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Time bomb – Latest Nigeria News, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics


Editorial

 

Just when most Nigerians had begun imagining the economy leaving the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the latest unemployment trend, coming from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), may have buried the thought.

Unemployment rate, according to the NBS, rose from 27.1 per cent in the second quarter to 33.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2020. That is some 23,187,389 persons with either nothing to do, or working for less than 20 hours a week. That however is not the only revelation. According to the NBS, 1,422,772 persons were actually added to the labour market between the second quarter, right up to the time the economy slipped into recession.

Talk of the obverse side: underemployment rate actually decreased from 28.6 per cent to 22.8 per cent during the corresponding period. However, when the two figures – that of unemployment and underemployment – are combined, the rate comes to a staggering 56.1 per cent.

Clearly, if past unemployment figures had failed to spur the government to action, this latest figure, the highest by far – particularly in the backdrop of the surge in criminality across the board – should compel urgent measures.

Nothing of the development can be said to be entirely surprising. Across the federation, the signs are not only telling, the climate of anomie fostered by the swelling army of idle youths has not only become too painful to ignore, it is, like cancer, ravaging the soul of the nation.

Currently, they manifest in various forms and shapes – from kidnapping to banditry and terrorism; from cultism, drug abuse and mental health issues to prostitution; from militancy and ethnic agitations to cyber-crime of which no section of the country is spared. All of them in different degrees, have either helped to stoke the current ethnic tensions across the federation, or contributed to stretching the capacity of security agencies to their limits. We are talking here of a huge army of Nigerians, mostly youths, who, lacking legitimate avenues to put their skills, have embraced the counter-culture of deviance and criminality.

Truth is, these are merely the by-products of a failing and unresponsive economy – the cumulation of poor, ineffectual and ill-thought-out socio-economic policies by successive administrations. No thanks to the roller-coaster de-industrialisation ride ushered in by the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) of the eighties, the entire industrial landscape would become something of a wasteland, with the few surviving industries gasping for breath. With few willing, let alone able to invest in backward integration to guarantee steady supply of their raw materials while also creating jobs, many have had to rely exclusively on imports for their spares and raw materials, thereby denying the country that potential value in job creation. For a major oil-producing and exporting country, we import resins, petroleum and petrochemical products – all of these with dire implications for local capacity and our ability to create durable jobs.

And so the economy, which ordinarily ought to be expanding to absorb the large army of productive youths, continues to shrink.

The way forward would seem simple enough: the country needs to create millions of jobs for our army of youths. We need new thinking on the problems of the manufacturing sector – from capacity issues to backward integration. The sector needs a new lease more so now that the ravages of COVID-19 seem set to abate.

As for agriculture, the government, admittedly, has spent billions in intervention funds to boost agriculture and Small and Medium Scale Enterprises sector; it needs to do more, particularly as the security situation offers no guarantee that farmers would be able to harvest their crops. Even the livestock industry is imperiled by poor husbandry and cattle rustling. Government must do something fast about the state of insecurity.

Asides, our agricultural practices, particularly peasant farming, needs to be upgraded to attract more of our youths. We suggest that states in particular reinvigorate their extension services to make access to farm machineries easy and relatively cheap to those willing to do farm business.  We need to bring back a well-structured vocational training, particularly as a huge chunk of the idle hands has no skills to sell. A federal-assisted crash programme of skills acquisition across the entire federation won’t be a bad idea in the circumstance.

As already noted, there is an external factor to the unemployment crisis. Unfortunately, whereas the Buhari administration showed initial promise to address it frontally, it has lately proven to be more of the same.

We refer here to the latest figures on our foreign trade. According to the same NBS, whereas our import value in 2020 stood at N19.9 trillion, the corresponding value of our export was N12.5 trillion. In other words, Nigeria recorded a whopping trade deficit of N7.38 trillion – the largest in 40 years. Aside the dire implications for the local currency, millions of jobs which would otherwise have been created locally are shipped abroad, all in the service of sometimes frivolous imports. This is in spite of restrictions on certain categories of imports.

Ironically, one notable area which the Buhari administration promised reform but which fell flat is the ports. Specifically, the administration had pledged to bring about efficiency and to ensure faster turnaround time at the seaports. Indeed, it was advertised then as one of the measures needed to boost exports and hence to diversify the economy as well as bring improvement to the climate of doing business, all of which were expected to power the creation of millions of jobs.

Six years on, pretty little has changed as the ports have remained the users’ nightmare, a cog in the wheel of their day-to-day business. Indeed, many potential exporters have long given up, no thanks to the combination of dysfunctional infrastructure and stifling red tapism that ensure that goods bound for the export market get stuck on the highways without ever reaching the ports. And then the manufacturers who have complained ad nauseam about their frustrations at the ports without solutions, but which in the end translate to higher costs of production and shrunk capacity.

All said, the government, as a lasting measure to tame the unemployment scourge, needs to ensure that the economy is allowed to breathe. It means tackling the problem of infrastructure – of power, logistics and transportation as indeed the array of inclement policies said to be killing businesses, and by extension, jobs. That task has become urgent  now.



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