Adefolarin A. Olamilekan
Arguably, economists are often in disagreements on what policy measures should be adopted in reducing unemployment in the economy.
Many at times, the disagreements are not on the policies per say but squarely on the implemention of any kind of policy meant to tackle unemployment.
I’m tempted to say the foregoing because, lots of brilliant ideas on how best to tackle unemployment are deliberately frustrated when it comes to implementation.
Meanwhile, empirical evidence abound globally on successful measures taken by developed nations to overcome unemployment issues, even though it may not have been completely eliminated, but meaningful,and not as bad as we experience it in our clime.
For instance, the Asian tigers and the Asian combs have understood that tackling unemployment required government deliberately participating in vital economy sector and sub sectors.
The Chinese government has practically demonstrated this by not leaving out the issue of employment creation in the hands of private sector alone, rather with the government having a stake in all business enterprises, as a matter of ensuring Chinese citizens are gainfully employed.
That is why no serious government slacks on issues of employment, essentially as private sector which many regards as the apex centre for employment creation is part and parcel of an economic system that promotes profit maximization, and in this wise, may never be too passionate about reducing unemployment.
Why? because they are after cost cutting for business expansion and growth; one cardinal focus of global capitalism.
Unequivocally, unemployment is a global challenge, and one factor fuelling it naturally is the profit greed that oil global capitalism. It is a fact that many are yet to understand how this happened, but we must not allow that to rob us and neglect the essence of why every man and woman must get a sustainable livelihood.
Reason being that unemployment is an economic crisis that increases poverty, hunger and anger on daily basis. A look at Sub – Saharan Africa countries is a testament to this reality; a situation where the rate of unemployment in the region is discomforting to the economy.
Sadly, l don’t want to be too technical in this piece by quoting figures that keep changing every minute, signifying that we are in a dangerous situation. This reflects the region’s citizens’ quality of life and insecurity circumstances, partly driven by millions of unemployed persons, who are anxiously struggling to earn a living.
Again, l am persuaded to bring on some of these issues, knowing fully well that one of the biggest challenges we are faced with in Nigeria is unemployment, which successive governments in the past promised to tackle through brilliants paper proposals, memos and to a greater extent, act of parliament.
Unfortunately, it has remained a mirage till date.
In this wise, one cannot but query why the government is failing to address unemployment in Nigeria and yet, whenever it is time for election, it is one aspect politicians tell us they have a magic wand to solve, once they are voted into power.
Just like others, the current government led by President Bola Tinubu also promised creating jobs that would eventually reduce the ranks of unemployed Nigerians.
I don’t want to belabour the question of how President Tinubu will turn the situation around, because in his 88 pages Renewed Hope Agenda campaign manifesto, he outlined it there.
But l am convinced the president and his economic team must have realized that there is a difference between economic paper proposal and actual implementation in real life.
This now brings us to the recent National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report that detailed the drop on the country’s unemployment rate to 4.1 per cent in the first quarter (Q1) of 2023, from 5.3 per cent recorded in the previous quarter.
The report had stated that about three-quarters of working-age Nigerians were employed – 73.6 per cent in Q4 2022 and 76.7 per cent in Q1 2023.
However, NBS said the unemployment report adopted a new methodology and presented an in-depth analysis of the labour market compared to the previous methodology that had always been used.
Employment definition, according to NBS, is any “labour for profit done for even an hour in seven days,” as well as defining employed persons as individuals who are working for pay or profit and who worked for at least, one hour in the last seven days against 40 hours.
Critically, the report was greeted with mixed feelings from many quarters even though the statistics bureau made it clear that the ” new methodology and latest figure was not to give the new government a good face but to bring up the method used to conduct labour surveys in the country”
This is notably in line with the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO’s) guideline that it is not the outcome of generation of new jobs, but a redefinition of the term unemployment in recognition of key labour market indicators such as employment, including unemployment rates, underemployment rates, hours worked, and informal employment as suggested by World Bank and the International Labour Organisation and adopted by 26 countries in Africa that include Ghana, Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Benin, Gambia, etc
We indeed appreciate this NBS report as it reminds us that we don’t have to resort to technicality to solve the problem, because technicality only points to the symptoms not the root causes. Again, technicality also means we will just continue to maintain the official status quo in a narrow sense of it without being critical of it.
Regrettably, lots of brilliant political economists and economists have sacrificed their critical mind, providing views on how to make the technical status quo more efficient or else, they end in misery and poverty.
As one leading comrade once told me, “critical economist won’t get a job easily because there is no Marxist or socialist jobs in government or Organized Private Sector (OPS).
And that is true. Even the labour unions that would have provided shelter for such are turning them away, not to mention the hostile environment in our academic against heterodox intellectuals. It is a sad reality we live in that would make the likes of late Prof. Bade Onimode, Prof. Cluade Ake, Prof Esko Toyo and Henry Boyo turn in their graves.
Now back to the cross of this piece, our government is yet to grasp how the structural deficit in the nation’s economy underscores unemployment crisis.
Though we acknowledge the facts, the issue of unemployment and how best to tackle it remains a challenge for the Nigerian state since 1999, formulating and implementing policies to reverse unemployment in the country.
Their efforts have led to the creation of different agencies, institutions and ad-hoc programmes aimed at tackling the menace of unemployment in our country.
In the same light, the government established financial institutions such as Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN), Bank of Industry (BoI), Development Commissions and related institutions like Small Medium. Enterprise Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) alongside ad-hoc programmes in the likes of YouWin, N-Power, Graduates Internship Programme as a way of generating employment from a public private spectrum.
Painfully, there seems to be no headway because the government has failed to understand that the root cause of unemployment is tied practically to the deficit nature of the economy.
Most disappointing aspect from my angle is, why is the government playing politics with the issue of employment generation by seeking a quick fix approach through ad hoc programmes, cosmetic policy of job creation and implementing policy of employment creation from the prism of formal government recruitment into public and civil services and this in particular, is an area most Nigerians see as the only employment with security.
For us, the recent employment data released by the NBS further points to the failure of the Nigerian state to reduce the widening gap in the number of Nigerians that are out of jobs.
It is a clarion call on Tinubu’s administration to approach the issue of unemployment with a renewed zeal as it seeks to renew the hope of millions of Nigerians who are gradually losing hope in the government’s ability to turn the economy around.
This requires a short to medium-term basis that requires the government to stop wasting scarce resources on cosmetic ad hoc job creation.
Another is for the government to strengthen the various agencies saddled with the responsibility of enhancing self employment creation and complementing the private sector job creation drive.
In this regard, the likes of SMEDAN, NPC, DBN, BOI and Bank of Agriculture should be supported adequately and monitored effectively.
In addition, we hope to see Tinubu’s government carry out audit on the number of employed Nigerians in all federal government agencies and institutions, to ascertain the number of workers due for retirement, underemployed status of some agencies and skill gaps.
We will not fail to mention that the government should not foreclose revitalisation of the government-owned enterprises and not shy away from creating new ones as better means to participate in the economy and reinvigorate the spirit of providing affordable and accessible goods and services to Nigerians.
Meanwhile, on the long term basis, is addressing the challenges faced in the business environment that militate against the private sector employing Nigerians. Here, the concern has been the cost of operations within the Nigerian business ecosystem.
The complaints against the business environment are issues of high energy cost, deplorable road conditions that affect goods and services logistics, absence of required quality technical skills, insecurity amongst others.
Again, the Tinubu administration must prioritise issues around technical human capacity development by looking to leverage on science, technology and innovation to tackle unemployment. We have grasped the aspect of ICT, but there is vacuum in the field of scientific and technological space that could help us take advantage of sectors like mining, steel, metallurgy, and other mineral resources into finished products for local use and export
And insecurity is also a driving factor of unemployment. It is pertinent for the present administration to take proactive measures to change the narrative as the past government failed in this regard.
. Adefolarin A. Olamilekan