By Kehinde Ibiteye
Since 1962, through its first National Development Plan (NDP), Nigeria has had several economic aspirations. The country has strived to employ a considerable number of economic strategies, plans and programs to achieve development. One can factually debate that Nigeria has had more economic policies than any other developing country. Virtually all models of development have been experimented in the country including nationalization, indigenization, self-reliance, import-substitution and free market strategy. These were through the four NDPs, Structural Adjustment Program (SAP), First Rolling Plan, Guided Deregulation, Vision 2010 and Vision 20-20-20, amongst others. Some of these aspirations encompass the expansion of the agricultural sector & infrastructure; and achieving industrialization & economic growth targets.
Since the early 80s, the diversification of the economy, away from oil, became the holy grail of the country’s development agenda, as well as courting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and using oil revenues to address poverty and build human capital. A major component of Nigeria’s economic aspirations has also included unemployment reduction. As this would have helped the country to counter poverty, raise per capita income, build human capital, expand agriculture and achieve higher economic growth. The 3rd and 4th NDPs, as well as SAP, all included unemployment reduction targets. However, some of these economic aspirations were never realized.
Topically, through its Vision 20-20-20, the country aspires to be amongst the twenty largest economies in 2020 with a Gross National Product (GNP) of $900 billion, and a per capita income of $4,000. Other elements of this Vision include maintaining an average annual GDP growth rate of 13.8%, reducing national inflation to a single digit, increasing the contribution of the manufacturing sector from 4 to 12% of GDP during 2010 – 2013; as well as bridging the country’s infrastructural gap. Less than four years to 2020, the country is in no ways on the path towards achieving the nucleus of the Vision. Nigeria is presently in an economic recession as a result of oil prices’ oscillations, with two quarters of GDP contraction. Per capita income is almost at half of the projected amount in the Vision, inflation level is at 18%. There are wages crisis, a speedily depreciating naira (depreciated by around 300% at the parallel market), job losses, a frustrated manufacturing sector and decreasing foreign reserves. The actuality that Abuja lacks ideas to upturn this cheerless trend suggests that Vision 20-20-20 would also fail like other plans and policies of the country.
The inability of Nigeria to achieve some elements of its economic aspirations before the 90s precipitated increased unemployment rate as well as high youth unemployment rate. As of 1999, and according to the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), unemployment rate was at 20%, as a result of the early 80s recession hangover. It reduced to 12.6% in 2002 following some major economic reforms and went up again to 13.3% as of Q2 of 2016. Between 2003 and 2011, graduate youth unemployment rate increased from 26.6 to 42.7% at more than 80%. As of the second quarter of 2016, youth unemployment rate was at 50%, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that 71 million young Nigerians were unemployed (about 40% of the country’s population).
The ceaseless unemployment rate increase has been despite of the actuality that successive Nigerian governments introduced direct/indirect interventions to counter the trend. These include the Nigerian Economic Empowerment Development Strategy (NEEDS), Subsidy Re-Investment and Empowerment Program (SURE-P); the establishment of National Directorate of Employment, National Youth Service Corps Scheme; Vocation & Technical Education programs, Small & Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, National Open Apprenticeship Scheme and Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YouWIN). While some of these interventions have failed to achieve measurable results, the country still lacks coherent youth policies and practical institutional frameworks. Another key challenge is that various youth development policies, programs and interventions were formulated without the involvement of young people. Many argue that political leaders fail to consider youth as critical stakeholders. In addition, these interventions lack the critical resources to carry them off. The lack of efficient monitoring and evaluation mechanisms has also affected the effective implementation of some of these interventions that recorded little progress such as the YouWIN. Quite a number of programs that should be executed by some departments of government are hardly seen as these agencies barely secure their salary allocation, talk more of receiving budgetary allocations to fulfil their core mandate.
Furthermore, it is believed that Nigeria would have achieved some of its economic aspirations had it been youth unemployment has been addressed adequately. Several empirical economic studies have shown that there is a major correlation between increased employment provision and economic growth, hence better economic outcome. The emerged East Asian industrialized economies made so much economic progress through building a skilled, young labor force. This is a standard coherent with ILO’s recommendations for building the capacity of youth to grow local economies through its decent work agenda. To this effect, maximize the economic potentials of a large youth work force with great emphasis on labor intensive manufacturing and sectors. Through youth empowerment programs, and providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, many young people were able to create businesses, employ their compeers, which all resulted to higher economic outcome and improved GDP.
Lack of pragmatic strategies to tackle youth unemployment has really contributed to Nigeria’s poor economic performance (considering its resource-base muscle), and most young people have been denied the ability to meaningfully contribute to the country’s overall productivity. The government’s responsibility is therefore to create the necessary conducive atmosphere for business to thrive. These would include improving the ease of doing business, simplifying business registration processes, addressing the country’s humongous infrastructural gap, strategically respond to looming insecurity and build the skills of young people – with requisite knowledge to be globally competitive. With all businesses running on generators and with poor transportation network, diversification, attraction of foreign investment and industrialization will continue to be a pipe dream. By putting these phenomena in place, a private sector driven employment provision for Nigerian youths would be occasioned.
Unemployment has actually contributed to a good number of societal malaises in Nigeria including armed-robbery, internet-scams, kidnapping, urbanization crisis, insurgency and militancy operations; vulnerability of youths to be involved in heinous crimes and become tools for political thuggery etc. All these pose a threat to political stability which in turn affects business performance and the attraction of FDI. This needs to be addressed by engaging youth into meaningful employment. Against the backdrop of the Boko Haram insurgency, counter-radicalization and de-radicalization strategies among youth, especially in the North, needs to become a key element of strategic focus. To make appropriate use of the energetic youth population, ensuring youth participation in governance remains vital. The country’s educational sector remains a subject for surgery, minimalist and maximalist. The government should formulate a sound strategy on how to revamp the educational institutions, and ensure a correlation between what is taught in school and what the market needs.
It is imperative that the government sees youth unemployment as an economic problem instead of only a social one. This will enable the dedication of appurtenant policies & resources, as well as the donation of sufficient political will from Nigerian policy makers to address this problem. There are also low hanging fruits in the agricultural sector. For Nigeria to diversify its exports, and achieve self-sufficiency in several agricultural produces, the country has to re-visit agriculture through sweeping collaborations between all concerned actors. The government should encourage youths to go into agriculture and provide the necessary support in form of training and ease of land ownership for young people.
In addition, Nigeria does not have to wait for the entire nation to have steady power supply before it could become a serious industrial economy. What can be done is simple; the government should leverage on existing industrial clusters and mark out areas that have shown great industrial growth potentials, guarantee steady power supply, infrastructure and security; and invite more manufacturers. Industrialization and diversification of the economy in Nigeria should start from places like Aba and Kano, where there are measurable manufacturing activities with huge informal economy driven by young people. Most East Asian countries industrialized through FDI. Nigeria should prepare itself to be the investment decision in Africa to reduce youth unemployment, and increase government’s source of revenue. In the light of this, ensuring predictable financial policies, expunging all fashion of current governmental distortions and reducing corporate taxes are key.
Ultimately, Nigeria should position herself to realize demographic dividend. Nearly half of the Nigerian population are within the youth age bracket and over 40% of Nigerians are under fifteen. Considering this, economic growth can never be sustainable without the young people and proper investments in them. In the immediate, Nigeria needs to harness the power of its YOUTH through empowerment, job creation and education as emphasized in the 2010 British Council Next Generation Nigeria Report. Demographic shift means there is the potential for Nigeria to significantly accelerate the transformation of its economy. This is expected to boost economic growth and greater productivity. By 2030, Nigeria will be one of the few countries in the world that has young workers in excess supply. It’s expected that investing in youth and providing needful conditions for the private sector and foreign investors would make the country to achieve an average annual income increase from N551,600 currently ($2,758) to N687,000 in 2020 ($3,435) and N1,176,400 in 2030 ($5,882).
Kehinde Ibiteye is a development analyst with focus on youth development (broad spectrum). He is a youth leader, founder and convener of Next Generation Nigeria Summit/Group, one of Nigeria’s foremost Youth policy advocacy group. Kehinde is an active member of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) Youth Sub-committee and a member World Bank Youth Forum.
He can be reached via:
Phone number: 0803 379 6104 or 0818 609 0509