Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nigeria’s Unknown Unemployed

Recently, Labour and Productivity Minister Adetokunbo Kayode admitted that Nigeria has no accurate figure of its unemployed population. That honest admission is commendable, but we find it unacceptable.
Speaking at a conference of the Association of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, the minister said that there was no accurate figure of unemployed Nigerians, and so he had to adopt an “anecdotal figure” of 40 million pending the report of the committee set up by the Federal Government to determine the real figure.
According to him, the unemployed make up about 32 per cent of the population. The figures are similar to those of the World Bank, which have been disputed by some scholars. There are concerns that, going by the evidence on the streets, the figure may be far higher.
However, there is no point arguing about the high rate of unemployment in Nigeria. Even the Minister’s anecdotal figure is depressing considering the country’s enormous resources; and scary because of the economic, physical and psychological effects of unemployment.
One, there is a strong correlation between unemployment and poverty, both of which are high in Nigeria.
Two, it has high private cost to those directly affected. In addition to the pain of poverty and deprivation, unemployment is associated with depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Three, its social cost is also high. Unemployment is associated with higher levels of family breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse, suicide and crime.
Four, and what should also be of concern to Government is that unemployment affects the entire economy, not just those unfortunate to be unemployed. Since many unemployed people have skills and training that are not being utilised in production, national income and production are reduced if these people were gainfully working.
These are reasons why governments all over the world, worry about rising unemployment and so strive to keep it at the barest minimum. The global economic meltdown has caused job losses in many countries, but Nigeria seems to have been living with the problem of unemployment for so long that its significance must have been lost on the people.
The lack of reasonable unemployment statistics does not speak well of the government. Of course, no proper planning can be done without reliable statistics. That there is no statistical backup explains why, too often, the nation cannot do effective long term planning, and our penchant for always adopting ad hoc measures. Indeed, how can a nation plan for a group of people without knowing their number?
Although the minister said a committee is working towards scientific unemployment statistics, we are wondering when it would be ready for use by a government that has gone past its mid-term. Unemployment is one of the government’s 7-point agenda. If it takes two years and more to get the figures, how long then will it take to provide the needed jobs?
At this stage of our development, we should have a working estimate of graduates from our tertiary institutions annually, what job openings there are for them, what numbers would be left, what they are likely to do to survive and what support can be given them.
We wonder what has become of the registration of the unemployed by the National Directorate of Employment in 2007.
As the committee continues its work, more and more people are added by the growing number of universities and other tertiary institutions to the unemployment figure.
Also added are many artisans who depend on public electricity supply but can no longer work because of the epileptic nature of the supply. There are also youths who continue to abandon agriculture in the rural areas for non-existent urban jobs and of course, the victims of the global economic meltdown.
Yet, there are other problems. Mr. Kayode lamented that “lack of proper skills, re-skilling, poor facilities for skills development, lack of planning and lack of co-ordination, confusion, inefficient application of scarce resources… greatly contributed to put our country in a very precarious job deficit.”
But it is not enough understanding the problems, or decrying the situation. It is more helpful designing schemes and measures to combat identified problems.
Now that the minister has adopted the “anecdotal figures” of 40 million Nigerians, what plans are underway to decongest the labour market? That is what will count for this government at the end of the day. Government has an obligation to create job opportunities or at the very least, create an enabling environment for private enterprises to provide employment for people.
We believe that the only enduring solution to unemployment and poverty is economic growth.