow With Decent Jobs for Youth” as the theme of the forum enabled by the ILO and the government of Nigeria, three things struck me in particular, as the director-general of the ILO, Mr. Guy Ryder, delivered his address. It is about the synch between the core elements of the ILO’s 2012 Call for Action and the strategic operationalisation of integrated youth employment strategies by the Buhari administration in a broader national development scheme.
The first imperative, according to Ryder, in this Call for Action, is that pro-employment macroeconomic policies for job creation must go beyond one or two ministries to being an integral multi-sector agenda of government, traversing ministries and agencies. This is clearly the practice in Nigeria, as the federal government has marked targets on key sectors with high propensity for job creation, such as agriculture, works and housing, trade and investment, the Central Bank of Nigeria, special agencies and the National Social Investment Programme as arrowheads of job creation. The next is focal investment in education and skills done in such a manner that could contain the mismatch between educational skills and demands of the labour market. In this also, Nigeria is compliant as it aligns the prerequisites of the labour market with the capacity of the labour force. This creates synergy and makes responsiveness to innovations easier.
In real terms, the Ministry of Labour and Employment has spearheaded the shift in emphasis from white-collar jobs to the elastic opportunities that abound in the blue-collar world in line with the changing world of work! When the Active Labour Market Policies that promote employment intensive investments came into focus during discussions, it reflected the Creative Industry Financing and other initiatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria. The reason I extrapolate and expose comparison on these development models is to draw attention to what easily passes for an unintended endorsement of our domestic efforts using the scale of global best development index.
That apart, though reasons have been advanced for choosing Nigeria even above Europe and other developing countries for the hosting right of the Youth Forum, its peculiar offer, to me, orbits in the inherent platform to market Nigeria to the world and the unique opportunities it granted to drive home long-sought requests severally made by Nigeria to the world body. How? Essentially, the forum brought to global focus Nigeria’s inroads into creative opportunities in digital, as well as green, rural and blue endeavours, the areas that could transform rural and urban spaces from “centres of misery and poster boy of poverty,” as noted by the ILO Africa regional director, Cynthia Olajuwon, who also participated at the forum.
At the end of the day, our youths interfaced with over 300 others from across the world and are home with shared experiences and new lessons in entrepreneurship, such that, when well harnessed, could cause millions be lifted out of working poor, that is, working so hard and earning so little. This best ensures human security in the broad sense of the world of work for young people. Nothing can be more rewarding than interfacing entrepreneurship and self-employment models with the bursting energies and talents of young people. The forum achieved that.
Our youths also tapped into knowledge facilities of digital platforms, tools and publications made available at the forum and are better equipped to “design, implement and monitor youth employment policies and programmes.” The gathering also tackled underemployment, informality, working poverty, and reached out for structural transformation as a credible model to leverage youths into productive endeavours.
At another level, the visit of the ILO director-general, the first since Nigeria became a member 60 years ago, was auspicious to renew requests, which we have been making over the years. The upgrade of the ILO’s country office into a Decent Work Technical Office for English-speaking West Africa was brought to the front burner on our very soil and before the topmost officials of the ILO. Nigeria deserves no less. The first African country to enlist into the membership of the organisation in 1959, the largest contributor to the international organis ation in the sub-region, holding the flagship in the domestication of the conventions of the ILO, tops in continental population with demographic diversities that could easily aggregate that of the region, we impressed that the elevation could no longer be postponed. While the President raised it in his address to the forum and at the courtesy call on him at the Presidential Villa, I went into specifics as the ILO officials paid a working visit to the Ministry of Labour and Employment. Such elevation comes with a lot of benefits. It emboldens Nigeria’s locus as the focal point of ILO administration in the region. Besides, we sought the technical and financial support of the ILO for the implementation of action plans on varying national policies, which include National Employment Policy, National Policy on Labour Migration, National Productivity Policy, National Policy on Child Labour and National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health as well as the establishment of National Labour Market Information System. We also sought for more positions for qualified Nigerians in the ILO administrative organs.
•Alo is Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment