HE Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, Grand Commander of the Order of the Niger, GCON, and President, Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, on the potential of Nigeria's young population.

HE Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan
Before becoming the President of Nigeria in 2010, Goodluck Elbe Jonathan had occupied other important political positions such as Deputy Governor of Bayelsa, as of 1999, becoming Governor of Bayelsa in 2005, and serving as Vice President of Nigeria from 2007 to 2010, before assuming the office of President in May 2010. He holds a BSc Degree in Zoology, an MSc Degree in Hydrobiology and Fisheries Biology, and a PhD in Zoology from the University of Port Harcourt. Before entering politics, he worked as an education inspector, lecturer, and environmental-protection officer.

The need to create jobs is a global challenge. The International Labor Organization estimates that in 2013 over 200 million people were unemployed around the world; this included about 75 million young people between the ages of 15-24. Practically all countries around the world are concerned about job creation. The developed economies, such as the US, the UK, and Euro zone countries are all closely monitoring their employment numbers to assess whether their economies are recovering from the recent global recession. In southern European countries, such as Spain and Portugal, unemployment rates have remained high in recent years at above 20%. In fact, there have been many reported cases of reverse migration of young graduates from Portugal and Spain, who are now moving back to their former colonies such as Angola, Brazil, and Mozambique to seek jobs. In Africa, we also have our employment challenges. The unemployment rates today exceed 20% in many of our countries—Nigeria is at about 24%, and South Africa at 25%.

second point I want to make is that in Africa, the unemployment problem is compounded by our youthful population and pending demographic transition. As you know Africa's population is young. And while other continents are “aging," in contrast Africa's population of young people is growing. African leaders therefore face special challenges. We principally face the challenge of providing jobs, housing and healthcare. If you walk down the streets in Europe, the median age of the person you see is about 40 years. In Asia, the median age of the person on the street is 29 years. In Africa, the median age is just 20 years, which means that about half of the African population today is under the age of 20 years.

Demographers are also predicting that this youth population is set to grow further. Consulting firm McKinsey has calculated that an additional 122 million workers will enter Africa's labor force by 2020. Accordingly, by 2035, the combined size of the African labor force will be greater than that of the most heavily populated countries in the world, including China. This is daunting, and should be a wake-up call to all of us in Africa to work harder on job creation with a great sense of urgency. We have many young people who are unemployed, but who also do not necessarily have the required competencies or skills, even if the jobs are available, which again, is a major challenge.

That brings me to my third point: what can we do to create more jobs, and how are we addressing this problem in Nigeria? For us in Nigeria, job creation has been the main focus of our ongoing Transformation Agenda, which is our program to modernize and diversify the Nigerian economy. Job creation is one of the concerns that keeps me up at night, and it has been the main theme of our federal government budget in recent years. We recognize that the private sector will be the engine of growth and job-creation. And we are putting in place the necessary conditions to support this private sector growth, such as ensuring a stable macroeconomic environment (low inflation, stable exchange rates, and so on), investing in critical infrastructure, and in the development of the skills of our people.

Nigeria has grown rapidly over the past decade—at about 7% per annum. Of course we are now also the largest economy on the continent and the 26th largest in the world. After our GDP rebasing exercise, our print for 2013 is now estimated at about $510 billion. Yet, the quality of our growth has been less than desirable in the sense that we are not creating as many decent jobs as we need to. That is why we have focused on a number of priority sectors of high job-creation potential, such as agriculture, manufacturing, housing and construction, and the services sectors. And in each of these sectors, we are working to unlock the various obstacles faced by businesses so they create jobs. We are learning from the example of other countries - such as China - to see what they have done in this regard to create jobs for their citizens.

Our recent GDP rebasing exercise shows that the services sector now accounts for about 51% of our economy, up from 26% previously. And so we are introducing targeted measures to further harness this sector by supporting the development of our SMEs. For example, we are working to develop our housing and construction sector, given its potential to create jobs for our craftsmen and artisans. We also recently launched our National Industrial Revolution Plan, which will further invigorate our manufacturing sector.

In addition, in the short-term we have introduced special government initiatives, such as a business plan competition for young entrepreneurs (called YouWiN), which provides equivalent grants of between $10,000-$90,000 to the best business plans. This program has thus far supported more than 2,400 young entrepreneurs, who have created more than 26,000 jobs. We also have a Graduate Internship Scheme that places recent graduates in private sector jobs. Also, there is a public works program as part of our Subsidy Re-investment Program (SURE-P), which has created about 120,000 jobs. Overall, the National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 1.6 million jobs were created across the country over the past 12 months, but my Administration is not relenting because we are aware that even more jobs are needed to support our growing youth population.

Finally, as we continue our discussions today, let us also remember the challenge of tackling inequality. Today, we all know that the African continent is rising: our economic growth is strong, our social indicators are improving, and our middle class is expanding. However, we must ensure that the poorer and vulnerable members of our societies are also carried along. We need economic growth, but we must work to ensure that this growth is inclusive. In Africa, most of our countries must begin to think about introducing social protection measures building on the strong traditions we already have of caring for one another. Our friends in Latin America have more knowledge in this area and can share some of their experiences with us. We are looking, for example, at former Brazilian President Lula's work to create the Bolsa Família, which is a conditional cash transfer program to support low-income families and lift them off the bottom rung of the ladder. It has been a successful program, and an example to learn from.

Africa faces difficult challenges in the years ahead to provide adequate infrastructure, create jobs, and develop the skills of its young population. But the continent also faces a tremendous opportunity to harness its young population in a manner than can provide unique dividends to its people.

As we debate these issues over the coming days, let us raise our sights, let us think big and bold, and let us think for the long-term. And together, let us work to realize the potential of this great continent. I believe that collectively, with the caliber of men and women we have here, the institutions they represent, the fact that democracy has come to stay in Africa, and with the political will and commitment of African leaders, we will make decisions and the right steps, to lift Africa to greater heights.