15 million unemployed?

LAST week, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, said that in spite of recent efforts by the Federal Government through the N-power programme that recruited about half a million Nigerians, those searching for white-collar jobs were in the “neighbourhood of about 15 million.” The minister however admitted that the government was not doing enough to address the unemployment scourge. According to him, “We are doing something, but I think what we are doing is not enough. It is like a drop in the ocean. We have employed through that process, 500,000 people. But we have those searching for white-collar jobs in the neighbourhood of about 15 million. So, we have to do something — to teach people new vocations, new skills, so that not everybody will be going for white-collar jobs.”

That the unemployment situation in the country is indeed a time bomb and potent threat to the country’s sovereignty is widely acknowledged, and it is commendable that the Minister of Labour and Employment realises that the Federal Government’s efforts to tame the menace have been grossly inadequate. Hopefully, such an acknowledgment would spur the government into working harder to provide jobs, particularly for the teeming youth populace. It is certainly no joke that as of February this year, some 55.4 per cent of youths within the age bracket 15 to 35 were without work. While Dr. Ngige’s acknowledgment of the limitations in the Muhammadu Buhari administration’s efforts to create jobs is commendable, it is quite unfortunate that his verdict on the number of unemployed Nigerians grossly underestimates, and in fact trivialises, the unemployment situation in the country. In case the minister has not grasped the point, nearly a quarter of the country’s estimated 200 million population is unemployed.

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In December 2018, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria’s unemployment rate increased from 18.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 per cent in the third quarter of 2018. The bureau indicated that the total number of people in part-time employment (or underemployment) decreased from 13.20 million in Q3 2015 to 11.19 million in Q3 2016 but increased to 18.02 million in Q3 2017 and to 18.21 million in Q3 2018.” According to the report, the total number of people classified as unemployed, which means they did nothing at all or worked too few hours (under 20 hours a week) to be classified as employed, increased from 17.6 million in Q4 2017 to 20.9 million in Q3 2018. Of the 20.9 million persons classified as unemployed as of Q3 2018, 11.1 million did some form of work but for too few hours a week (under 20 hours) to be officially classified as employed, while 9.7 million did absolutely nothing.

The NBS said that out of the 9.7 million unemployed that did absolutely nothing as of Q3 2018, 90.1 per cent of them or 8.77 million were reported to be unemployed and doing nothing because they were first time job seekers and have never worked before. On the other hand, 9.9 million or 0.9 per cent of the 9.7 million that were unemployed and doing nothing at all reported they were unemployed and did nothing at all because they were previously employed but lost their jobs at some point in the past which is why they were unemployed. In our view, underestimating the unemployment situation has the potentiality to undercut efforts made to address it. Where did the minister get his figure of 15 million unemployed Nigerians from? Was it the NBS that told him that only 15 million Nigerians are unemployed? Sadly, what the minister’s statement reinforces is the fact that governance in the country lacks criticality. The absence of evidence-based or data-driven governance is certainly a great drawback. If the minister had any doubt regarding the number of unemployed Nigerians, all he should have done was to consult statistical organs like the NBS, World Poverty Clock, the World Bank, and so on. Besides, if there is no coordination in government, how do you address societal problems?

In any case, from the way the minister spoke, it is clear that the Federal Government has no clear blueprint to create jobs. If there is no robust policy to address unemployment, just how does the government hope to restore hope to the large number of unemployed, frustrated and angry citizens? As we have said time and again, if you want to create jobs, you focus on the economy. On current evidence, government’s efforts in this regard have been glaringly ineffective. In 2018, the country ranked 157th out of the 157 countries on the Commitment to Reducing Inequality (CRI) index. As we have always insisted, the solution lies in putting policies in place that will narrow the gap between the ultra-rich and the poor, managing resources efficiently and equitably, reducing the high cost of governance that panders to vested interests at the expense of ordinary citizens, increasing the ease of doing business and pursuing fiscal federalism. These are crucial to solving the unemployment debacle. But in the face of the Buhari administration’s resolute objection to critical reforms in governance and the restructuring imperative, it is difficult to see how these objectives can be realised.

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