The growing large army of unemployed graduates is already a major issue which successive administations have failed to address. But beyond the certiticates these graduates wield, what other qualities and life-changing values do they possess in an increasingly competitive global job market? Why have these intervention efforts of government on job creations failed? SOJI EZE-FAGBEMI reports.
DURING Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s presidency, he ruffled not a few feathers when he was quoted to have said that most Nigerian graduates were not employable. Many young unemployed Nigerians did not have kind words then for the former president but researchers’ findings have shown that Obasanjo was right after all.
As if to support Obasanjo’s position, a particular study showed that recently qualified graduates exhibited a number of skill deficiencies, including lack of analytical and information and communication technological (ICT) skills. The findings of the study indicate that graduates have underdeveloped entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills, as well as poor communication and literacy skills.
Researchers have posited that the education system plays a significant role in producing the country’s skilled manpower, and that on the average about 120,000 come out of the tertiary education system annually, but only an estimated 10 per cent of them is able to enter formal sector employment. The remainder become unemployed or may have to look for jobs in the informal sector of the labour market.
Over the years the federal government has tried to bridge the gap by formulating policies that would provide the skills needed by graduates to be on their own and not rely on white collar jobs.
Unfortunately, most of these public policies for supporting employment generation and skills development have failed to address the problem of unemployment and instead operate as standalone initiatives.
The National Directorate of Employment (NDE) was established on March 26, 1986 but launched nationwide in January 1987. The scheme was created to provide skills for young graduates. It was structured into four main programme areas: the Vocational Skill Development Programme (VSDP), the Small Scale Enterprise Programme (SSE), the Special Public Works Programme (SPW) and the Agricultural Employment Programme (AEP).
Unfortunately despite its long years standing, the pace of NDE’s response in effectively reducing the rate of unemployment and attaining the millennium development goal (MDGs) is still low.
For Comrade Ayuba Wabba, President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) this has not come as a surprise. To him, efforts by previous governments to provide jobs were not sustainable, hence the failure of such many past initiatives. Citing YouWin scheme of the immediate past administration as example, Wabba said the initiative was just a stop-gap programme that cannot be sustained over a long time.
“The You Win initiative failed because it is not sustainable. We should look at jobs that are sustainable, and not this stop-gap approach. I think that has been our problem. From SUREP to all the intervention programmes, it is just like a stop-gap measure and that is why they are not sustainable,” the NLC president said.
According to him, after every administration the programme stopped and once that programme stopped, the jobs would also go with the programme. “That is not what we need now. I think what we need is a sustainable jobs; jobs that can also stimulate economic activities. Those are the jobs that are lacking now and the best way to do it is to go into production. When you don’t produce and depend on importation, you cannot provide jobs and sustain them. I think it is high time we thought outside the box and began to look at sustainable jobs, which will drive our economy and address the problem of mass unemployment in Nigeria. This is what I think we need at this point in time,” stated Wabba.
However, the NLC boss advised that any new scheme or effort at job creation should not solely rest on the government if it must succeed, saying that government cannot do it alone and the way out is for the government to go into partnership with the private sector.
“I am sure that the approach for government to try to do that alone may not work. It may not yield desired result. It needs to be a partnership between the organised private sector and the government where you create enabling environment for businesses to strive,” he added.
Wabba pointed out that regrettably, rather than getting more people to work due to the previous efforts at job creation, available jobs are in fact shrinking. He stated that while banks are trying to retrench, the oil and gas industry is also trying to reduce workforce, including state governors.
“We cannot say we are getting jobs, I think we are losing jobs. I think we must have a condusive environment for businesses to strive and for people to express their ingenuity. You can do that through small and medium enterprises, which is what obtains in other spheres,” he said.
A Deputy Director at the National Directorate of Employment, Mr Edmund Onwuliri, on his part, disagreed that intervention programme like YouWin have failed. According to him, it is only veritable and empirical data that car show if programmes like YouWin NDE and others have failed or not.
“My take on YouWin is that if we want to access its success, I think we might be doing that too early, if not out of context. How long does it take to grow an enterprise? I do not believe that one could assess the success or otherwise of an enterprise within its first 12 months. There is usually a gestation period; even a commercial bank that has given credit to an entrepreneur doesn’t expect everything to be settled within the first nine and 12 months. One should allow the business to stabilise because in the first six months, chances are that one won’t even make profit. Part of the credit one has collected is to help keep the business running within the period one is not very sure of making profit.
“Though I don’t have the record of the number of beneficiaries from YouWin, but if we look at what they have done so far, then we can say whether YouWin has succeeded or not. But if the present administration wants to introduce something better or new, it has the power to do so and can do it. I will like to see empirical data, empirical evidence for us to conclude that the programme has failed.
“If we can identify the enterprises that were set up under that scheme and look at their books now if they are rendering services, if they are still in the business and if they are doing well, then we can draw that conclusion. Are they into production? Are they still doing what they were set up to do? I don’t really know how the businesses are doing, and we can’t stay in our offices to say whether the scheme is successful or not.
“Those people got grant. We should find out what has happened to their investments, because [they are] national investments. We should not just abandon the scheme. We are not saying they should pay back we gave them those resources believing that they will turn them into something tangible that they will begin to employ other Nigerians. That is a very critical component of the entire initiative. The way to measure the success of such initiative is to look the multiplier effect on employment it has generated within a given time and environment.”
Mr. Onwuliri blamed the attitude of Nigerians for the perceived failure of many of these initiatives, if indeed they had failed to yield expected results. According to him, “we need to correct certain attitude in Nigerians and in Nigeria. There is nothing that is public or collectively owned that is valued. Some people would have received that [saying it is] their national cake. They won’t even use it for the purpose for which government has given them the credit. So, we won’t hang government because of that. Even whatever the government of the day wants to do now, if we approach it with the same mindset, it will never work.
“As much as we are trying to build the nation, solve the problem of mass unemployment, there are people who will be working at cross purposes with the government by their negative attitude to whatever the government is trying to do.”
Citing, the example of the NDE, he said, “here in the NDE, part of the challenges we have had over the years is this negative attitude of Nigerians. They will approach us that we are interested in our scheme and we willingly give to them with hope that they are going to make the best use of it. You have followed us to some resettlement events, you find out that in the past, there are people who will sell their re-settlement equipment at that venue, as they are collecting it. They would have arranged with buyers. As you are handing it over to them, they are selling and disposing them. So they will not practise or do that skill they have learnt from the NDE. What do you do to that? Those people are Nigerians and they presented themselves as willing, and ready to key, into what government has provided.”
He said the directorate had learnt from this and developed a better option to checkmate the trend, adding, “instead of giving them the equipment and little cash, we ask them to pay 10 per cent of the total loan package as a commitment from your part. This is to make sure that it is only the serious people that come for the schemes. So, if we look at all of these, we cannot put the blame solely on the doorstep of government. The followership in this country must also get to a point to take responsibilities for what has not done well.”
On the new scheme, the NDE deputy director toed the line of the NLC president. Specifically, he warned that the implementation of any scheme the present government has in mind must not be left in the hands of politicians. In fact, he proffered that politicians must be distanced from it.
According to Onwuliri: “The recipe for success of the new initiative is not to commit it into the hands of politicians. I don’t know the guideline yet and how government wants to go about it, but in the past, and from what I have seen from all the mass employment initiatives of the governments since the military era, the easiest way is to commit it in the hands of the politicians if you don’t want the programme to succeed. You don’t saddle a politician who is thinking of how to win the next elections with this very critical task of job creation. I don’t know what the government is thinking, but one thing I am very sure that won’t work is to commit it in the hands of politicians.”
He also stated that government must guard against duplicating efforts if the programme is to succeed. “Government duplicates efforts a lot. There is this duplication of functions, whereby you have many agencies of government doing same thing. There should be a deliberate attempt to synergise all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in the implementation of any critical policy of Federal Government. We must be careful how we implement it, because failure in proper implementation will sink the whole idea if initiative,” he said.