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By Ifeatu Agbu
The time-bomb primed by pervasive youth unemployment is beginning to detonate in some African countries. First, it was Algeria that started the year on a sad note as youths, mostly university graduates, burned government buildings and commercial houses, paralyzing the capital, Algiers. The rampaging youths said they are tired of remaining unemployed, years after graduation.
Then, Tunisia followed quickly in a revolt against joblessness that has sent their President Zine-el-Abi-Dine Ben Ali scampering for safety in Saudi Arabia. As in Algeria, the protesters were calling attention to the biting unemployment and under-employment that led one university graduate to sell fruits and vegetables on the streets for a living. The police aggravated the situation by confiscating his wares for allegedly not having a vending permit. The hapless graduate couldn’t take it anymore. So, he set himself ablaze and died later from his wounds.
Now Egypt is virtually at a boiling point with unemployed youths setting themselves ablaze in curious acts of self-immolation. The question is where next? The excruciating socio-economic conditions that have put these countries on the boil are also prevalent in many African countries, including Nigeria. In fact the Nigerian condition may even be worse than what has sparked the revolt in Algeria and Tunisia. Nigeria is indeed fortunate to have people who are imbued with an enormous capacity for soaking-up the pains and pangs of want. Here is a country where jobless university graduates are eking out a living by riding commercial motorcycles (Okada), while those representing them in parliament are going home with mouth-watering salaries and allowances ranging from N10 million to N15 million monthly. Of course, this unfair distribution of wealth is a disgusting invitation to the kind of crisis that has hit the Arab countries. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
So far, Nigeria has been spared widespread violent dissent. What could be likened to a revolt has been limited to the Niger Delta region where the agitations for resource control have thrown up all kinds of militant activities, including sabotage of oil installations and kidnapping of oil workers.
The militants in the Niger Delta have relied on the tactic of guerrilla warfare to register their grievances against the Nigerian state. The strategy may change as the army of unemployed youths continues to swell by the day. The country cannot afford to wait to be overrun by these increasingly restive and angry youths.
“Job-creation is the need of the hour”. That is the view of experts like Dr. Ismail Radwan, a senior economist with the World Bank. According to him, 50 million youths were underemployed and three million new job seekers join the unemployment queue each year. The World Bank official wondered if there would not be social unrest eventually if the situation was not urgently addressed and canvassed a vibrant industrial sector as a way forward.
To buttress this point, the President of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said: “The rate of unemployment in the Nigerian economy is currently one of the highest in the world at 19.7 per cent. Over 50 per cent of the youths in the urban areas are unemployed. It is a very disheartening situation for parents who had laboured and strained to educate these youths. The state of affairs has assumed the dimension of an economic and social crisis. There is a relationship between rising criminality and unemployment. We should do something urgently to create jobs.”
The way forward for the different levels of government is the provision of basic infrastructure such as power and roads. Along this line, there seems to be a glimmer of hope as a key interventionist agency of the Federal Government, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), has taken some bold initiatives in infrastructure development. Here, the East-West Coastal Road project, which is a product of the Niger Delta Development Master Plan, stands out.
This mega project will no doubt open up the region that is unarguably the engine of the nation’s economy but sadly neglected over the years. The proposed 700 kilometres highway would gulp a staggering N1.8 trillion and begins from Akamkpa in Cross River State while terminating at Ibeju Lekki in Lagos State. ( Continues below….. )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria showing its 36 states and capital (Abuja or FCT)
The road holds enormous prospects for agriculture and economic development and must, therefore, be fully funded. This is one project that must not be neglected or abandoned as the people are already looking forward to its many benefits. For instance, Mr. William Dacoax, a surveyor, envisions a boom in fish production from the region. He said: “Based on our historical experiences on similar roads - the initiation of the project is bound to be fraught with all kinds of structural and political hindrances. The most visible impact is that there would be easy flow of fish products from the Niger delta to key commercial centres such as Lagos, Kano and Onitsha, with attendant promise of more income to its inhabitants”.
Although building infrastructure is critical to growth, human capital development is an equally important component in achieving a holistic advancement. In this wise, the NDDC deserves commendation for trying to strike a balance between building roads and bridges and enhancing the capacity of the human person. The commission has been organising various skill acquisition programmes as well as offering scholarships to deserving students to study in both Nigerian and foreign universities.
As part of this effort, the NDDC, also embarked on a Technical Aid Corps [NTAC] programme, as a means of alleviating the unemployment situation in Nigeria’s oil-producing region. The commission said that it designed the programme to meaningfully engage graduates from the region and reduce the level of unemployed youths. Since the programme took off last year, thousands of unemployed graduates have been enlisted by the commission and sent to various companies, including the Small and Medium Enterprises, SMEs, to work for two years. During the period the commission will pay each of the beneficiaries N30,000 a month which will be augmented by the employer with N15,000. Like the National Youth Service Corps [NYSC], the scheme is expected to help the young graduates gain the necessary experience, which would enhance their chances of securing gainful employment or to become self-employed at the end of their tutelage in the industries.
The NDDC scheme has the potential of reinvigorating the SMEs which are among the most potent forces responsible for the fast-tracking of the economic transformation of any country. Most of them lack the resources to hire graduates to boost their productivity. They can therefore take advantage of the availability of this relatively cheap labour to optimise their productivity and profitability. It is thus a win-win situation—the Federal Government mops up unemployed graduates from the labour market and the employers smile more often to their banks. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) militants
In order to get a good mileage from the scheme, the young graduates should be given an opportunity to hone their skills in their areas of specialisation. The graduates are expected to acquire specialised trainings that would at the end of the day empower them to set up their own businesses and stand on their own. The Technical Aids Corps is a programme that the three levels of government and the private sector should be encouraged to buy into so that they can collectively mop up the teeming youths roaming the streets in search of employment.
The task of creating jobs can only be tackled successfully when the right socio-economic conditions are created. Achieving this, of course, requires an investment-friendly climate, which presupposes that security of lives and property must be given top priority. According to an investment expert, Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Awa, the quest to develop the Nigerian economy may remain a mirage unless efforts are made to boost the emergence of vibrant small and medium businesses in the country.
Awa said in an undeveloped economy like Nigeria with massive unemployment and poverty, only small businesses hold the key to unlocking the potentials of the country and its citizens. According to her, there was the need to place more emphasis on boosting SMEs in the country because through this the economy and livelihood of more grassroots people would be affected for the better.
The sooner more jobs are created to gainfully engage the teeming unemployed graduates, the better for everyone. Efforts in this regard should begin in the Niger Delta which is the main artery that supplies the economic lifeblood of Nigeria.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( email@example.com ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
*Tags: Nigerians, Delta, Youths, Projects, Unemployment, Averting, Revolt, Abuja, Lagos, Africa, Masterweb
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