Nigeria’s self deceit, with the policymakers erroneously believing that the current dysfunctional structure of a bloated centre can get us out of the economic woods, is robbing our youth of a glorious future.
Indeed, the recurring ugly decimal of youth unemployment in Nigeria that keeps worsening by the decades calls for serious concern and urgent action. And, such intervention should come from a sustained pragmatic synergy involving the federal and state governments, the private sector and richly endowed individuals.
If not done, we may soon be agonising over spilt milk as the wave of sundry crimes such as armed robbery, hostage taking for ransom, terrorism, prostitution as well as drug peddling and its addiction take over our directionless youth. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment and underemployment in the country combined escalated from 37.2% to 40% in the Second Quarter of 2017. It got worse for the youth, especially those in the age bracket of 15 to 35, which stands at an alarming rate of 52.65%! Apparently, the warning given by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to Nigeria of an impending unemployment cises back in 2010 has not been heeded.
In comparative terms to some African countries, youth unemployment in Liberia stands at 4.7%, Kenya 18.7%, Egypt 26.3%,South Africa 27.7%(its highest in recent years), Lesotho 31.8 %, Libya, 43.8% and Ghana 48%. As expected in more economically advanced countries, youth unemployment figures are more acceptable. For instance Germany has as low as 3.6%,Great Britain 4.2%,European Union 7.4% and France 9.4%.The reasons are obvious as the political leaders are less self-serving but more visionary, responsive and responsible to the citizenry, combined with social protective buffer policies firmly in place.
Unfortunately, here the youth-our future hope for a better Nigeria- have been left naked to the elements of preventable poverty and penury characterized by harrowing hunger, rise in diseases and the growing ogre of ignorance. Virtually on a daily basis, they are regaled with frightening figures by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC of humungous public sums stolen from the national till. But, they can hardly point to adequate life-changing or job-creating projects to lift them from what one often refers to as the ignoble pit of poverty.
In their bold bid to find alternative solutions, some get even more trapped in the mire of misery as they are enslaved in Libya en route Southern Europe. The unfortunate ones are shot at point blank range, or hung upside down from fiery stakes and roasted, even worse than is done to goats! The lucky ones return only to be caught in the short-cut circuits of pools staking and drug trafficking or enmeshed in addiction to tramadol all-day long! But, we cannot go on in this weird way. The solutions are well-known to our set of political helmsmen but they simply find it difficult, in my words, “to sacrifice the self from the state”. The first is to toe the restructuring lane, whether it is now a cliché or not. The aim is to devolve the obscene political and economic powers from the centre to the states or the six geo-political zones to bring governance closer to the people and make it more inclusive. But, sad to say that even our dear president is yet to see the wisdom in that. One keeps asking if there is any other democracy in the world, where state governors go cap-in-hand like beggars to the federal centre to ask for crumbs from the master’s table but no one has given an example of one. Again, I ask: Is this how the presidential system of government is run in the United States which we copied it from? The answer is no.
For instance, “within the first three months of 2017, over N1 trillion was shared among beneficiaries of Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC). Interestingly, the large chunk of the funds was realised from crude oil sales, proceeds from Petroleum Profit TAX (PPT), Value Added Tax (VAT) and Company Income Tax (CIT).”
With the states in firm control of their resources and paying a tax of a maximum of 30% to the centre, they would generate their power and transmit it to the local councils without feeding it into the National Grid. With 40 solid minerals identified in commercial quantities spread across the 36 states, analysts indicate by projection that Nigeria has the capacity to generate at least N5 trillion yearly from mining as well as export the vast solid mineral deposits. For instance, national reserves of coal are estimated at 2.7 billion metric tonnes (mt), iron ore, limestone and lead are 10 billion mt, 3 trillion mt and 5 million mt respectively. But first, the issues of illegal mining and provision of safe environment, bolstered with stable electric power and good access roads are imperative to drive the process.
Even the Federal Government recently unveiled the fact that the country is capable of growing solid minerals GDP from N103 billion (2015) to N141 billion in 2020 at an average annual growth rate of 8.54 per cent. Specifically, it can facilitate the production of coal to fire power plants, produce geological maps of the entire country by 2020 on a scale of 1:100,000.
There is however, the need to integrate the artisanal miners into the formal sector, encourage and promote mineral processing and value addition industries that strengthen backward and forward linkages. This is evident in the blueprint document, Economic Recovery & Growth Plan (2017-2020). With true fiscal federalism in operation, Kogi State for instance, would be able to resolve the decades of long-winding issues concerning the Ajaokuta Steel Company to generate youth employment.
On tourism, Nigeria is literally sitting on the gold mine of tourism and hospitality combined. According to Nigeria Hospitality Report 2016, the industry generated an estimated $5.5 million, about N1.7 billion, representing about 4.8 per cent contribution to Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the third quarter of 2016. The report by Jumia Travel Nigeria, Africa’s hotel booking online portal, also said the industry employed about 1.6 per cent of Nigerians in 2016. And if Nigeria adopts the recently-launched African Union (AU) passport, the prospects would be much brighter.
Concerning agriculture, according to the former Minister of Agriculture and current President, African Development Bank(ADB), Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, the growth of the Nigerian population means that the agricultural sector has compelling long-term growth potential.Why not, as there are increasingly more mouths to feed.
Experts agree that agriculture should not be seen as a way of life, or a social sector or development activity, but as a business venture for it to thrive. And the more we treat it as a business, to create wealth, the more it will promote development and improve people’s livelihood.
The government’s neglect of our farmers led to stagnated yields. Worse still, investments in infrastructure were reduced, the abandoned rural communities slid to poverty, and Nigeria became a food importing country, spending an average of $11billion a year on wheat, rice, sugar and fish imports alone. Yet, with vast arable land area of 923,768 km² , water resources 13,000 sq km.and crops such as yam, cassava, maize, rice, cocoa, coffee, cashew, cotton, rubber, sorghum and millet in addition to a variety of animals, Nigeria is capable of feeding her citizens and export if modern technology is applied to processing, preservation and marketing of the finished products.
What has been grossly lacking is good leadership-one that knows and identifies the yearnings of the citizenry. With such in place, our youth would be gainfully employed beginning with small and medium scale enterprises that are driven by stable power and access to credit facilities at single digit interest rates.
Baje writes from Lagos