Need to tackle unemployment headlong


REFLECTIONS by the organised private sector on the growing pains and shrinking of businesses accentuate the country’s dire unemployment crisis. The Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association’s lament that many small businesses “have gone into extinction,” and reports of job losses by other OPS organs followed projections released earlier by the International Labour Organisation that Nigeria and many other countries should brace for even more job losses. Beyond the endless bombast by public officials, the federal and state governments should work closely with the private sector to reverse the jobless trend.

Citing prevailing circumstances, NECA,the Centre for the Promotion of Private Enterprise, and small business operators, said the energy crisis, insecurity, transportation problems and the foreign exchange scarcity have combined to hit small and big businesses alike. These have impacted negatively on productivity and sent many more persons out of work.

Adewale Oyerinde, the director-general of NECA,said MSMEs had been particularly hard hit by the Central Bank of Nigeria-induced cash scarcity. The Purchasing Managers Index also showed a slowdown in January to 53.5, down from 54.6 last December.

Latest figures from the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that over 23.29 million of Nigeria’s working age population of about 122.04 million is jobless. With an overall jobless rate of 33.3 percent and over 54 percent in the youth segment, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group projects that overall unemployment will hit 37 percent this year.

Unemployment is assuming a frightening dimension globally and Nigeria must pay attention and act responsibly. The ILO projects the number of jobless people worldwide to rise to 208 million this year. In Nigeria, the situation is more dire. The national and sub-national governments need to devise pragmatic policies and rally the private sector to mobilise investment in the productive sectors and create jobs.

For a country with 133 million multidimensionally poor people as of November 2022, this is bad news because it means more Nigerians going down the poverty line.

Alarmingly, Jobberman, a job portal, estimates that 65 per cent of Nigerian youths are unemployed. Major job-creating sub-sectors like the textile and steel industries are depressed, hit by raw materials shortages, the forex and energy crises, multiple taxes, and unfair competition from foreign rivals. The steel sector suffers from under-investment as the major steel project, the Ajaokuta Steel Company, remains comatose despite over $10 billion sunk in it.

The Manufacturers Association of Nigeria in March 2022 said 50 member-companies had shut down operations. It is a long-running attrition: between 2000 and 2008,820 manufacturers reportedly closed shop. Between 2009 and 2011, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture said 800 firms shut down due to the unfavourable operating environment. Since mid-2015, over300 factories have been shuttered, according to news reports.

The key lies in investment in production and infrastructure. Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo admitted this in November 2022: “Nigeria will be great only when we shift our emphasis from a consuming nation.”

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It must maximise resources and cut waste. A 2022 report said Nigeria lost $13.3billion to gas flaring in 10 years. Mining for industrial application is essential as the country is blessed with 44 mineral types of proven commercial value. Agriculture remains an asset—despite its neglect over four decades, it contributed 22.35 percent to GDP in 2021, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, and 34.66 percent of total employment, according to the ILO.

The government should reach for the low-hanging fruits and stimulate the private sector through pro-business policies.  The CBN needs to tackle the forex crisis and reduce lending rates. States and local governments should invest in agriculture and rural infrastructure.

Privatisation and liberalisation showed their immense potential in the telecoms sector; this should be replicated in the railways, oil and gas, aviation, ports, and steel sectors. The telecoms revolution saw quantum leaps in jobs, skills, investment, tax revenue and wealth creation.

Government must make extra efforts to support SMEs and start-ups. According to a report, there are more than 200 Fintech businesses in Nigeria providing financial inclusion and solutions for Africa. Between January and September 2021, Fintechs in Africa raised $1.4 billion, with Nigeria accounting for $800 million. The potential is enormous.

With over 60 per cent youth population, the creative talents of the youth must be nurtured and rewarded. Mark Zuckerberg was only19 when he started Facebook, the social network platform now worth $320 billion. Larry Page and Sergey Brin were each 25 when they founded Google. Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft at age 19. Government must create the right environment and platform supportive of the precocious youth. The high rate of youth involvement in Internet fraud is a symptom of a dysfunctional society.

Nigeria should take a cue from India by deploying various channels to incentivise employers and encourage job security, while opening vistas for new job opportunities. India tackled unemployment in rural and urban areas through skill acquisition training, loans, and infrastructural development in the suburbs. Employment increased from 447.18 million in 2020 to 470.49 million persons in 2021, according to India’s Census and Economic Information Centre.

In Malaysia, the Prime Minister, Ismail Yaakob, has been widely lauded for incentivising companies to retain their employers and employ more in a post-COVID 19 era.

Nigeria must find an urgent solution to its electricity power challenge that greatly haemorrhages production and employment. Shamefully, power generation has continued to hover between 4,000 megawatts and 7,700MW since 2013, when the sector was privatised. Alternative energy costs of over 40 percent make made-in-Nigeria products uncompetitive and constrict employment. States and LGs should invest in power generation and distribution, mini and micro transmission grids.

State governments must create friendly business environments for SMEs to thrive and attract investors, initiate programmes that would generate job opportunities, and stop relying on federal allocations for survival. They should attract investment in areas where they have comparative advantage. Together, the various governments should urgently collaborate with the private sector to defuse the jobless time bomb. ,

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