“The idle everywhere consume a great part of it( i.e. a nation’s annual produce); and according to the different proportions in which it is annually divided between those two different orders of people( i.e. the industrious and idle) ,its ordinary or average value must either annually increase or diminish, or continue the same from one year to another.”
In addition to the other already discussed issues, employment generation in Nigeria is another very important challenge we need to take seriously.
Among the youth of Nigeria , who are at their prime and are willing to work , unemployment is as high as 46%.This means that one out of every two young Nigerians is unemployed and of the remaining 50% who are employed, at least 25% of this number are underemployed-working long hours under grueling conditions for small pay.This means that at least 60% of Nigerian youths are looking for work or are looking to change their jobs and that the majority of them are unhappy and discontent with their current state.
When we consider then that the youths constitute at least up to 40% of our approximate population of 167mn and that of these 66.8mn number strong youth population, that 60% i.e.40.08mn youths are in a state of discontent, then the continued sustenance of our nation should be a concern to the people. If this is put in perspective it means that at least 25% of the total population is discontent which is significant especially when we consider as well that we have not included the much younger and older members of the population.
If at least one out of every four persons in Nigeria is discontent and youths constitute a major part of these numbers-with their bristling energies and restless minds- none of the nation’s policy makers should go to bed and sleep peacefully if the interest of the nation is really in their heart.
Today the current federal government is emphasizing on the need to create jobs for young Nigerians by liberalizing the oil industry and investing massively into agriculture. This no doubt represents a part of the several options available to the government and there are of course other options that can be pursued without the need to go into conflict with the Nigerian masses. The government today says that if she can save money from removal of subsidies that she will be able to use these saved monies in capital projects especially in agriculture that can then create wealth and jobs. This is true but what about reducing the current size of government and showing a more serious commitment to eliminating societal corruption and engendering the right mindset of society to the dignity of labour and honesty? Without tackling the canker worm of corruption in government and society, without elimination of waste and idleness in government and showing a willingness on its part to receive rewards commensurate to the labour expended as public office holders, all attempts at economic revival will be as pouring water into a basket.
The Legatum Index 2011 (the index measures wealth and wellbeing of global societies) was released in the first week of December 2011 and among the countries high up in the index were the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. One important feature of the societies in these nations is the high degree of trust among its people. This implies that corruption is low and that there is a high regard for humanity.This high value placed on humanity by these societies will ensure that a local government chairman in those parts utilises resources budgeted for antenatal clinics and primary health care centers judiciously.He will value the life of that pregnant woman and her about to be birthed child more than the pleasures that the funds if stolen could provide. In these parts not so. Our values are misplaced and we adore the material more than our fellow men. This is why expensive jeeps will pass by men and women dying of hunger in rubbish heaps without their occupants batting as much as an eyelid. This why public office holders will send their women overseas to give birth and then shake their heads without empathy when international organizations bemoan the high level of infant and maternal mortality in Nigeria.
The entrenchment of negative aspects of religion in the Nigerian society and the fact that religion has been so attached to the functions of state is a cause also of some of the callousness exhibited by the Nigerian people. This I shall address later in detail. Suffice for now to know that the teachings of destiny and the superiority of the will of God is reason why many Nigerians can without conscience look away from the extreme sufferings of other people. They will say , ‘it is what God has destined for him’. It is also reason why they will not hold their leaders to account, ‘after all the same God that has blessed the governor today and enabled him to have access to steal the resources of the people will also help me or my children tomorrow to do the same’.
Back to the issue at hand, the leaders of Nigeria can address the issue of unemployment by pursuing any of the following policies:
1) Revamp the education system
and make it more relevant to churning out youths prepared for the 21st century. India has shown us the way. Its emphasis on science decades ago is today resulting in a situation where a lot of jobs are being outsourced there from the west today. There is thus a high level of employment generated for its youth today. When however a majority of Nigerian youths have received education in fields that have no relevance to the developmental needs of the nation and can stand these graduates in no advantage for the challenges of the information era, then it is time we accept that the education industry as presently constituted has failed and needs to be restructured. In restructuring this industry, it is important that emphasis is placed on entrepreneurship and the dignity of merit. Only the best pupils should be promoted and they should have access to grants and endowments. We must accept that while basic education at least up to Junior secondary school should be universal, the skill of the various students should determine how far and to which direction they proceed in the formal education system. Those with flair for science should proceed to senior schools and universities set up to teach science. Those with flair for handicrafts and the technical should proceed to senior schools and universities set up to teach the technical and vocational. Employment policies should not discriminate on the basis of difference in degrees but emphasis should be on what each person can offer in terms of skill set and imagination. The era of the the universal university will thus be over and universities will be set up with specific focus, as this will help them produce graduates with the requisite skill set for various industries
It is also important that there is more coordination between the education system and the private sector to enable universities produce graduates to meet the needs of the private sector. I will also suggest that there are two layers of universities. The first layer will produce graduates for employment in the private and public industries while the second layer will produce researchers who will expand the frontiers of knowledge relevant to providing answers to challenges of our society. Graduates from this second layer will teach their solutions to graduates of the first layer and private sector industries. In such a way, the the minds of the brightest as identified from the secondary school system can be utilized in generating solutions to challenges of our society.
2) Make use of direct labour and local content in executing public works projects.
This will save foreign exhange, limit capital flight from the economy and improve technical skill set of youths who can then utilise these skills when they set up their companies in the future. For more technical projects a few foreigners can be invited to supervise the local content to execute these projects. By so doing there will be transfer of skills to the local population. Incentives such as tax breaks can also be give to the private sector to encourage them to utilise local content in their economic activities.
3) The government has to make it easier and cheaper for the private sector to start and run business in Nigeria.
A situation when companies are taxed in multiples, where there is no preference given to industries in terms of power supply and provision of infrastructure can not lead to sustainability for private sector businesses. When the private sector cannot sustainably grow its business operations, how can it then survive without laying off workers to cut costs. This is an area the Nigerian government must face with seriousness as it is only private enterprises and the free market that can generate employment in the millions.
4) Promotion of investment in agriculture.
The government should provide generous loans, land and infrastructure ( i.e.homesteads, electricity, water, roads) to youths who will take up farming in industrial scale farm settlements. All loans, land and infrastructure will be paid for by the farmers over the long term and this will ensure that their farming operations are driven by the nature of the free market-profit seeking,high efficiency,accountability etc. It will encourage hard work, independence and entrepreneurship among the youth and in addition increase national annual production of agricultural stock.
5) Aggressive marketing and incentives to foreign investors to set up agro-processing industries
These industries should meet the needs of the local market first, the regional market next i.e. ECOWAS, the African continent and then other continents.These investors should however be given free hand to determine the end users of their products so as not to stifle their operations.No foreign investors should be allowed to engage in the production of primary goods. This activity should be left to our young people who take up industrial farming. The output from these farms should be supplied to these agro-processors who should be encouraged to employ other young Nigerians to ensure transfer of skills.
6) Deregulation of the oil, water and power industries will encourage investment in these industries,generate jobs and ensure availability of petroleum products,water and electricity to more Nigerians.
Adverse social effects that may arise- such as increase in prices of petroleum products, electricity and water tariffs can be mitigated by providing subsidized petroleum products ,electricity and water in the interim through government run fuel stations,electric and water companies. Later on, these subsidized commodities will be replaced with not for profit petroleum products,electricity and water when the refineries,power and water stations are running properly and have been integrated with their downstream operations. A tax may then be charged on these commodities which will be used to pay workers in these government companies and for purposes of expanding the operations of these companies. It will be necessary to ensure that corruption is eliminated in these government companies and that they function with transparency, so as not to frustrate the end users of their products. If this is done it will provide an alternative and a drag down to the greed and possibilities of run-away pricing of these commodities by the private sector.
The expansion of NNPC mega stations is a step in the right direction if these stations will be made to operate as suggested above and this should be done also to increase the extent of distribution of water and electricity by the government companies responsible for their provision.
In conclusion, taking from the statement credited to Adam Smith at the start of this discussion, the annual produce of a nation i.e. its GDP will continue to decrease year to year, if the major part of it is consumed by the idle consistently.
This is because there will be no incentive for the the industrious to continue to work and there will be no encouragement to the lazy to become more productive. This has been the situation with Nigeria for several decades and it has led to the current situation where a vast majority of the population are greedy for the easy wealth of public office and the cheap proceeds of corruption.
The government must understand that the unemployment and the low productivity of the Nigerian people is linked to the injustice of the system of wealth distribution of the state.
She must realize that unless there is a restructuring of the system of distribution of wealth in the Nigerian society to ensure that the hardworking and enterprising are seen to be well rewarded, that there will be no incentive to get the Nigerian people especially her youth to look to the rewards of productive enterprise and honest employment. And if this is so, it portends great danger to the security and wellbeing of the Nigerian people and ultimately their continued existence as a nation.