The Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr Chris Ngige, recently raised an alarm over the growing unemployment rate in Nigeria; warning that Nigeria may explode if unemployment is not tackled urgently. He said Nigeria could turn out to be like Venezuela if the challenge of unemployment continues. Ngige made these remarks recently while receiving an award from the College of Medicine at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Dr Ngige insinuated that “Unemployment is growing into a big cankerworm. It is growing into a very vicious disease condition that has given rise to a lot of anti-social behaviours”; adding that any uprising emanating from it would consume everybody. He observed that the signs of unrest can be seen across the country; noting that the All Progressives Congress (APC) led administration has also fashioned out some measures to deal with unemployment in Nigeria. “The symptoms are there. Boko Haram is a symptom of unemployment in Nigeria. IPOB is a symptom of unemployment and desperation and people are getting frustrated. Same goes for banditry in the northwest. Same goes for kidnapping all over the country. Avengers, the destruction of oil pipelines, OPC, are symptoms of very serious underlying disease condition called unemployment,” Ngige said.
Of course, many things are wrong with Nigeria’s economy; portending a looming economic downturn. News about the manufacturing industry is, yet, not cheering. Many of our industrial estates are yet to regain their old but thriving glory. Although the naira exchanges at a rate that has remained stable for a long period of time, it has failed to significantly appreciate against the United States dollar, the British pound and the Euro. All these are indices that do not reflect a healthy economy. The economy does not really appear to be reducing unemployment.
Ngige actually spoke the mind of many Nigerians with his point-blank remarks. The unemployment tragedy in the country reached this crisis point because of failure by successive administrations to address it. But it makes no sense, for instance, for a school principal or headmaster to rise at a community gathering to complain about the increasing rate of exam malpractice among his students. Is it the school or the community that is empowered to check the menace? No, Dr Ngige. Nigerians, not the minister, are to lament. Rather than make a two-faced remark, the minister should tell Nigerians about the specific measures that are being taken by government to address the critical socio-economic problem of unemployment.
Nonetheless, any attempt to critically analyse Nigeria’s unemployment crisis must also recognise the role played by our national plan-lessness over the years. There seems to be, for over three decades at least, a sequential disconnect between our national manpower needs and the country’s higher education system. Admission of candidates into academic programmes run by our tertiary institutions especially universities and polytechnics do not actually reflect Nigeria’s developmental and critical infrastructural needs. For instance, while Nigeria stands in need of more graduates in the areas of medicine, engineering, as well as in other emerging fields of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) including artificial intelligence, bio-informatics and nano-technology; our higher institutions have, for a long time, concentrated on producing more graduates in the arts and humanities which are two broad areas that the country has relatively produced enough.
There is no mincing words in stating that Nigeria, for example, has produced more graduates than it really required in the areas of accounting, law, administration, political science and sociology. And because the recruitment process in the public sector has largely been abused by political office holders in connivance with top-ranking civil servants, unqualified or non-professionals are unfortunately employed to do the job that they have been not been trained for but which requires certain technical skills. For instance, a very well ‘connected’ graduate of B.Sc. (Ed) Chemistry who should ordinarily be in the classroom will be employed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to do the job that requires the knowledge and skills of a graduate who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering.
There are cases where graduates of religious studies have been recruited for jobs that ought to be for graduates of public administration or banking and finance. One direct consequence of these aberrations is the indirect creation of a situation in which people employed for specific duties become under-utilised for the job they were recruited to do. This, for example, is true of an engineer employed to teach mathematics because his job has been taken over by others who are ‘connected’ but who at the same time lack the training to do the job of an engineer. Another instance of an under-utilised graduate is the case of a banking and finance graduate employed to do the job of a clerical officer simply because a B. A. English Language graduate has taken over his job in the bank. All these amount not only to a displacement of productive skills but also constitute a waste of human capital and financial resources.
Aside of the necessity for us as a country to have national development plans with our collective needs defined, it is also important for the country to initiate fiscal policies that would drive and expand the economy to create job opportunities. But more critical than these measures is the need to examine, diversify, and revitalise existing curriculum that obtains in Nigerian tertiary institutions with a view to making them serve the needs of a 21st century developing country.
Government is also advised to, as a matter of national emergency, utilize available mechanisms to check the abuse of due process by MDAs in the recruitment of applicants into civil service. No ordinary Nigerian gets a job in juicy MDAs including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), NNPC, Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), and the Nigerian Printing and Minting Company (NPMC) if you are not highly connected to a ‘who’s who’. The applicant must not only have a ‘very long leg’ and perhaps a deep pocket but the leg must also be strong enough to resist stormy political forces.
Meanwhile, the recently constituted Economic Advisory Council (EAC), which replaced the erstwhile Vice President Osinbajo-led Economic Management Team (EMT) should spare no efforts at changing the narratives of Nigeria’s ailing economy. Members of the EAC should deploy their knowledge and experience to promote the country’s economic growth by initiating realistic fiscal policies that seek to practically rescue Nigeria’s “bedridden” economy, revive the collapsed industrial sector, and create job opportunities. There is need for government to make the economy investor-friendly and re-assuring. May Allah (SWT) liberate Nigeria from all its woes, amin.