As workers returning home after a day at work jostle for spaces in the brown and yellow coloured Toyota Micras that have become the face of transportation in Ibadan, Mayowa Ajani (not real names) sits at his father’s shop facing the Liberty Stadium road in Ibadan looking at the tie-wearing men with longing. He tells me over drinks later that this has become some form of evening ritual where he looks at young people on their way home from work, oblivious of the plight of thousands like him who are facing unemployment without any hope in sight. Mayowa is one of the over 400,000 unemployed people in Oyo State according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics’ (NBS) report for Q3 2018. In a country where young people who are not gainfully employed usually turn to a life of crime, the effects of his continued unemployment might turn dire unless solutions are proffered to keep him and others like him off the streets.
Almost 70% of Nigeria’s estimated 200 million population is made up of people under the ages of 35 and the national youth unemployment rate of 55.4% (NBS Q3 2018) means that about 70 million Young Nigerians are without jobs. The attendant socioeconomic effects of this problem have inspired various government interventions to create jobs and opportunities, but for many youths, the prospect of travelling abroad, no matter the means, remains promising. Others who are not keen on leaving the shores of the country sometimes turn to criminal enterprises, which coupled with Nigeria’s rising poverty rate create various socioeconomic challenges that the Nigerian government has to contend with. Various experts have reiterated the need for the government to deploy entrepreneurship as a means to create jobs and opportunities for Nigeria’s teeming youth, and the Nigerian government has tried with some degree of success to tow this line. The Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria (YOUWIN) and N-Power Programme created by the Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari administrations respectively are two recent government interventions to create entrepreneurship opportunities to combat rising youth unemployment.
But some experts like Nigeria’s former Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, believe that before the effects of entrepreneurship in battling youth unemployment can be felt, there is an urgent need to develop human capital development via deliberate investments in education. While speaking at an event in Lagos earlier in the year, Mrs Ezekwesili who contested for the office of President during the last the Nigerian presidential elections described human capacity development as the new oil and added that if Nigeria’s economy must grow, productivity and competitiveness must improve, and that this can only be achieved through human capital development. She also counselled young entrepreneurs to rise up to the challenge of redirecting the economy by creating more opportunities for mentorship of aspiring entrepreneurs so that, together they can create momentum to move Nigeria in the right direction. It is this thinking that has inspired young Nigerians like Damilare Zaccheus, an analyst with an American multinational investment bank, to create a platform which he believes will enable youths to engage and forge mentorship associations with their role models while learning important life and business lessons.
Zaccheus, who is the founder of the OGZ Foundation; an organization he says is dedicated “to enhancing Gen Zs and Millennials by empowering them through education, entrepreneurship and community outreach”, said his plan is to create an opportunity for young people in Ibadan, where the platform is kicking off, to learn the necessary skills required for them to become successful entrepreneurs. Having been born and raised in Ibadan, Oyo State, Zaccheus says the reality of seeing youths like him roaming the streets without jobs and opportunities despite their intelligence and sense of innovation leaves him dejected, but he has chosen to rise to the challenge of creating a platform that will teach youths the required entrepreneurship skills. His planned Mill-e-Naira Conference intends to support millennials and Gen Zs in discovering and harnessing their key strengths and talents by aligning their thought processes and equipping them with essential tools needed to become successful entrepreneurs.
In their November 2018 paper on the impact of entrepreneurial skills in reducing youth unemployment in Nigeria, Muogbo Uju, S. PhD and John-Akamelu Chitom Racheal of the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University and Nnamdi Azikiwe University respectively stated that “through entrepreneurship education, a pool of potential entrepreneurs who are well equipped with skills and technical know-how to manage small/medium scale industries are produced”. This assertion has been tried and tested in different climes as a solution to problems associated with job creation and poverty reduction. According to a report by the British Council, investing in entrepreneurship education has one of the highest return on investments in Europe, plus students who receive enterprise education are three to six times more likely to start a business in the future. The European Union also found that up to 20% of students who participate in a mini-company programme in secondary school later started their own companies, which is up to five times higher than in the general population. Businesses started by these students are also more ambitious, its study found. It is these types of ambitious youth-led businesses that the Nigerian economy needs if it is going to grow its GDP and boost the economy so millions can escape the poverty trap where over 90 million live below the poverty line of $1.90 a day.
Edward Israel-Ayide is a marketing communications professional who tweets at @wildeyeq