Professor Ebere Onwudiwe, publisher and Editorial Director of O-analytics Research and Development Initiative (ORADI), in this interview with Daily Trust at the weekend in Abuja, spoke on the threat of high unemployment rate in Nigeria and proffered solutions.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), says based on 2018 data, Nigeria has an estimated 23.1 percent unemployment rate which is an all-time high. How do you think this problem could be tackled vis- a-vis national security?
Obviously, unemployment, in particular, youth unemployment is one cause of the security challenges in Nigeria. Nigeria’s youth unemployment is over 52 percent which is a huge number that some concerned analysts have called a ticking time bomb. Many nations have gone through this and survived. This suggests that there exist out there many examples of how to defuse this time bomb and turn an explosive situation of a youth bulge in the midst of slow economic growth into some good economic times capable of absorbing many of the idle hands roaming our streets in utter hopelessness.
There are policies that can come from the experiences of other countries and from economic theories. But there are certain truths about our country at this time that predict the high rate of unemployment that we are suffering. For example, there is disgusting widespread poverty all over the place. It is not for nothing that we have been rated the capital of extreme poverty in the world. We should be offended. We should feel insulted. We should get angry enough to do something about it.
What we should not do is be in denial. Getting the people to work is the name of the game. The government can do this through public spending. This country still needs to be built. We suffer embarrassing shortages in seaports, roads, railroads, bridges and houses, you name it. Many economists agree that public spending has a positive impact on employment. In the particular case of Nigeria, some studies have shown that capital expenditure along with investments in the private sector reduce unemployment. The government is in a position to do something about these.
First the governments, including the states and the FCT, can embark on massive construction of new infrastructure and repair of the dilapidated roads and bridges in the country. There are huge needs for good roads that link the different parts of the country, and different parts of each state of the country.
There are more railroads and new seaports to be built in order to propel the country out of its current state of economic stagnation. These will absorb a huge number of the unemployed into productive employment. That’s like killing three birds with one stone because by investing in these kinds of massive construction projects in the country, the government will be developing it, reducing youth unemployment and, subsequently, improving security in the country.
How do you think it (unemployment) can be curbed to the barest minimum?
Consider politics. I strongly believe that there is too much concentration of attention on the federal government while the other governments (states and LGCs) in the country get away with murder. Few people worry about the bridges, roads, schools and hospitals that are not being built by our 36 states and the FCT, or the feeder roads that are not done by the local governments.
When people curse the government for not doing their work they have Aso Rock in mind. This is exactly the reason Nigeria’s economy is not growing robustly because all eyes are on the federal government which unwisely refuses to let go of some responsibilities to the states and local governments on the flawed assumption that more is always better.
By concentrating most powers in its hands, the federal government inadvertently kills the spirit of competitiveness in our country’s political system. This is a primary reason for Nigeria’s perennial problems of development. So many states have little need to perform because of the monthly manna from our centralized heaven that they receive every month for just being alive. This creates a free-rider problem that is a boon for some cheats in statehouses around the country.
In economics, free-rider problems occur when some people are allowed to consume and pay less than their cost of consumption. This unfair situation, akin to the sharing tradition of Nigerian states, leads to what economists call market failure. It affects behaviour of decision-makers because they know that come what may, they will receive their monthly rent from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC).
The last information I have is that just last September, FAAC shared over N693.5 billion to the three tiers of government. Of these billions, the federal government bagged N293.801 billion; the states own windfall amounted to N186.816 billion, while the local government councils received N140.864 billion. Governments that just sit there and gulp free monies every month will eventually become lazy and less efficient. Laziness and inefficiency do not promote economic growth and full employment. All these are just to say that to promote hard work and productive competitiveness across the land in our political system, our political leaders must think seriously about the tool of decentralisation.
We must stop treating the state governments in particular as mere appendages but treat them as tiers of government with full responsibilities in our federalism. When states compete, they produce economic growth. Economic growth is positively related to employment, meaning that the more we grow the economy, the more employment should grow.
How would you rate the federal government’s effort toward achieving the SDG 8?
I sincerely believe that the president of this country is pro-poor at heart. Still, I can equally say that this government has not scored very highly on the Sustainable Development Goal number 8 which deals with Decent Work and Economic Growth as we have shown very clearly in our journal, SDGs Monitor: A Journal of Implementation. This is why we recommended there, as I recommend here now, that among other things, the Buhari administration should do more to diversify our economy. This could lead to the growth of the non-oil sectors in the economy and the acceleration of productivity and decent employment opportunities.
In that study, we called for a broad review of labour productivity and reward system in order to provide for our citizens engaged in the public and organised private sector to bolster the level of decent job in our general economy.