According to official statistics, and the latest data released by the nation’s Bureau of Statistics, over 28 million Nigerians are currently unemployed or underemployed. But what is more worrisome is that a large number of this unemployed population are young people between the age of 15 and 35 years. With social tension taking on terrifying forms, such large numbers of young people creates the possibility of imminent social implosion unless the justifiable anger is given a positive direction. There is therefore the need for ending the crisis of unemployment to be put into correct socialist perspectives, which offers long lasting solutions of economic expansion and job creation.
According to Premium Times (an online news medium) of 6 June, 2017, the latest unemployment rate of the country is 14.2 percent, and the data is from the fourth quarter of 2016. Based on this data, “a total of 28.58 million persons in the Nigerian labour force” were unemployed or underemployed. The Premium Times report, which was extracted from the latest quarterly report of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Nigeria’s unemployment situation, further indicates that there is a steady growth in the workforce population (which increased from 108.03 million in the 3rd quarter to 108.59 million in the fourth quarter). As gloomy as the figure of unemployment looks, it could spell doom for the youth and the entire society. Business Day of Feb 14, 2017 declared that the scary statistics of youth unemployment “shows that young people of today face the likelihood of becoming victims of both unemployment and restiveness”. Emerging events in the country show that young people are not only victims of restiveness; they are becoming army of several forms of dangerously evolving social unrest from the violent ethnic clashes in parts of the North to separatist agitations in the South as well as kidnapping, cultism, prostitution and gangsterism.
The recession witnessed in the country’s economy has compounded the crisis of unemployment. Several big businesses faced with plummeting profits have no qualms resorting to mass retrenchment while underpaying ‘survivors’, despite overworking them and high inflation rate. But the recession which has become an overused excuse among political office holders is caused largely by the contradictions of the capitalist economic system which in its quest for profit at all cost inevitably enters periodic crises which manifests this time around in the form of low world economic growth, high crude inventory and crashing oil prices that induced the current recession, including creating a record-high unemployment rate and further throwing ordinary people into the abyss of poverty.
The Punch Newspaper of 18 May 2017 in its news article on Oxfam report on Inequality in Nigeria states the following in the clearest of terms: “Oxfam International on Wednesday in Abuja unveiled its ‘Inequality in Nigeria’ report, which revealed the harsh economic reality in a country where 112 million citizens live in abject poverty, stating that the combined wealth of five of her richest citizens (Aliko Dangote; Mike Adenuga; Femi Otedola; Folorunsho Alakija, and Abdulsamad Rabiu), put at about $29.9bn, could end extreme poverty in the nation.”
It is an open secret that these billionaires owe their wealth to exploitation of workers and the magnanimous government policies that exempt them from certain taxes, provide them with illicit loans and billions in bailout funds, and same polices that grant them monopolies in the business of producing crude oil, telecommunications, cement production and consumables. Assuming this recession ends tomorrow and oil becomes more profitable, the stranglehold of these billionaires on the economy would only end up increasing their wealth base and would not create sufficient jobs that can reverse current unemployment. Meanwhile, creating jobs is tied to any hope of exiting recession.
As a developing country in need of urgent infrastructural development, the situation of unemployment is an absurdity. Because the urgent need of the country for road and rail networks, electricity, safe water, expansion of schools, construction of health facilities, and equipping them etc., should normally create millions of living-wage paying jobs. This will require too that government puts an end to the “contract system” of executing government’s projects, which relies on privately owned big businesses to carry out projects on behalf of government. Aside the fact that government would create more permanent jobs by relying on its department of Public Works for construction of roads, housing and public facilities, it would also cut costs. What is needed is to bring the government’s works department to standard level of efficiency is standard equipment, proportionate personnel employment and training as well as giving workers the democratic control of these departments instead of bureaucrats and government appointees. However, the underling motive of cutbacks and pecuniary gains that politicians make from the ‘contract system’ bar them from taking a responsible control of the economy.
The Buhari/Osinbajo-led regime has proved that it is incapable of reversing the unemployment rate in the country. The administration’s signature response to unemployment is anchored on its Social Investment Programme, which is also known as the N-Power scheme. The scheme aims to employ graduates, on temporary basis, as teachers, tax collectors or agricultural extension workers, and non-graduates as artisan-trainees, with a payment of N30, 000 which is lesser than the N56, 000 that the organised labour is demanding as minimum wage in the wake of galloping inflation and recession. The impotency of the scheme is reflected in the remark of the nation’s Statistician General that Nigeria needs to create 2 million jobs annually to be able to reverse the growing rate of unemployment. (The Cable, 15 December, 2016).
The media widely reported the comment of President Buhari’s aide on Job Creation that within five days of opening the N-Power portal for registration of applicants, 753, 307 people applied to benefit from the scheme. And out of this huge and increasing figure of jobseekers, the government has made known its intention to hire only 350, 000 unemployed graduates under the N-Power volunteer Corps (Premium Times, 27 February, 2017). In reality, the programme is implemented for the purpose of propaganda rather than national planning; because there is simply no tinge of strategic planning in a programme that would employ hundreds of thousand teachers, who would end up without teaching materials and even classrooms.
It is wishful thinking that the Buhari/Osinbajo regime could take the drastic steps needed to create jobs, without pressure from the organised masses. This is why young people, who are first victims of this socio-economic crisis, must be ready to organise and fight for policies that would create decent jobs, and call for the abolition of policies that are known to compound unemployment crisis such as privatisation and tax holidays for the rich. It is unfortunate that most existing youth organisations, though with no mandate from ordinary young people, are not ready to confront government on questions related to political and economic policies. While some enthusiastic youths innocently flock to their fold, some others take to crimes and cyber frauds as way of expressing annoyance at being unemployed.
History has placed on the shoulders of the working class movement the responsibility to organise and mobilise workers and the youths on basis of clear perspectives and programmes that would abolish poverty and unemployment. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) must develop a strategy to organize the youth which could start from setting up branches of these labour centres in the communities and rolling out campaign action plans like mass meetings, leafleting and public demonstrations to begin to demand creation of decent jobs and opportunities for young people. But while resistance against polic ies that create unemployment may compel government to capitulate and temporarily grant some of the demands of a movement of young people, it would take the enthronement of a workers and poor people’s government anchored on socialist programmes to seriously build and diversify the economy and plan Nigeria for ordinary people. Such a government would bring the mainstream of the economy under democratic control and management of working and ordinary people, in their various workplaces and communities, for the benefit of every Nigerian, rather than to profit the wealthy billionaires.
Written by: Wole Olubanji Protem Coordinator, Youth Rights Campaign (YRC)