If one is asked to put a finger on two defining indices of Nigeria’s post-independence socioeconomic crisis, it is not difficult to identify youth unemployment and poverty as the core of the national malaise. While they are not peculiar to Nigeria, they are definitely the source of social instability since Nigeria became a sovereign nation. Indeed, youth unemployment places the Nigerian government within a serious paradox. The youth population of any state points at a humongous human capital energy that is to be harnessed towards productivity, economic growth and national development. This is all the more so if such a state has a large proportion of its population in the median age that define a youth.
According to international conventions, a youth is someone between the ages of 15 and 35 years. This age bracket is significant because it defines a period when most people enter into the workforce and transforms the productivity profile of any nation. In demographics, when any state has the majority of its population within this age bracket, it is called the youth bulge. And it instigates government rapid efforts at human capital development that will link efforts at achieving labor productivity with policy intelligence about harnessing this youth energy.
The good news about the Nigerian socioeconomic situation is that the Nigerian state is demographically prepared for development. The fact that Nigeria’s median population is 18.4 years of age highlights two significant points. The first is that Nigeria is in the prime of her youth bulge. This means that the Nigerian population framework is youthful. The second point is that this demographic fact ought to be the dynamic that stimulate policy intelligence from the Nigerian state in a way that harness this youth bulge into a significant productivity workforce. Unfortunately, successive Nigerian governments have not adequately taken advantage of this socioeconomic opportunity. And this is established by the glaring statistics of approximately 52.65 per cent of Nigerian youths who are unemployed.
We do not even have the figure of those who have been swallowed up in the informal sector in semi-employment, and even the vast millions who are unemployable.
Many factors and variables explain Nigeria’s unemployment dilemma. I will mention a few. First, Nigeria’s higher education dynamics is the first culprit as it enables a curriculum crisis which truncates what ought to be a smooth school-to-work transition. Second, here is a critical dearth in the industrial skill needs including areas of current and emerging skills shortages and competencies paraded by products of colleges and universities in Nigeria. Third, there is a low level of enterprise-based training and investment going by international standards. Fourth, there is changing structure of labour market’s due to changing global flexible employment practices, work patterns, globalization of HR that has formalised the institutionalisation of brain drain and the level of competitiveness defining career growth.
Fifth, there is a demographic change and high population growth rates which throw up two contradictory trends of ageing workforce with attendant organisational amnesia on the hand and challenge of equipping the restless youthful but nomadic new generation workforce with adaptive and multi-skilling flexibilities. And last, there are also critical issues of the availability of jobs and employments, and their capacity to employ. This is due largely to the uncomplimentary ease of doing business profile of Nigeria. On the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index for 2018, Nigeria ranked 146 out of a total of 190 countries.
More significantly, we are witnessing a failure in policy and implementation that has failed to impact the way we conceive of education and the capacities it confers on the youths and the nation. This failure in policy results from fundamental absence of a cultural adjustment programme and a loss of value orientation that have failed to direct the educational philosophy for performance and productivity.
Thus, for example, the 6-3-3-4 educational framework is grounded on a solid background that ensures not only certificates but capacities. With this system, it was guaranteed that a student will achieve self-reliant functionality when he or she finally graduates and enters the labour markets. Vocational and entrepreneurial education was central to the conception of the 6-3-3-4 framework. Unfortunately, the rejection of this framework, through lack of policy intelligence, ensures that students now only sign on for empty certificates and fruitless searches for white-collar jobs. The reality today is that the Nigerian labour market is flooded with all sorts of certificates, genuine and counterfeits, but with no improvements in productivity and economic development.
However, Nigeria has always been a resilient country defined essentially by its enterprising youths who hold tenaciously to their strength to pull through any situation in life as long as they get to their destinations. This is attested to by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2012) which categorically states that Nigeria is an entrepreneurial nation where 44 per cent of the population create their own business opportunities and follow through with them.
This, according to the survey, takes Nigeria to the top of the list as the most enthusiastic in terms of business innovation. Furthermore, a 2017 BBC survey revealed that Nigeria has the largest number of female entrepreneurs in the world at 40 per cent. Indeed, the solid comment of the CEO of Shoprite is even more instructive. According to him, even if 60 per cent of Nigerians are living below poverty line, the remaining 40 per cent is, in market terms, still bigger than the entire South Africa population. All this points attention to the resilience of the Nigerian youths as well as the untapped potential of the Nigerian entrepreneurial and vocational dynamics for economic growth and national development. The Nigerian business and entrepreneurial space is an incredibly creative and rugged one filled with all types of innovative and smart ideas and frameworks: Co-Creation Hub, Paga, Jobberman, Bellanaija, WeCycler. And there are youth in significant number making waves in e-Commerce, real estate, agricultural-business, fast moving consumer goods, food processing, waste management, to name just a few.
What do all these add up to for the aspiring youths, especially those who are still in the universities and the vocational institutes? Essentially, there is a need for a large dose of enlarged consciousness and self-education. There are several things that are not yet in place for the government to handle the issue of capacity utilisation and human capital development required to transform the socioeconomic situation undermining the vocational and entrepreneurial capacities of the youths. There are the curricula of universities that are grossly disconnected from the competence and skill requirements of Nigeria. There is the infrastructural deficit which the Nigerian government is seriously engaging. The business environment needs to become more friendly for business and entrepreneurial insights and innovation. Until all these are appropriately resolved, the youth must develop a coping strategy that comes from the understanding that whatever certificates they hold or are about to receive must be upgraded vocationally. This delivers more clout to all vocational training schools and institutions as the core of the institutional dynamics needed to undermine youth unemployment in Nigeria.
There are two levels of solution to the issue of unemployment in Nigeria. One is state-based, and the other is individual-based. On the part of the Nigerian government, all the necessary frameworks with regard to employment and education are in place.
The challenge has always been how to implement the strategies for making vocational and entrepreneurial education and training efficient and institutionalise as a veritable employment model. Nigeria also has the opportunity to strengthen its national training policies in line with global frameworks and regional peculiarities.
Finally, since the National Youth Service Corps services thousands of Nigerian youth annually, there is a huge responsibility on the government to transform both the vision and operation framework of this structure to prepare Nigerian graduates for the employment markets.
On the other hand, the vocational and entrepreneurial spirits are essentially individual. While the Nigerian government is still making enormous efforts to transform its business environment, the individual Nigerian is saddled with the responsibility of surviving and making sense of environment.
Prof Olaopa is the Executive Vice Chairman Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy.
Source The Punch Newspaper