Many Nigerian youths would have been told at one point or the other about a Nigeria that used to be the envy of the world, a Nigeria that gave Malaysia palm oil seedlings before they became juggernauts in the export of palm oil. Perhaps those who were fortunate to have family time with their parents or grandparents would have been told those nostalgic tales of a time when the kobo and naira had more value than the N1,000 note of today. There were also tales of students who got funded by the government of that time to study to any point they desired home or abroad. Their Nigeria was a nation of possibilities, a nation that had promise, a nation that once requested that ‘Ghana must go’, not knowing that it was only a matter of time before a Nigerian consulate in Ghana would be reduced to a pile of debris. Indeed, as a notable journalist and public affairs analyst, Dr. Reuben Abati once said, the Nigerian youth is an unfortunate child of fortunate parents.
For the sake of clarity, this discourse is referring to people within the age bracket of 18 to 35 years. This is with due regard to other existing definitions of youth as provided by the United Nations, its member states and other countries of the world. Besides, in Nigeria, 18 is considered to be the age of maturity or adulthood even though in reality an 18-year old male or female is considered a ‘small boy’ or ‘small girl’ − a socio-linguistic reference that unconsciously limits the potentials and aspirations of most Nigerian youths when it comes to achieving lofty heights, but considers them old enough to be jailed or prosecuted if they commit a crime.
Having established who a youth is in the Nigerian context, one can move on to examine the root causes of unemployment among Nigerian youths, one of them is the failure of the country’s educational system, at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels. When the Universal Basic Education programme was launched in 1999, it was aimed at providing free primary and secondary education for all. While there were some improvements in enrolment its results have been limited. Claudia Irigoyen in a 2017 article for the Centre for Public Impact, written on Universal Basic Education in Nigeria pointed that although the Nigerian public had a positive perception of the UBE, their perception of the country’s education infrastructure was negative.
Irigoyen goes on to cite UNESCO’s 2015 review of Nigeria’s educational system. Their review revealed that participation in primary education was still low in comparison with primary school age population; the quality of the national school curriculum was undermined by the generally low quality of teachers which translated into low levels of learning achievement. These among other findings, contributed to the poor quality of education among youths in addition to poverty. At the tertiary level, the incessant strikes by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and other similar unions for the Polytechnics and Colleges of Education have affected the quality of graduates that are produced by these institutions. Government’s insensitivity to the demands of these academics has had its ripple effect on the students who go into a labour market that is increasingly becoming competitive.
The contest between unemployment and underemployment is another area that should be analysed. Oftentimes, when politicians boast of providing employment, care is not taken to find out the kind of employment that is being referred to. Does the employment befit the beneficiary or is it a matter of scaling up the numbers to tick boxes? Some employed people in Nigeria fall under the category of those who are underemployed as they are forced to take jobs that are below their qualifications in order to survive. The National Bureau of Statistics states that about 13.9 million youths are unemployed with about 55.7% representing the number of youths that were unemployed as at the second quarter (Q2) of 2020. The key highlights of the survey showed that the highest unemployment rate was recorded for youths between 15 to 24 years at 40.8% followed by youths between the ages of 25 to 34 years at 30.7%. When these youths are left to their whims without any form of profitable enterprise, they become prone to seeking self-help which often leads to engaging in vices like internet fraud, robbery, insurgency, prostitution, child trafficking and abuse of narcotics.
The challenge of insecurity Nigeria faces will remain if the issue of the empowerment of youths is treated as a matter for political calculations. When one leaves the southern part of Nigeria and moves towards the north, one finds the debilitating effect of poverty and inadequate education on the youths. The present Boko Haram scourge, which has lingered like a festering sore on the genitals, is a resultant effect of unemployed and uneducated youths and children who are recruited to join their ranks. The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria’s North-Eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe also include youths who have had to drop out from school due to insurgency. Many of these youths join Boko Haram in a bid to escape from poverty and deprivation. Ruth Naylor and Stephanie Bengtsson in their 2016 publication titled ‘Education for Refugees and IDPS in Low and Middle-Income Countries’ state that while education is a high priority for most IDPs, humanitarian agencies are justifiably focused on meeting short-term goals like the provision of food, water, shelter and other basic amenities. Hence, it falls on the government at all levels to make adequate budgetary allocation to education.
The lack of profitable employment in rural areas which has led to the rural-urban migration has also contributed to the rise in youth unemployment. At a time when the government is talking about transitioning from an oil-based economy to an agricultural one, there is no better time to utilize the country’s agronomy for boosting the nation’s revenue than now. From the rain forests of the south to the savannas of the north, there are abundant resources that range from plants and mineral deposits that can be used to generate profitable employment for rural dwellers. Remarkably, there is a growing team of youths who are beginning to delve into viable ventures like animal husbandry in the form of fish farming, piggery, and poultry management. The effort of organisations like the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) that gives grants to budding businesses is a move in the right direction. When there is more emphasis on drafting business plans and creating small and medium enterprises, over time the issue of youth unemployment will fizzle out. Any youth who is gainfully employed will not give a second thought to joining insurgents or engaging in vices like robbery or prostitution.
Another point to consider in addressing the challenge of youth unemployment is leadership. As obvious as this seems, not many people take the pain to consider that the knowledge and values that Nigerian youths possess also emanate from the older citizens. The second stanza of the national anthem reads ‘O God of creation/ direct our noble cause/ Guide our leaders right, help our youth the truth to know…’ In other words, the Nigerian youth’s knowledge is heavily dependent on the kind of guidance that the leaders have. In a country of career politicians and ostentatious oligarchs who feed on the commonwealth to the detriment of the masses, what example do the youths have? Who are the role models and mentors of these youths? Whoever the youths look up to as a guide or mentor determines the kind of choices they will make career wise. Nigerians, who have been able to distinguish themselves in different fields of endeavour, should be deliberate about mentoring young people who show interest in their profession. Still on the anthem, the first line reads ‘O God of creation, direct our noble cause’. This line indicates that Nigeria is a religious country that depends on the guidance of the Supreme Being, God Almighty to direct the affairs of people. But again, the question is, what noble cause is Nigeria pursuing? For a nation with a high spiritual wave length in relation to the metaphysical world, it becomes necessary to inquire if the nation really conforms to the ideals expressed in the anthem.
At this point, it becomes needful to dwell on solutions that can help the Nigerian youth to channel their energy and creativity to more legitimate and profitable ventures. Nigerian youths need to understand the times we live in. The post-Covid era promises to be one that will be reliant on digital technology. Businesses that are not digitally compliant may fizzle out, especially if they cannot use the data analytics of social media and websites to determine where their customers are and what they want. There is the gradual emergence of the creative industry in digital space as seen in Youtube, Instagram and other video streaming platforms. The post-Covid-19 economy calls for not just thinking out of the box, but doing away with the box entirely.
On a global scale there is a radical alteration of careers and business from aviation to manufacturing. An oil producing nation like Nigeria needs to seek new ways of doing trade and running the country from other sources which will include: agriculture and creative industries, human relations and culture, online business and other areas like artificial intelligence, 3D and automation, tele-services, forex trading and cryptocurrencies. In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, people are beginning to work remotely from their homes. Any Nigerian business or organisation that wants to be relevant must begin to alter their usual way of operating. Nigerian youths, whether employed or unemployed, should begin to use their laptops and smartphones for legitimate enterprises that are entirely online.
The Nigerian creative industry has remarkably begun to catch up with the times. Musicians, film producers, stand-up comedians, dancers, entertainers and their ilk now have YouTube channels where their fans and followers can watch them and give feedback through the comment sections. Movie producers now think in terms of producing content for YouTube and gaining as much followers as possible. With the increased followership and views come deals for endorsements and dollar earnings from YouTube. It becomes a case of working in naira and earning in dollars.
Businesses now use social media to reach out to their target audiences. There are tools that also help them know where these audiences are located. For instance, Facebook has a virtual shop called ‘Facebook Shops’. According to Facebook, ‘Facebook Shops is a mobile-first shopping experience where businesses can easily create an online store on Facebook and Instagram for free. What this means is that one can connect with customers through WhatsApp, Messenger or Instagram. There are many techno-savvy Nigerian youths who can leverage on these opportunities offered by platforms like Facebook. Nigerian brands like Konga and Jumia are already into this.
In an age of reduced touch and face-to-face interactions, it might take a while before one might see a semblance of the normal, if it happens at all. Consequently, professions that usually involve some form of physical contact are beginning to think of ways to reduce human to human contact while carrying out their activities. One example to buttress this point is from healthcare. Medical consultations may gradually begin to take place on phones and laptops either through audio or video conferencing. It is only when it is ascertained that a situation is critical that physical contact becomes necessary. Nigerian youths should begin to gain skills that are woven around digital technology and IT as there is now a higher demand for these in almost every sector. Undergraduates in the various higher institutions of learning should become more conscious of thinking of ways in which they can apply digital technology in their disciplines. This is not restricted to the pure sciences alone as even the social sciences and humanities now incorporate platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to organise seminars and workshops for human capital development.
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The importance of educating females cannot be overemphasized when it comes to youth unemployment. When a woman is properly educated, she thinks less of early marriage and childbearing. As long as the number of females who drop out of school continues to increase, the country will have a population that it cannot manage; this will eventually lead to an increase in the number of unemployed youths in the labour market. Asides from investing in education, the government needs to find out ways of supporting small businesses either by cutting down on their taxes or providing some kind of grant during periods of economic recession. The youths who run some of these businesses can become influencers who will do all they can to have mentees who will replicate their success. The gerontocratic nature of Nigeria’s political system should also be examined because youth unemployment is tied to the fact that there are little or no youths in the National Assembly and other arms of government that can formulate policies that will support entrepreneurship and other emerging forms of digital businesses like cryptocurrency which is still viewed with suspicion by the Nigerian government. Regardless of this, Nigeria is among the top five countries in Africa that practices cryptocurrency. Many of the people who are involved in this business are techno-savvy Nigerian youths who are genuinely seeking for alternative sources of income in the absence of traditional white or blue-collar jobs.
In all, the post-Covid-19 economy needs the input of youths, if the nation is going to thrive. Their energy, vigour and dynamism can be channeled to create something like America’s Silicon Valley as seen with the emergence of tech startups in Yaba, Lagos. Unfortunately, even these tech startups that have begun to solve the problem of youth unemployment are beginning shrink due to stiff regulations from the Lagos State Government. State governments across the nation should ensure that their policies do not stifle the legitimate businesses in their domain. Still on startups, mega corporations and establishments should begin to include the empowerment of youths in their host communities as part of their corporate social responsibility. The ones who are already doing this should be given more publicity in order to encourage others to do same. Experts in economics recommend entrepreneurship as the foundation of developed nations. The government must work to increase the ease of doing business by making Nigeria’s business environment more attractive to investors. While they focus on dealing with the immediate causes of insecurity, they must deal with the remote causes as well if they crave for a conducive environment for business. For a country with a rapidly growing unemployed population, entrepreneurship remains the most feasible option. Nigeria’s informal sector also needs to be examined as there may be business models that may be adopted at the national level that might be unnoticed. It is not enough to demand for taxes and votes; the time has come for political will to manifest in tangible terms for the Nigerian youth.
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