By: Sam Nda-Isaiah
There are several figures on employment in Nigeria, but, to get the actual statistic, the place to start is to suspect any figure that emanates from the Jonathan government. It’s a no-brainer to assume that all such figures would be skewed towards the everyday lies of the government. Even then, a source that works for the Jonathan government, not long ago, declared that there were more than 40 million Nigerians currently unemployed. That figure is more than the population of all the countries in West Africa and almost double the population of Ghana (25 million), which is next in size to Nigeria. The Nigerian government’s 40 million unemployment figure is also bigger than the population of 52 of the about 60 countries on the African continent. If this scenario does not scare anyone, then, nothing else will. But President Jonathan is not in the least perturbed, as he has not as much as mentioned the unemployment problem since he became president in May 2010.
Even as bad as this sounds, the figures are in fact much higher. A federal government establishment very recently requested applications for employment. The establishment specifically asked for fresh graduates and that they should all apply online. All this was to cut down the number of applications. In spite of that, more than 12,000 people applied. The parastatal needed 25 people. Meanwhile, Nigerian universities and polytechnics continue to churn out more than 150,000 graduates (bachelor’s degrees and HND) annually. Well-meaning Nigerians should be worried.
The figure I saw about a fortnight ago on graduate unemployment in Nigeria is 80 per cent. That sounds more like it. Other credible sources say about 70 per cent of the total Nigerian working age population is unemployed. Yet, President Jonathan does not see an emergency. He does not even see a problem at all. The only figure Jonathan sees is 2015. He is completely sold to his self-succession idea that nothing else matters. Not even crude oil theft that is about to collapse his government and scuttle the democratic regime (more or less) that the nation currently enjoys.
Last week’s controversial shooting of unarmed squatters in Abuja should give us an indication. It is no longer news that nearly all uncompleted buildings in Abuja have squatters, most of them unemployed graduates. Many of them might have been victims of last week’s panic shooting by security agents. And you cannot completely blame the security agents who have become quite desperate about ensuring that the Boko Haram menace is contained. If the security agents were wrongly tipped off, and if indeed they believed the occupants were Boko Haram insurgents, they would not be totally unreasonable to open fire even though there will be the need for a thorough investigation into the matter.
But my point is that as long as unemployment persists at the current levels, there will be many more panic shootings like this. Besides, many of these graduates will eventually be recruited into the ranks of Boko Haram insurgents, Niger Delta oil theft syndicates and Ombatse cults any way. Many others will join the ongoing very “lucrative” kidnapping enterprise, and some will end up as armed robbers. Many women will end up in prostitution and some of the men might end up as male prostitutes to serve the current large market for homosexuals. But many more, angry enough, will take up arms against the state. They will not be Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, armed robbers or kidnappers. They will claim to be fighting for Nigeria and they will not attack the wrong people. That is the one that government people should be afraid of. The only way to stop that from happening is to stop this stupid stealing of public funds and start working for the people.
This is not the first time I have discussed this very dangerous issue. I am repeating a write-up I did on October 22 last year to give Jonathan an idea of what he should be doing. If he is serious!
Did Jonathan Know It Was World Poverty Day?
First published on October 22, 2012
Last week Wednesday, October 17, was the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The day came and passed but the Nigerian government didn’t take any notice. The day is officially recognised by the United Nations, and nations set this day apart to discuss ways to eradicate poverty. That’s what happened across the world on Wednesday.
It is quite telling that the Nigerian president and his handlers didn’t even mark the day. And that is for a country that has 110 million of its 167 million citizens living below $1 a day. That, precisely, shows how seriously Nigerian leaders take their people. This is further proved by the 2013 budget estimates just submitted to the National Assembly in which agriculture, which employs the vast majority of the people, received only 1 per cent of the budgetary allocations. Governance in Nigeria is not about the people.
It is extreme poverty that has compromised the security situation of the nation. It is what breeds the Niger Delta militancy, the Boko Haram insurgency and, substantially, the criminality that stalks the land. And this extreme poverty is engendered by the extreme corrupt practices of those who govern the country. It is this extreme corruption that will make it possible for N2.6 trillion of the about N4.5 trillion budget of last year to be stolen in the name of fuel subsidy payments. If we add the deficit, then, the actual budget of last year was less than N4.5 trillion. And it is from this that N2.6 trillion was stolen. That means that nearly three-quarters of the budgetary allocation was stolen last year. There is nowhere in the world that such brigandage would happen and the government would still be in power.
Imagine what would have happened if N1 trillion of the stolen N2.6 trillion had been ploughed back to agriculture in the six geopolitical zones of the country. To give an idea: the total investment of the four GSM companies since GSM came into Nigeria is just a little over N1 trillion, and we all know the level of activity and employment that the GSM revolution has generated in the past 11 years. And imagine that the balance was put into the implementation of policies that would create millions of small businesses that are the engine of job creation. An average small business creates between two and five new jobs. So imagine that five million small businesses were created. That could potentially mean the creation of up to 25 million new jobs. This is how it is done in serious countries and it could be even more successful in Nigeria where the average Nigerian, including the barely educated is at heart an entrepreneur.
Free enterprise is the basic engine of prosperity, but, as has been established by such leaders as Deng Xioping of China, who was basically the harbinger of China’s economic superpower status, government has to invest in the big things that private companies cannot do, apart from adopting the right policies. That is also what is responsible for the economic success of South Korea, Thailand, Israel, Malaysia, Brazil, Singapore and a host of other countries that have successfully created jobs for their citizens.
In the United States today, the internet has created a boom in its economy, but it was the government that did the initial hard work and the very heavy investments to create the internet in the first place that made it possible for entrepreneurs to create Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook of this world. So even in free enterprise economies, government is necessary to do the very big things. And serious governments all over the world busy themselves how to make life easier for their people through policies and interventions that create jobs and eradicate poverty. But not the Nigerian government, apparently.
The Nigerian government could start encouraging internal job creation by patronising the few industries and service providers that are now barely surviving. If all government officials including the nation’s legislators used only Peugeot and other cars assembled in Nigeria as their official vehicles, for instance, PAN in Kaduna would pick up and other car manufacturers would open plants in Nigeria to create jobs. It is the reason that Toyota, Mercedes and BMW all have plants in South Africa, even though South Africa has a population of 50 million and Nigeria has 170 million. If there is a market, investors will overcome other problems.
Ask MTN how it is doing it. If all government hospitals bought only medicines made in Nigeria, the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria would rise again as it did during the PTF days – at the time the pharmaceutical industry operated at nearly 80 per cent capacity for precisely this reason. If the federal government invested heavily in mass housing as the military did in their days, several jobs would be created. The Abacha government showed that was possible with the Gwarinpa Estate which was adjudged as the biggest housing project in Africa. These are the little things that add up to make a huge difference. But, the last time I checked, President Jonathan had abandoned Nigerian rice farmers and had asked Malawian farmers to start exporting their rice to Nigeria.
Our problems are even much bigger. Since 1999 when Obasanjo and the PDP came to power, the price of oil has risen to unprecedented levels. Because of this high price, all oil-producing countries have experienced prosperity. Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have built new cities as a result. The people of Russia have experienced corresponding prosperity, Angola has surged, and even the people of the very corrupt Equatorial Guinea saw a difference. Poverty in all oil-producing countries reduced as a result –except in Nigeria where the number of those living on less than $1 a day increased from less than 80 million in 1998 to the current more than 110 million. This spike in poverty levels has happened at a time oil prices moved from less than $20 per barrel during the military era to when it got as high as $147 per barrel. It is only corruption that can explain this paradox.
In eradicating poverty, countries leverage on their strengths. Nigeria has a large population of nearly 170 million with an internet penetration of nearly 50 million users, 105 million mobile phone users, with large arable land, mineral resources in virtually every state of the federation, with potential for oil in all the six geopolitical zones of the nation. Nigeria has no reason to have 110 million people living below the poverty line.
Governors Must Now Look Beyond Oil
State governments are beginning to dig into their savings to pay salaries because the Jonathan government has been unable to pay them what is due to them. In the last three months, there has been a N466 billion shortfall in payments to state governments.
The reason, of course, has principally been because of the massive crude oil theft that has now reached an industrial scale, according to Chatham House, a London-based think-tank. Jonathan is uninterested in solving the problem because he knows the thieves and will not disturb their smooth stealing operations. If the president doesn’t know the thieves, the security agencies should draw his attention to “General” Boyloaf’s last statement, which is to the effect that it is they (Niger Delta militants) that are stealing (sorry, taking) the oil, because it belongs to them. But that is not my beef today as I have written and talked enough on the oil theft but the president is not interested. I am more concerned at this moment about states and their governors.
For a long time also, some of us have said state governors should look beyond oil. Many didn’t listen. Now they know why. They may be able to augment with the savings for now but, very soon, even that will be depleted and banks will not grant them loans because it will be obvious that they will not be able to repay any such loans, since their only source of repayment – the federal government – had become defective and ineffective. There appears to be danger ahead for everyone. But state governors must start looking beyond oil immediately.