Economic crunch, rising population compounding unemployment crisis

The rising rate of underemployed and unemployable youths in the country is a source of concern to economic analysts. HENRY FALAIYE in this piece explores factors fuelling the rise and how they can be addressed

While the workforce necessary to run the economy is not one of Nigeria’s challenges, the country may be struggling with a lack of foreign exchange and even its own currency. Wordometer, a live world population statistics online platform, estimated that the country’s population, which was the largest in Africa as of Sunday, was almost 220 million. With a median age of 18.1 years and more than 40 per cent of the population under the age of 15, the country has a lot of human resources.

However, the country’s high unemployment rate, which Statista estimated to be 33 per cent last year, is troubling despite its abundant human resources. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, underemployment stood at 22.8 per cent, youth unemployment was 42.5 per cent and youth underemployment stood at 21 per cent in 2020.

Experts have predicted that unemployment will continue to be one of the major economic challenges facing the country. They have linked rising insecurity in Nigeria to its high unemployment rate.

Furthermore, experts have said the consequences of youth unemployment in Nigeria are pervasive and severe, arguing that unemployment translates to poorer living conditions, the mass migration the country is currently witnessing.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the recovery of the economy with 200 million people will be slow. The country grew at a slower pace in 2022, recording a 3.10 per cent growth rate, compared to the 3.40 per cent reported in 2021.

The United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA has said that Nigeria’s population that is increasing by 3.2 per cent annually and may hit 400 million by 2050, which will make the country the third most populous nation in the world.

Experts have pointed out that to arrest the rising unemployment challenge in the country; entrepreneurial programmes should be integrated into the educational system from primary schools to universities.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Centre for the Promotion of Public Enterprise, Dr Muda Yusuf, told The PUNCH, “There are so many solutions to curb the unemployment rate in Nigeria, Firstly, we need to tackle the problem of insecurity because the agricultural sector employs many people.”

Since the beginning of the insurgency in the Northeast, banditry in the Northwest and kidnapping in the Southeast and Southwest, many people in the agricultural sector have lost their jobs, as they can no longer go to their farms.

“So, tackling insecurity is a very key solution to the problem. The second is to look at the curriculum in our schools, especially in our tertiary institutions,” he said.

Yusuf claimed the current school curriculum did not reflect the demands of society or the demands of the economy.

“We have a curriculum that has been put in place for 10-20 years; it is not likely to be relevant to the needs of today except for a few cases like medicine, pharmacy, and the rest of them. But even for those, the kind of methodology, equipment, and diagnosis that people used 10-15 years ago is not the same thing that they use now.

“Hence, getting the curriculum to be in alignment with the demands of the economy is also a very important factor,” he pointed out.

The CPPE boss also stressed the need to create an environment that would enable micro, small and medium-scale businesses to thrive, saying small businesses create more jobs than big businesses.

He explained, “If you have an environment where it is very difficult for small businesses to survive, where many of them are closing shops, they are also contributing to unemployment. To reverse that, we need to create an enabling environment for small businesses.

He also noted the government needed to put in place mechanisms that would address the challenges of high energy costs, high transportation costs, microeconomic problems, foreign exchange and credit facilities and also strengthen their capacity to manage their businesses well because SMEs are very critical to job creation. They need more support than we are currently giving them.”

President Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria, Tommy Okon, said,” It is unfortunate that Nigeria has gotten to the stage of which the unemployment situation is very alarming and the government seems to be handicapped about it.

“Whereas Nigeria is blessed with all the mineral resources, where they would have created an enabling environment to be tapped, hereby, giving the youths hope for them to flow in the area of entrepreneurship or even on a gainful employment but all this boils down to leadership.”

He mentioned that there was a need to reexamine the country’s leadership recruitment process.

“If you do not have a leader that thinks outside the box, that understands the economic realities and wealth creation, the unemployment rate will be more alarming than what it is today.

“The projections of the increasing rate of unemployment are not false and you know that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. So, the projections are telling Nigerians that they need to put their house right,” Okon enunciated.

He explained that if the county had a leader who was dedicated to revamping local industries, especially the manufacturing, textile, oil & gas industries, the unemployment rate would reduce drastically.

He further said, “If the manufacturing sector like the textile industry is working in full swing, people would be gainfully employed there. If the Ajaokuta Steel and other steels were working in full stream, people will get employment and that will reduce unemployment drastically.”

The President of the Association of Outsourcing Professionals of Nigeria, Dr Obiora Madu, said, “We all know the cause of escalating unemployment. We do not just have unemployment; we also have underemployment and people that are unemployable.”

To tackle the soaring unemployment rate, he suggested, “The first thing to do is to rejig our education. It is on record that when the President of Singapore has decided on the direction the country is going. He called the people in academics and education generally and asked them, ‘This curriculum that we have, is it taking us to the direction where we want to go?’ The response was no. He advised them to go back and give him a curriculum that will clearly take them to where there were going. Today, you can see how Singapore is.”

He noted that vocational education was almost nonexistent.

“Again also, one of the reasons why a lot of them are not employed is because they leave higher institutions not ready for the workplace and which is responsible for the lack of soft skills.

“As a country, we are in a very big deficit of soft skills because they are needed for leadership, interpersonal relations, and work, in the family and as a businessperson in relating with your customers.

“There is a very serious need to rejig our education system, where you will start having people who will come out and have something to do, especially entrepreneurship.”

He emphasised that an entrepreneurship course that was not competency-based was not going to achieve its objective.

“So, we can see that there is a lot of work that is needed. Also, improving the infrastructure, I am talking about the soft infrastructure while the hard infrastructure is the buildings and the rest of the things we are talking about,” he said.

Okon noted that there was what International Trade Centre called export-led development.

“What this means is that if we as a country create an export-led development, what is going to happen is that we are going to shore up our foreign exchange and of course, it will create employment.”

According to him, outsourcing would help cut down the country’s high unemployment.

“In fact, there was research when Olusegun Aganga was a Minister for Trade and Investment. He was asked for three sectors that can give the country the largest number of employment within the shortest possible time. It was outsourcing, entertainment and construction.

“I am the president of the Association of Outsourcing Professionals of Nigeria. So, it is sad because we have everything that it takes to take over that industry after Indians because we have the population. We are English speaking; we are +1 GMT as regards time differences. Labour is cheap and a whole lot more. Our youth population is another factor. We are not exploring what we should explore,” he claimed.

According to him, certifications have pushed degrees to the background, as that seems to be the only thing that employers can trust.

“The COVID-19 era made it a bit easier for those of us that are involved in certifications because before COVID-19 if you talk to public sector people or universities about online education and certifications, they will say it is nonsense.

 “But now, what is going on is that most of the universities even secondary and primary schools adopt learning online. We need to be moving forward because the world is not waiting for us,” he counselled.

Experts say that if nothing is done to stop the rising unemployment rate, it will explode at the wrong time.

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