PROVIDING THE TOOLS

Nigeria 2017 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: YES PROGRAM

Unemployment is a big problem is Nigeria. The federal government has set a target of creating 3.5 million jobs for these people within the next three years through the federal government's Youth Entrepreneurship Support Program (YeS program) and the N-power Program.

British politician and writer Benjamin Disraeli once wrote, “Almost everything that is great has been done by youth,” which means that Africa, as the most youthful continent in the world, should be poised for greatness. It is estimated that more than 200 million people on the continent are between 15 and 34 years old—35% of them, nearly 70 million people, live in Nigeria, where the legal age to work is 15. Yet, 54% of the people between the age bracket of 15 and 35 years are unemployed.

Successive Nigerian governments have initiated youth programs but the most prominent project that still runs today since its inception in 1973 is the National Youth Service Corps. This is compulsory for all Nigerian graduates and was created to promote national unity and integration. For one year, young Nigerians are posted to cities that are different from their birth on an assignment in one of three sectors: education, agriculture, or governance. It is seen by some as an annoyance, but by others as a great way of unifying a giant country full of different languages and cultures.

Given the slip into economic recession, finding work for millions of people will be no easy task. Undeterred, to encourage entrepreneurship the federal government has come up with the Youth Entrepreneurship Support Program (YeS program). This is a NGN10 billion fund for the creation of 1,200 firms that can boost the whole economy creating further indirect jobs and wealth. This program's aim is to provide young peopl with the necessary skills and knowledge to develop and manage their own business. With the use of new technologies, this program includes an interactive learning platform that will translate into improved efficiency and productivity, fostering an entrepreneurial spirit, and acting as an incubation center, promoting self-employment and deepening financial inclusion. This initiative will train 600 young men and woman bi-annually in different parts of the country and is expected to create at least 6,000 direct jobs and 30,000 indirect jobs.

Another initiative is the N-Power Program, which is supported by both the government and the private sector. It is expected not only to tackle employment but also to contribute to the diversification of the economy through modular program. The focus areas for education will be health, teaching, agriculture, technology, community service, vocational, animation, and post-production.

Although these initiatives will be heartily welcomed by the 3.5 million lives they touch, the high unemployment figures are a symptom of wider issues. For example, the lack of power is putting a bridle on industrial growth, affecting both large manufacturers as well as self-employed artisans, who cannot afford the cost of generators. Another issue often cited is the poor skills base. With so many young Nigerians passing through underfunded schools, many business leaders often complain about the difficulty of finding reliable staff with practical skills. From a more grass-roots view, agricultural employment in Nigeria is lower than most Sub-Saharan countries. According to World Bank figures, in Mozambique agriculture employs 81% of the work force, in Nigeria, that figure is below 50%. This is partly due to instability in the northern regions where the Boko Haram insurgency has forced people off the land, but also because the previous federal focus on oil revenues led to a huge underinvestment in farming.

Unemployment is a continental issue. With better access to healthcare, more children are surviving their early years, but growing up to find few opportunities. In May 2016, unemployment in Africa was the focus of a panel discussion at the annual meetings of the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Lusaka. At this event, the AfDB president, Akinwunmi Adesina announced the initiative Jobs for Youth in Africa, which aims to create 25 million jobs over ten years.

It is going to be a long road to better employment figures, but these initiatives at least show the willingness to tackle this issue, and to provide a better life to Nigerians across the country.